Students plan to gather at 12:10 p.m. today near the Silent Sam monument at McCorkle Place to propose a new name for Saunders Hall — Hurston Hall, named after Zora Neale Hurston, who was a faculty member at North Carolina Central University.
The “Kick out the KKK” movement has worked for years to rename Saunders Hall, which is named after William Saunders, a UNC alum and trustee who was also the chief organizer of North Carolina’s KKK in the late 1800s.
“I feel disgusted to call myself a Tar Heel while these symbols are allowed on campus,” said Omololu Babatunde, one of the students involved in the Real Silent Sam Coalition, the group organizing the rally.
Babatunde expressed her frustration with University administrators, saying that though Board of Trustees members claim they have started a dialogue, there have been no changes on campus. Ultimately, the board decides whether the hall will be renamed.
“Last year, the Board of Trustees told us they would listen to us as long as we didn’t make a scene,” Babatunde said. “We did a petition and a very small rally and then we spent a lot of time and work on a presentation for them, but they didn’t respond. It’s hurtful and very disrespectful.”
Babatunde said students are tired of speaking out and not receiving a response. Renaming the hall would give students proof the administration is willing to work with them, she said.
“Students are saying this isn’t a healthy environment for them to be in,” she said. “With cuts to the Stone Center and talk of repealing affirmative action and certain posts on Yik Yak, my identity as a black student was under attack.”
“I just don’t think the administration gets that all of this is connected.”
Freshman Alan Cat said he disagrees with renaming Saunders Hall. Cat believes Saunders’ contributions to state education should not be discounted because of his involvement in the KKK.
“They are judging him from a present-day context. Back then it was socially normal to be a KKK member,” Cat said.
Freshman Justin Cole said renaming Saunders is the wrong way to go about fixing campus racism.
“We need to change ideas rather than names on a building,” Cole said. “Focusing the movement around changing the name of a building minimizes the issue and ignores what we can do to fix it.”
But Babatunde said she believes the movement to rename Saunders is symbolic.
“This isn’t a building,” Babatunde said. “This is an ideology that gets people killed, and it’s disgusting the University supports that.”
In 2014, Duke University renamed Aycock Residence Hall — which was named after a white supremacist — after students petitioned for a name change.
Black student groups came up with the name Hurston Hall as an alternative name. William Ferris, a professor of southern history, said Hurston’s contributions to the University as a black writer still have an impact in classrooms across campus today.
“She has an important tie to UNC in that she came to work with people here at a time when few black writers were working with UNC faculty,” Ferris said.
Hurston also studied in UNC’s theater department in secret during segregation.
“This is our university and our campus even if the administration has restricted our rights and ignored our demands,” Babatunde said.