The oft repeated example of the Speaker Ban of the early 1960s which shows that the fight over free speech on this campus is nothing new. In 1937, UNC students in the Carolina Political Union tried to bring the revolutionary Leon Trotsky to campus when he was not allowed to even enter the country.
While it is impossible to name every cause ever advocated for on this campus, UNC students have protested David Duke speaking on campus in the 1970s, apartheid in the 1980s and today students are fighting against institutionalized racism and ending its glorification on campus. Removing modern activism from a larger legacy of action is ahistorical. Colleges are overwhelmingly hubs of activism and political action — and not limited to just one ideology. We should look to foster and encourage young, idealistic people to improve the faults of our society.
On the first day of classes last semester, a large-scale protest appeared to be that big hallmark event that would lead to change at UNC — the removal of Silent Sam. Thousands showed up, it garnered national news attention and forced every corner of the UNC community to ask “should we remove Silent Sam?”
Unfortunately that protest did not lead to Silent Sam’s removal. We’re still waiting on that to happen. Once Silent Sam comes down, the fight will continue here at UNC and a new generations of Tar Heels will inherit the legacy of UNC activism.
Student activism has always and will continue to have disagreements, good years and bad years, in-fighting and political divisions. What really matters, though, will be ensuring we leave a legacy, or “heel print,” that makes UNC better for new community members.
Our hope is that new generations of alums will encourage and support students, even if they do not fully support the cause. There is a value to disagreeing with students, as counterarguments encourage caution and show that society isn’t stagnant. What is not acceptable is using petty insults to dissuade students from fighting for causes they care about.
So this MLK day, think about how you can impact the Chapel Hill community. Not that long ago our community rallied around decrying Silent Sam. We need more of that fervent passion for equality everywhere — especially where we’ve historically shown we can actually make a difference.