PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A flag display at Stetson Law School is causing controversy and concerns among some students.

Many of them saying they felt uncomfortable coming to campus because of it.

What You Need To Know

  • Stetson Law School denied a request for a tiny flag display using Black Lives Matter flags

  • The school approved a request for a display using Blue Lives Matter flags

  • The Black Law Students Association claims they were told no flags that were not nationally recognized were allowed to be displayed

  • The school has since apologized

Stetson’s Black Law Students Association president, Deja Gordon, said her group wanted to memorialize Black people killed at the hands of law enforcement. So, during Black history month they planned a tiny flag display on in the front lawn of the library on campus.

Gordan said the school denied their request to use Black Lives Matter flags.

“The reason we were denied was regarding a policy and that policy stated that we couldn’t fly or place flags in the ground that were not nationally recognized,” Gordon said. “We later found out that, that policy was incorrect.”

They ended up using red flags and yard signs instead with statistics on them. “They specifically call out the fact that Black people are 2.9 times more likely to be killed by police than white people in the U.S. And it specifically talks about how we stand in solidarity with the Black lives lost to police brutality during Black History Month,” said Gordon.

Right after their time was up for their flag display, another group, the Stetson Republicans, planted their tiny flag display in that same spot. The group’s president said they wanted to honor the lives of law enforcement killed in the line of duty. They planted more than 70 tiny Blue Lives Matter flags that were approved by the school.

Gordon said the timing of the other group’s flag display felt like retaliation.

“We are not anti-police. However, we don’t believe that any statements should be made to counter a movement that is honoring Black lives,” she said.

“We would appreciate it if that response or that flag display was displayed in May, which is the month where police are honored, fallen police officers. And second, the flag that honors fallen officers is the American flag, not the Blue Lives Matter flag.”

After several student complaints, the Stetson Republicans replaced the Blue Lives Matter Flags with American Flags. The Stetson Republicans president declined to comment.

Even with their differences, Gordon said the larger issue is with the school’s handling of the situation.

“We want to be clear, we don’t have any issues with the Stetson Republican Group. The Black law students do not have an issue. It’s with a policy that is directly in adversity to what we were told previously," Gordon said. “The policy is not clear one way or another and it disproportionately affected Black students on this campus.”

In an email to students, school administrators acknowledged what they called “conflicting guidance” and said this was “different guidance from the Office of Student Affairs was given to each organization.”

The email also said the school will be evaluating the flag policy for the future and suspending it for now.

“I think the university handled it poorly. I did have conversations with them prior to the flag actually being put up, the Blue lives matter flag. We expect three things from them. Clear leadership, accountability a public apology to the black students who were definitely affected by this flag display. And also an acknowledgement of how this flag reflects poorly on the school and makes African American students feel on this campus,” Gordon said.

The school’s dean, Michele Alexandre, responded to situation and the calls for a public apology.

“The difference in guidance definitely has been acknowledged and if it is a matter of acknowledging, and again I support our hard-working staff, community and the students definitely are collaborators and I know for a fact it was acknowledged and we realize at some point that there wasn’t a different guidance. It was a failure to guide a specific organization about what will be best in terms of how they want to communicate and express,” Alexandre said.

She also said she hopes to use this as a teachable moment for everyone involved.

“I’m talking to our community about what is the underlying dynamics that’s going on,” she said. “How can we be well with each other while we know we’re not all the same?”

After our interview with the dean, a school administrator sent another email to students specifically naming the Black Law Students Association and the assistant dean’s “application of thee incorrect flag guidelines.”

The email goes on to say, “Subsequently, the Stetson Law Republicans submitted a request for Blue Lives Matter flags on the lawn and were approved by another staff person based on the correct guidelines.”

The email also included an apology from the school’s assistant dean for student affairs: “This action caused unequal treatment of our student organizations, namely BLSA, and thus our community no matter the intent. For this I apologize.”

Students from the Black Law Students Association said they were hoping the apology would acknowledge the psychological and emotional harm the school’s mistake caused to those students impacted.