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Campus, Moeser Confront Race Relations Head-On

Campus, Moeser Confront Race Relations Head-On

But Chancellor James Moeser and his new team of high-ranking administrators have taken advantage of UNC's cultural diversity and confronted the issue by addressing it frankly.

"The South is one part of America that deals with race openly and freely," Moeser said. "I believe we have the best opportunity in places like Chapel Hill to create harmonious solutions to racial issues by not papering over them."

And recent protests concerning institutional racism have given Moeser the opportunity to confront issues of race relations, as well as activism, on campus.

The On the Wake of Emancipation Campaign protests in early April tested Moeser's willingness to heed students' concerns. Members of OWEC demonstrated on South Building's steps, providing one outlet for students to express their frustrations regarding institutional racism and the treatment of minorities at UNC.

OWEC presented the chancellor's office with a list of demands for change concerning what they feel signifies institutional racism.

Moeser said the meetings with OWEC have been productive and that progress is being made in negotiating OWEC's requests.

"We've been meeting with them very constructively, and much of what they are asking for are very reasonable requests," Moeser said. "The protesters have a sophisticated understanding of the issues."

Demands included disclosing the racist activities of some whose names are on campus buildings, recruitment and retention of minorities, suitable wages for housekeepers, support for the Sonja H. Stone Black Cultural Center and a clear statement against hate by the UNC administration.

Outgoing Black Student Movement President Tyra Moore said OWEC's purpose is to promote awareness around campus, including within the administration, of institutional racism.

Moore and many other OWEC supporters presented their demands to the chancellor on the day The Daily Tar Heel ran a column by David Horowitz, a conservative who has submitted ads to college newspapers across the country denouncing slave reparations. Horowitz's column sparked a great deal of debate among students, and Moore said that she chose not to address that debate.

"Those demands were presented to the chancellor because we felt it would be a great opportunity to not even deal with the negativity (of Horowitz)," Moore said.

Provost Robert Shelton has been the pointman for the OWEC protesters, Moeser said. With other UNC administrators present, namely Sue Kitchen, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Archie Ervin, director of minority affairs, Shelton has met several times in April with OWEC leaders.

But the specific demand to recruit more students of color is not a new issue. Although UNC has evolved from an all-white campus to one now composed of 79 percent whites and 21 percent minorities, Moeser says there is still work to be done.

"There's not enough diversity, but I'm pleased with the direction we are going," Moeser said, citing the Community Relations Committee as one example of how minority relations are improving.

Because UNC does not practice affirmative action, which requires institutions to admit a certain number of each minority, the number of admitted students on campus cannot be changed by any student activist group or Moeser himself.

But University officials say UNC still has a commitment to increasing campus diversity without just admitting students based on their race. "Race is not considered in the application process," Ervin said. "What is done at this University is we try to cast as wide a net as possible and try to get a variety, so you have students who are admitted irrespective of their race."

Although the admittance rate for minorities has progressively been increasing, many still feel that racism exists on campus.

Accusations of institutional racism bombarded Moeser last year on his Oct. 13 University Day address. Several members of the Housekeepers Association approached South Building chanting and demanding better treatment of UNC's housekeepers. Moeser stopped his inaugural address and said the protesters were a sign of the University's commitment to free speech.

"If you listen to me, I'll listen to you," he said from the podium.

Moeser said protesters know their topics and that he welcomes their presence on campus. "We have a statement of principles coming from a result of students and faculty and their enlightened activism," Moeser said. "Our students are not just on fire -- they are well informed."

And officials say Moeser is listening to those voices. Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities, said Moeser has already responded to housekeepers' demands -- with the help of other officials, he voluntarily proposed pay raises, which have been implemented.

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The increases affected 231 housekeepers for a total cost of about $227,000, with each worker receiving a raise of about 4.58 percent of the current salary.

Runberg said the Housekeepers Association did not make any specific demands regarding pay increases.

"It was the right thing to do," Runberg said. "Chancellor Moeser promoted the pay increases. It was not a demand."

Moeser said relations with the Housekeepers Association and leader Barbara Prear have been productive. Runberg said he and other administrators, including Moeser, continually work with the Housekeepers Association because their concerns are important. "We continue to meet with them to improve communication and address concerns they have," Runberg said. "There's a wide range of issues that are discussed, and we are trying to make improvements."

But leaders of the housekeepers union said while they are not entirely pleased with the results thus far, they do have hope for the future. "(The pay raise) was a drop in the bucket when you spread it over 12 months, but it wasn't anything we demanded so it's an A for the chancellor," Prear said. "We have met with Mr. Runberg over the past two years and there's not a whole lot of trust between us."

Prear said it is difficult to pinpoint problematic areas in the relationship between Runberg's office and the housekeepers. "It's just everything that has happened over the past two years," he said. "The next time we meet, I want to sit down in good faith."

Moeser also said establishing a campus welcoming to all races is an important and achievable goal. "It comes down to treating people with respect," he said. "We're on the way to creating a system that is fair to students of color."

Harry Amana, interim director of the BCC, spoke highly of Moeser's efforts to listen to minorities on campus and said he thinks Moeser is very open to their concerns. "I think he's done an incredible job in speaking and listening to the opinions and complaints of the faculty," Amana said. "He has come to the BCC and spoken to students and faculty here. He has also met with the Black Faculty Caucus."

Amana said he feels good about the direction UNC is taking with racial issues but also said more work needs to be done. "I say we have come a ways and still have a ways to go," Amana said. "I think we've made some remarkable strides, and we are going to make some more."

Some of those strides include the addition of a freestanding BCC building that will break ground Thursday.

Moeser also has addressed racial issues through the Community Relations Committee composed of minority community leaders. He said the group will make settling problems much easier by establishing contacts before problems begin. "I've been told that no other university has done anything like this," he said. "I think we are making progress."

But the protests haven't stopped at race. During his first year at UNC, Moeser has encountered protests concerning issues ranging from sports jerseys to anti-abortion displays.

Students for Economic Justice vehemently protested UNC's contract with Nike this year, claiming workers at the Kukdong factory in Puebla, Mexico were being treated inhumanely. The Kukdong factory is contracted by Nike.

Moeser said the administration is going to great measures to modify UNC's involvement with the factory, as well as the treatment of Kukdong's workers. "We are in the process of negotiating with Nike," he said. "SEJ are sitting at the table on this issue and progress is being made.

"I am pleased with the way students have presented their issues this year, and I am pleased with the way we've responded."

Moeser has shown his support for free speech on several occasions, such as an op-ed column he wrote for the DTH concerning the debates caused by the Horowitz column and the Genocide Awareness Project, an anti-abortion campaign that displayed pictures of aborted fetuses on campus. "I would suggest that to be truly educated and informed, we must be willing to look at all sides of an issue -- even those with which we disagree," Moeser said in his column.

Although protesters inundated Moeser with complaints during his first year at UNC, the chancellor has no complaints of his own. "I was an activist," he said. "I think activism is a wonderful sign of life on the campus. If we didn't have it, I would think something was wrong."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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