A lot of angry people are wondering exactly who was among the group that pulled nearly 3,000 American flags from the ground on the campus of Middlebury College in Vermont Wednesday. A joint service project of the College Republicans and Democrats, the 2,977 flags had been placed in front of the school’s Mead Chapel in memory of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. This photo, posted to Facebook by Young Americans for Freedom, reportedly shows a student and accomplices stuffing the uprooted flags into plastic trash bags.

The group’s leader and only Middlebury student, junior Anna Shireman-Grabowski, later identified herself as one of the five who destroyed the 9/11 memorial. She later wrote on the school’s blog that she had chosen “to act in solidarity with my friend, an Indigenous woman and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who was appalled to see the burial grounds of another Indigenous nation desecrated by piercing the ground that their remains lay beneath.”

Shireman-Grabowski gave a lengthy account of her motivation online. Those who haven’t built up a strong tolerance for contemporary liberal arts discourse are cautioned against reading the following paragraphs:

My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize the necessity of honoring all human life and to help a friend heal from the violence of genocide that she carries with her on a daily basis as an indigenous person. While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.

The emails filling my inbox indicate that this was not a productive way to start a dialogue about American imperialism. Nor did I imagine that it would be. Please understand that I am grappling with my complicity in the overwhelming legacy of settler colonialism. Part of this process for me is honoring the feelings and wishes of people who find themselves on the other side of this history.

Basically, yes. That and “visibilizing” the need to honor all human life.


Yes, there’s plenty more from Shireman-Grabowski over at Salon, including her take on Middlebury College’s “fracking problem.” And with students like her making the headlines, Middlebury has enough fracking problems already.