Council votes to keep anthem

By Jessica Strand - Staff Reporter

Student Government voted to keep The Star-Spangled Banner in commencement on Tuesday, and to add an additional song that is more inclusive of the whole Highline community.

A conversation as to whether the national anthem should be in this year's commencement was started by Student Government President James Jackson earlier this year.

The discussion was started because of the ties the song has to a racist background.

The song was written by Francis Scott Key, a slave owner and anti-abolitionist.

What we know as the national anthem today, is only the first verse of song that Key wrote. There are three more verses in the song's original form. The third verse contains lines that refer to slaves.

Based on this, and the fact that when Key wrote the song there were many African-Americans who were slaves, several black students said the anthem being sung at commencement would not be inclusive of them.

Last quarter, Student Government facilitated a discussion where students, staff and faculty could voice their opinion on the issue.

On Tuesday, the council took two separate votes. The first vote determined whether the anthem should remain in commencement. Fourteen council members voted to keep the anthem, while four voted to have it removed.

The second vote determined whether an additional song should be added. Twelve members voted to add an additional song, while six voted to only have The Star-Spangled Banner played.

As one of the driving forces behind the vote, Jackson said he isn't happy about the final decision.

"[I'm] Devastated, once again African-Americans are told that our experience in this country does not matter," Jackson said. "This has nothing to do with respecting or disrespecting veterans. But it has everything to do with the continued disrespect of black Americans. To us that flag and the national anthem are symbols of oppression. White supremacy is strong, even at a school like Highline."

But it's not surprising to Jackson that the vote went the way it did.

"I suspected this is the way that it would go even though I didn't think it would be this lopsided," Jackson said. "I feel like if Highline and the administration were to honor their diversity commitment that this is a no-brainer."

Jackson isn't the only council member who isn't surprised by the results.

"I was completely unsurprised that the vote was so overwhelmingly to keep the anthem," said Vanessa Primer from the Nontraditional Students club, who voted to keep the anthem. "That's exactly what I expected this whole time because that was the voice that I was hearing around campus. Everyone was asking me 'why are we even doing this?'"

Primer has a good understanding of what it's like to feel like a slave, she said.

"I lived in the Middle East when I was younger," Primer said. "I've experienced truly having no freedom, so the fact that we all get to speak up in this forum and say what we want -- if JJ [James Jackson] chooses to kneel during [the anthem], you know what I would feel? I'm going to feel pride. I'm going to support his ability and his decision to do that, or do the black power fist or whatever he wants to do because you know what? He has the right to do it."

The council did not determine which song should be added to commencement, but the council discussed four possible songs at the meeting.

A preliminary show of hands for the songs showed people leaning most heavily toward as-yet-unwritten original Highline composition, with The Muckleshoot Anthem, followed by The Black National Anthem, and America The Beautiful with the fewest hands.

Tuesday's vote is only a recommendation, and not a final decision. The recommendation will now be brought to the commencement comittee for further consideration.

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