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University of Illinois blocks 9/11 memorial, only to back down hours after pressure campaign

The ‘irrigation system’ trumped honoring the dead, briefly

In the end, honoring the dead of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks beat the lawn-care needs of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The school backed down from its insistence that the campus chapter of the College Republicans not plant 2,977 small American flags on the quad as a memorial, following a short but intense pressure campaign by students.

Before agreement was reached Wednesday night, chapter President Chris Piper told The College Fix in a phone interview that the university claimed that placing flags in the ground would interfere with the “irrigation system” and lawn care.

Piper said the group’s application for the memorial was submitted weeks ago, but the administration reiterated Tuesday that the temporary flag planting was a no-go.

In an email given to The Fix by Piper that recounted their earlier meeting, Assistant Director for Student Programs and Activities Dementro Powell told Piper that rather than upset the lawn, the group could stick the flags in cups of sand or “foam,” “cardboard or any other foundation” that didn’t go in the ground.


Although Powell implied the irrigation system could be damaged by the flags, he suggested that the College Republicans spread the flags throughout the quad “instead of just in an isolated area” without saying how that would be better for the irrigation system.

In the next sentence, Powell appeared to contradict his own suggestion about a spread-out memorial: “The event has been approved to continue on the basis on what we discussed and agreed upon and that was not to place anything in the ground.”

The Thinker…Coach is always thinking of the next training plan, diet or adventure that I am going to lay out for my extremely loyal and devoted team…

Posted by Dementro Powell on Sunday, July 12, 2015


In response, Piper wrote to Powell that using a method other than the lawn for the flags would “be a great cost and inconvenience” to the chapter. He noted that the flags only “need to be pushed up to half a inch [sic] into the ground.”

Piper also noted that the chapter had installed the same flag memorial, in the lawn, in 2012: “Has the policy changed since then? Could you provide me with the exact policy?

“I have a hard time seeing how this flags [sic] could cause damage to the irrigation system,” Piper told Powell.

The flags were supplied by Young America’s Foundation as part of their annual 9/11 Never Forget Project.


Powell did not return Wednesday emails from The Fix asking for the university’s explanation before the agreement was reached.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Illini Republicans announced on their Facebook page that the school had agreed to the original plan.

“Thank you to everyone that has shown such great support of our effort to hold a 9/11 memorial on the Quad,” they wrote. “Your efforts have been noticed by us and the University. Thankfully, we have reached an agreement that will allow us to place all 2,977 flags for each victim on the Quad on Friday.”

Thank you to everyone that has shown such great support of our effort to hold a 9/11 memorial on the Quad. Your efforts…

Posted by Illini Republicans on Wednesday, September 9, 2015


A member of the chapter told Truth Revolt that it mobilized students to make “hundreds of calls” to the chancellor’s office and that the university was “overwhelmed” by the attention.

Piper also created a Change.org petition Tuesday night asking students to call the chancellor’s office and demand that students “should be allowed to remember 9/11” with the quad memorial.

Though it only drew a few dozen signatures, some commenters assigned bad-faith motives to the school.

One wrote that he signed the petition because “it’s pretty evident that the real reason for the rejection is neither to protect the quad grounds nor to consciously disrespect memorial observance, but simply to stymie the on-campus activities of the College Republicans organization.”

Another called the university’s initial rejection a “very shameful act (yes, again) by the U of I leadership,” apparently referring to high-ranking officials’ use of private email accounts to avoid having their discussions made available to public-records requests.

Disclosure: The author has worked with the Illini Republicans through Turning Point USA.

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IMAGE: Illini Republicans

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About the Author
Matt Lamb graduated in May 2015 from Loyola University-Chicago, where he majored in political science, and minored in economics and Catholic Studies. There, he was also an active member of Loyola Students for Life and Loyola College Republicans, and wrote for The Loyola Phoenix. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. His work for The College Fix has been featured by National Review, Fox News, New York Times, and several other news outlets. He currently works as a Field Coordinator for Turning Point USA.