Silent protest over confederate monument speaks volumes
Half an hour into the annual University Day performance, students rose from their seats and silently exited Memorial Hall. The students conducted this silent walkout to protest the administration's lack of action to remove the Silent Sam statue.
The protest, which was organized by senior Michelle Brown, was a component of the UNC Boycott movement. Brown said over 30 students participated in the demonstration.
The silence of the protest was intentional, Brown said, because of the Board of Governors' recent policy draft that could result in the expulsion of any student who disrupts another demonstration of free speech on campus.
"To avoid any excuse for the Administration to punish us because we already know that they're not standing with us on this issue, we're going to keep it silent," Brown said.
Brown said she had not realized how much support the movement had until they began spreading the word. The sit-ins, boycott and protests on campus have garnered positive support from local residents, faculty members and students. According to Brown, faculty members have begun a Silent Sam task force and have written to Chancellor Carol Folt.
Still, not all reactions to these forms of resistance have been positive. During the walkout, a man drove past the group of students and yelled, "Leave Sam alone!" from the window of his truck.
Participant Courtney Staton said there are many misconceptions about the movement.
"Protesting Silent Sam is not just trying to disrespect 351 students who fought for a cause," Staton said. "It's trying to bring attention to the fact that that statue is more than just a historical monument, that it is a rallying point for dangerous groups who don't like black and brown people."
As a student assistant at Wilson Library, senior Mackenzie Kwok was struck by the history of the dedication of the statue and memorialization speech from Julian Carr, a Confederate Civil War veteran. A participant in the protest, she said the most important thing to do is educate oneself about the original intentions of those who founded the memorial.
"It wasn't until I read the entire speech for myself that I realized how undeniable it is, that racism, not just Confederate heritage, is part of the University's history," Kwok said.
Staton believes there is an expectation on campus that students of color will be the ones taking action.
"Sometimes boycotting and activism and all that can be inconvenient; it can be uncomfortable, but do it anyway because there are people who are going to do it anyway, and we can't just count on those people all the time," she said. "It's been frustrating because I feel like there's a piece of our student body that is hurting, and there's not enough people who care about it enough to try to fix it."
According to Brown, the goal of the protest was to elicit a statement from the administration. Brown feels Folt has not been direct enough in her statements concerning Silent Sam.
"I think why we all want to protest is for Chancellor Folt to speak out the words specifically, 'Silent Sam represents racism, hatred, violence and white supremacy'," Brown said. "Until she says that, we'll continue to protest."