I will boycott UNC, will you?
Today is the first day of a campus wide boycott of commercial goods on UNC’s campus in response to the failure of the University to take down Silent Sam. It is currently scheduled to last until Oct. 18, and will include UNC Student Stores as well as the Pit Stop, bottom of Lenoir Dining Hall, Alpine Bagel, Wendy’s, Starbucks and Blue Ram Café.
It will not include the student-run nonprofit coffee shop The Meantime, an alternative lunch set-up by Nourish UNC behind the Campus Y or local restaurants on Franklin Street, some of whom have offered discounts or donations to the movement. I will be participating in the boycott, and encourage others to do so as well.
There are some obvious practical concerns that stem from the possibility of this boycott, and I want to address them frankly. Many students have already purchased meal plans, and can’t afford to spend more money on food. Fortunately, formal dining halls, like the top of Lenoir or Ram’s, are not targeted by this action.
In a similar vein, many students do not have the time or money for other meal options near campus. Nourish will host an affordable lunch alternative near the Eve Carson Memorial Garden and some local vendors are providing discounted or donated food to boycotters.
Beyond the impact on students, it is fair to be concerned about the damage done to local businesses that have branches housed on UNC’s campus. There isn’t a perfect solution to this concern, but the food provided by Nourish will be from local vendors and any shift of students onto Franklin Street can only help the local economy.
This leaves perhaps the most vulnerable community, workers. This boycott has been organized with the input of the UNC Workers Union currently being established, and the restriction on time the boycott is running is intended to prevent layoffs. Workers at UNC are not vulnerable because of this boycott. They are vulnerable because they don’t have a right to collectively bargain or strike if they work for the state under North Carolina law, and when they work for private companies on campus they are kept under constant duress without a living wage.
These practical concerns aside, the argument for removing Silent Sam has been made hundreds of times since at least the 1960s. Silent Sam is not simply a history lesson, it is a currently standing monument to racial violence, both the violence of the Civil War and of the early 20th century when it was erected. It should be a part of the past we discuss when discussing UNC’s history, but right now it is our present. Silent Sam is a part of the University’s ongoing failure in the same way that the disproportionately low number of African American students at UNC or recent attacks on the Center for Civil Rights are parts of our failure.
As outlined in a recent letter to the University, to which I was a signatory, UNC has not only the legal right to take down the statue, but a legal responsibility to its students to do so.
We must move forward together in making these demands. Not one step back.
Thanks for reading.
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