UNC responds to Charlottesville violence

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Protesters drape a flag that reads "Rest in Power: Heather Heyer" over the Silent Sam monument. Heyer was hit and killed by a car that drove into a crowd during the Charlottesville protests.

Chancellor Carol Folt released a statement Tuesday condemning the events in Charlottesville, Va., but some students and faculty say her letter wasn’t enough. 

In her statement following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Folt called the events tragic and deplorable. 

“The scenes of violence, torch- and gun-bearing protesters, and people wearing KKK and Nazi symbols and shouting hateful slogans were terrifying and have no place on our campuses or in our society,” Folt said. “Outpourings of hate, violence and intimidation can tear apart the fabric of open communities like ours, and we need to be vigilant against them.” 

In the statement, Folt included a link to information on the First Amendment and laws related to the Confederate monument. The information provided said the University cannot prohibit freedom of speech and that they cannot remove any monument, including Silent Sam – UNC’s own Confederate monument – due to their protection under the Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act of 2015. 

Folt’s statement followed events from Durham, where anti-Nazi protesters pulled down a Confederate monument, and came the same day Gov. Roy Cooper wrote that all Confederate monuments on North Carolina state property should be removed. 

Kenneth Janken, a professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, said Folt’s response was generic in comparison to Cooper’s statement. 

“It would’ve been nice for her to say something along the lines of, ‘I would like the authority to take down the Confederate monument,’” Janken said. “If the governor was clear, I don’t see why the University couldn’t have been clearer, instead of offering a very… generic or boilerplate reassertion of the importance of free speech.” 

Senior student activist Morgan Howard said she understands that Folt usually remains neutral due to her status as a public figure. She said she thought Tuesday’s statement was one of her stronger emails – but it could’ve been stronger.   

“I can understand that you have to toe the line, but there’s also students here that you are in charge of, in charge of their safety and their well-being,” Howard said. “Having that statue jeopardizes that, and we should be doing something about that.” 

Junior student activist Mistyre Bonds said she wants to see Folt address the significance of Silent Sam and encourage debate on its removal going into the school year. 

“Because the Charlottesville protest was centered on a Confederate statue, and because UNC has one on our campus, I feel like she should address that,” Bonds said. “Cooper’s backing that the statue should be taken down is further evidence that something needs to happen about Silent Sam, and that’s been the case for years, but if there’s any time that it should happen, it should be now.” 

Removal of Silent Sam isn’t something Folt can do on her own, due to its legal protection. Howard said she knows Folt’s hands are tied, but she’d like to see students take action. 

“It’s really up to legislators, and students really talking to legislators and protesting to get a new bill,” she said.   

university@dailytarheel.com

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