‘We don’t want it’: Silent Sam discussion briefly interrupted by student protesters
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and other university leaders met with the university’s faculty council on Friday afternoon to discuss Silent Sam.
The Silent Sam statue, in honor of North Carolina’s Confederate dead, stood on the campus from its dedication in 1913 until August, when a group decrying its racist history dashed it from a pedestal. Since that time, campus leaders have considered next steps.
On Monday, Folt announced a plan to build a $5.3 million “center for history and education” to house the statue on campus.
“It was very clear, public safety alone would make it impossible to return it to its base or any outdoor location on our campus,” Folt said. “We developed a plan, most important to me, that I believe could be successfully safe, that I believe could actually be based at its core on education.”
That plan brought people to the streets Monday night for a protest, in which a series of speakers, most of them African-American, blasted what they see as a continuing attitude of tolerance for racism on campus, an attitude they say is exemplified by Silent Sam.
During Friday’s meeting, student protesters briefly interrupted and members of the faculty council stood in solidarity.
Their message was straightforward - Silent Sam should not be resurrected on campus.
“Our safety means this statue does not belong on campus. We don’t want it anywhere on campus,” said Angum Check, a senior at UNC.
Check said the physical and mental health of students is at stake if the statue stays.
“I’m tired of her (Folt) trying to please everyone,” said Check. “She can’t please everyone. She needs to pick a side and she needs to stand firm in that side that she picks.”
The university’s faculty council spent time reviewing Folt’s recommendation, but two resolutions were also up for discussion.
One that would support the permanent removal of Silent Sam from campus, and another that would establish a committee to represent the concerns related to the impact of the statue.
“This committee shall be included by university administration in all planning for the disposition of the statue and related actions or developments,” the resolution said.
Both passed, but students still say more needs to be done.
“I am projected to graduate with distinction and now I don’t know if I can because I have been consumed by this this entire finals season,” said Check. “I cannot study. I cannot concentrate. I cannot eat. And she does not seem to understand that my mental health and wellbeing has always been at stake since I stepped foot on this campus.”
Students in opposition of Silent Sam have also encouraged teaching assistants to join a strike, in which TAs and instructors have threatened not to grade some assignments and withhold grades.
The UNC Board of Governors is expected to review the Silent Sam proposal at its Dec. 14 meeting. It’s unclear whether they would have the final word, or whether the North Carolina Historical Commission would have to sign off as well.