Groups disagree over Vietnamese flag at OSU

Sunday, November 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER - Vietnamese nationals attending Oklahoma State University believe it's important that their flag fly on campus. But that same flag is a symbol of repression for Vietnamese-American students.

OSU officials decided to stick with their decision to include the flag of communist Vietnam in a display of 19 flags that represent the home countries of its international students.

Because the university has about 2,000 international students from 118 countries, the flags at the International Mall are rotated every two weeks.

"I think tensions will continue to exist, unfortunately. I don't think we can deny the history and the sentiment, nor do I want to," said Dr. Lee Bird, vice president of student affairs.

When the flag of Vietnam went up in August to represent the university's eight Vietnamese national students, some Vietnamese-American students objected.

To them, the communist flag symbolizes a repressive regime that defeated their parents and grandparents in the Vietnam War, said Will Hua, vice president of the Vietnamese American Student Association.

"That flag is a tangible sign of that past, that war," said Hua, whose organization has about 50 members. University officials estimate there are about 300 Vietnamese Americans on campus.

Hua went to the Student Government Association seeking legislation opposing the communist flag.

The students also met with Bird, who suggested that either no Vietnamese flag fly, that both the flag of communist Vietnam and of the defeated democratic Republic of Vietnam be displayed or that the communist flag remain.

The Vietnamese-American students recommended a joint meeting with the Vietnamese international students to discuss the issue.

But the international students, who are greatly outnumbered by Vietnamese Americans, opposed the meeting, so officials met with the students separately, Bird said.

Kent Sampson, director of campus life, attended the meeting and said the international students wanted to avoid a rift with the other group, but felt their flag should be part of the international flag display.

"It was their opinion that it's important their flag be represented," Sampson said.

Bird said she understands why Vietnamese-Americans don't like seeing the communist flag.

"I think I'd feel the same way if someone was flying the confederate flag and calling it mine," she said.

But OSU will continue to fly the United Nations-recognized flag when its turn comes around again.

Bird described that as the fairest position, reflecting both reality and OSU's mission as a school that embraces diversity.

"That's what we're all about. We have students from all over the world and we welcome students from all over the world," she said.