Tibetan Flag banned at UMass commencement: an interview with Kalsang Nangpa

By Lucy Martirosyan

Kalsang Nangpa is a first-generation college student majoring in public health who will be graduating from UMass this May. But as a Tibetan American, she has been denied by the university from carrying the Tibetan flag at commencement — as have other Tibetan American students in the past.

“I have had Tibetan friends in the past who have tried to carry the Tibetan flag during their commencement. They were all denied. And some of them didn’t even hear a response,” Nangpa said.

Nangpa called the UMass external affairs office several times with no response for almost four weeks. Finally she received an email that read that she wouldn’t be able to carry the Tibetan flag during graduation because Tibet is not recognized as a country by the US State Department.

“It’s sad and I’m frustrated and it’s kind of insulting. I feel like I’m being denied of my own identity. I’m very disappointed because I call UMass my second home. I’ve been here since my freshman year. So I’ve spent four years of my life here. I am very upset with UMass’ decision,” Nangpa said.

In a Facebook post that went viral among  UMass students in April, Nangpa wrote about the strained relationship between Tibet and China — a country that also doesn’t recognize Tibet as a country: “The Tibetan flag is banned in Tibet because of China’s current military occupation, brutal repression and censorship but I did not expect the same censorship and ignorance here in the US, especially at UMass. Thousands of Tibetans have fled Tibet to exercise their freedom and basic human rights, including my family. Despite the possible consequence of being jailed or killed, Tibetans in Tibet continue to fight for our country and identity by raising the Tibetan flag high. Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as a Tibetan to, at the very least, do the same and assert my identity in a free land.”

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Kalsang Nangpa in front of a UMass Students for a Free Tibet poster. Courtesy of Kalsang Nangpa.

This past weekend, Nangpa said that Nancy Buffone, the associate vice chancellor for university relations, responded to her emails on behalf of Chancellor Subbaswammy. Buffone essentially reiterated that it’s UMass policy to follow the list of countries recognized by the US State Department.

“According to [UMass’] mission statement, we’re supposed to be inclusive — we value inclusion, diversity, equity and all that. But this doesn’t reflect in their actions and in their decision. So I’m a little confused here. It’s a policy, but why can’t we change that policy if it’s plain wrong?” Nangpa said.

Back in 2013, an Iranian student was denied the same right to carry their country’s flag at commencement, Nangpa wrote in another Facebook post. “However, after receiving much backlash through emails and media attention, UMass did overturn the decision and the student was later granted the deserved opportunity to carry her flag during her graduation ceremony,” wrote Nangpa.

Similarly, Nangpa has been putting pressure on the administration to recognize the Tibetan flag during commencement. And she has asked the UMass community to do the same. Nangpa has been calling and emailing Buffone and even Senator Elizabeth Warren, who will be speaking at this year’s commencement.

Here are the emails and phone numbers:
Vice Chancellor Nancy Buffone:
(413) 577-1101
buffone@umass.edu

Senator Elizabeth Warren:
Washington DC: 202-224-4543
Boston: 617-565-3170
Springfield: 413-788-2690
email: https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=email_senator

This is the template that Nangpa has been using:

Dear _______,

My name is [_______] and I am an [alum/student] at UMass Amherst. It has recently been brought to my attention that a graduating Tibetan student who had requested several times to carry her country’s flag at graduation was informed she would not be allowed to do so due to the current political controversy surrounding the autonomy of Chinese occupied Tibet. I am shocked and disappointed to learn that a university like UMass, which is known for its diversity and inclusion and is meant to be a welcoming place to all those who seek education no matter their background, has opted to exclude an entire country from their ceremony due to this political matter. I believe that any student, particularly one like Kalsang who is a devoted and active member of the UMass community, should have the right to participate in the ceremony, and proudly represent their people in doing so. I hope that the university will come to see that this decision is one which goes against the entire nature of the institution, and will overturn the decision as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time,

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Discussion on EPA and HR Bill 861

By Saul Bez and Rachel Swansburg

Bill HR 861 would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The HR 861 bill was proposed by Republican Florida House Representative Matt Gaetz.

The EPA is responsible for safe guarding human health and ecosystems from pollution. President Trump’s proposed budget would slash more than 30 percent of funding  and eliminate roughly one fifth of the agency’s workforce.

Some of the accomplishments  by the EPA include the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act that both set regulations on air and water pollution rates respectively.

It remains unclear how these regulations would be maintained without the EPA. So Saul and Rachel decided to ask students around the UMass campus about their thoughts on the proposed bill and EPA as an American agency.

WMUA’s February Concert Review

WMUA hosted a show in the Student Union Ballroom on February 4, 2017. WMUA News’ Andrew Cunningham and Becky Wandel got to speak to all three performers, Cliff Jensen, Pink Navel and Ivy Sole.

The night opened with Cliff Jensen who specializes in producing flipped versions of popular music and television shows, like Spongebob Squarepants. Jensen was joined on stage by the next performing act, Pink Navel. It turns out that Jensen and Pink Navel are friends. They’re both performers in Massachusetts, too.

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A projection of Cliff Jensen looking into the webcam of his Macbook. That’s how he performed on Feb. 4, 2017. Courtesy of photographer Zach Becker.

Pink Navel’s act was more poetic and entrenched in references from Steven Universe, the TV show that inspired the performer, Devin Branting’s music and band name.

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Pink Navel performing at the WMUA show, Feb. 4, 2017. Photo courtesy by Zach Becker.

“Worrying about physical human bodies, and all the stress that comes with that would be erased if I was just a computer file. I’ve been so moved by that idea now that I’ve written poetic songs about it,” says Branting.

Headlining hip hop artist, Ivy Sole took to the stage and brought the audience closer to her, both physically and emotionally. The Philadelphia artist encouraged clapping, singing along and dancing. Sole released a single off her new EP East and performed it live at the show.

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Headlining act, Ivy Sole, energizing the crowds on Feb. 4, 2017. Photo courtesy Zach Becker.

“2017, I honestly just want to make the best music possible. I’m  not really concerned with a specific end goal. I think my optimal year would include, but not be limited to, lots of shows, maybe getting a nice opening spot for an artist I respect and an artist I can learn from.”

You can check out the artists here:

Cliff Jensen: https://cliffjensen.bandcamp.com/

Pink Navel: https://pinknavel.bandcamp.com/

Ivy Sole: https://ivysole.bandcamp.com/

Reporting and producing: Andrew Cunningham and Becky Wandel

Photography: Zach Becker. Check out his show, Hip-Hop Made Me Do It, Mondays 10 pm – 12 am on WMUA 91.1 FM.

Rally Against Police Brutality and Racism — Haley Chauvin

WMUA’s Haley Chauvin covers a protest against police brutality and racism that took place on October 1, 2014. The protest featured talks by local activist Vira Douangmany Cage, who successfully lead a campaign “Justice for Charles” for her wrongfully imprisoned nephew Charles Wilhite, and Graduate Student Senate president Adina Giannelli. Douangmany Cage addressed the death of Lenny Brown of Springfield who died while in police custody in 2008, while Giannelli issued a call to action from the community to engage in dialogue about racism and to work to fight it on campus and in our communities.

While looking for details of Brown’s death in Springfield, WMUA could find no mentions in media or evidence of an investigation. The meeting minutes of the Police Oversight Committee in Springfield on December 15, 2010, where Brown’s mother, Brenda Douglas addressed the committee was the only source we could find.

This piece was produced by Despina Durand.

Music for this piece is “Peace or Violence” by Stromae.