It has now been 14 years since nearly 3,000 lives were tragically taken from us on September 11, 2001. As a result of that day, the United States was awakened to the global threat that is terrorism and became involved in two complicated and controversial wars that took the lives of thousands of other American soldiers. This past Friday, Brandeis Conservatives and Brandeis Democrats co-sponsored a memorial in honor of the 14th anniversary of September 11th. American flags—one for every individual who perished during the attacks—were spread out across the Great Lawn. The memorial was supposed to be apolitical—a bipartisan display of unity in the face of terror. Indeed, for much of the day the flags served their purpose; throughout Friday I witnessed people, including Brandeis University’s official Facebook account, post pictures of the flags onto their social media accounts, accompanied by statements of their memories of the day and reflections on 9/11 nearly a decade and a half after it transpired.

Yet, unfortunately, the memorial was vandalized and its meaning tarnished. According to eyewitnesses and a post on the Facebook group Overseen at Brandeis, at around 4:00 pm on Friday several Brandeis students rearranged the flags to spell out the words, “Proud of Iraq?”

There are a litany of problems with the vandalization of the display. First and foremost, rearranging a memorial to spell out a partisan political message constitutes an insult to the memory of the 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the desecration of a memorial to one of the most trying days in American history is not only immensely disrespectful, but also insensitive to students who may have been personally affected by the attacks. The flippancy of the perpetrator, as well as their disrespect for the fallen in ruining the memorial is disconcerting.

Secondly, the flags used in the memorial were privately owned by a Brandeis student and used with permission by the two groups that hosted the event. Further, the Great Lawn was reserved using the proper University means. Tampering with the private display on a reserved Great Lawn is a violation of section 6.2 of the Student Rights and Responsibilities 2015-2016 handbook. The tampering of the display constituted vandalization of property of Brandeis students and clubs, as well as the violation of those student organizations’ right to free speech and to openly express their beliefs. The purposeful vandalization of property as a result of political disagreement is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.

A person’s rights are superseded when they are used to suppress the rights of someone else. I believe in free speech and practice and advocate for it every day. However, a political stunt designed to defile a 9/11 memorial cannot and will not be tolerated.

Lastly, while the vandalization at Brandeis is abhorrent, this is not the first time a vandalization of this nature has happened on a college campus, even at Brandeis. The incident is representative of a pattern of attempts by students on college campuses to drown out voices they disagree with and silence dissent. On March 24, Brandeis Conservatives hosted Ben Shapiro, Editor-at-Large of Breitbart News and a controversial figure on college campuses. The event was promoted as an opportunity for Brandeis students to hear from a prominent conservative speaker. However, instead of participating in the event and learning about the other side of the political aisle, students instead ripped down all the posters advertising the event that were placed around campus.

Similarly, in December 2014, after writing a satirical op-ed attacking political correctness, Omar Mahmood, a student at the University of Michigan who holds conservative and libertarian views, was fired from the college paper he wrote for and found the doorway to his apartment vandalized, according to the Daily Caller. The Michigan Daily ordered Mahmood to apologize to a staffer who was "offended" and allegedly felt threatened. He refused, and was summarily fired. Later, security cameras captured a group of four women donning hoodies just before vandalizing the doorway to his apartment. The girl wrote such messages as "scum," a "self-righteous d--k” and claimed that “everyone hates you..." There was also a picture of the devil along with eggs, gum and hot dogs.

Between incidents involving Brandeis Conservatives and other speech incidents here, including the rescinding of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and at other universities, students who just want to have their say in the overall discourse have been steamrolled and bullied into submission. The same is true of those who are invited to speak on college campuses. Last year, Bill Maher, an avowed member of the political left, made controversial statements about Islam during a debate with actor Ben Affleck. Maher said that radical Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f--king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book,” on an episode of his show that aired on Oct. 3, 2014. Afterward, a student group at the University of California, Berkeley that had selected the comedian to give the school’s winter commencement speech moved to disinvite him, stating their opposition to his assertions, despite the fact that he was exercising his right to free speech.

Maher ended up delivering his keynote address, but others have not fared as well. In 2014, students and faculty at Rutgers University in New Jersey protested the announcement that Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State, was set to speak at that year’s commencement. They protested her speech because they disagreed with her politics, going as far as calling her a “war criminal.” Unfortunately, after it became clear that her participation would turn commencement day into a politicized protest, Rice withdrew from the ceremony.

It is clear: silencing others on college campuses is a recurring theme. Without clear and unabashed respect for student rights and true free speech -- which includes witnessing, listening to, and respecting opinions, displays and other forms of speech one may not like -- more vandalizing and disrespect for all students’ opinions will continue. It is necessary that political discourse be held at the appropriate place and time; the 9/11 memorial did not fit into either category.

One positive aspect did come out of the events that occurred on Friday however. Brandeis Conservatives has received an outpouring of support over the event and condemnations of the vandals’ actions. A statement posted by Brandeis Conservatives condemning the political hijacking of the memorial was shared to such an extent that it was viewed by over 2,500 people. This incident has the potential to unify the Brandeis campus.

The Brandeis administration must take the appropriate measures necessary against the perpetrators of the vandalism and show that such actions will not be tolerated. The flag incident should serve as an impetus to transform the campus atmosphere at Brandeis to a more inclusive one. Only by attempting to understand different political views can we work together to improve political dialogue and, on a greater level, solve the challenges that affect our community and country.