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Students protested history of aggression outside Saunders Hall

Students gather outside of Saunders Hall on Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. demanding the name be changed to Hurston Hall, honoring the late Zora Neale Hurston.

Students gather outside of Saunders Hall on Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. demanding the name be changed to Hurston Hall, honoring the late Zora Neale Hurston.

“This is what Saunders would do to me,” Lackey said.

Students of color stood on the steps of Saunders Hall with nooses draped around their necks from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to demand the renaming of Saunders Hall, which is named after a former trustee and Ku Klux Klan leader.

Activists with the Real Silent Sam Coalition discovered documents in Wilson Library’s university archives that list “head of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina” as a qualification for having a building named in his honor.

“There is no ‘accusation,’ there is no ‘claim,’” Lackey said. “That is his legacy that the University recognized, those are his credentials for having this building named after him.”

Monday’s demonstration echoed symbolism used in the 1999 demonstration, where protestors hung nooses around Saunders Hall. At its peak, more than 15 students participated in the performance.

Demonstrators spoke of the hostile environment on campus created by racist comments on Yik Yak and other social media platforms, and how the name of Saunders Hall facilitates this aggression.

“As long as these buildings, as long as this history is conceptualized and perpetuated in our own system, we still have nooses,” said Jordan Peterkin, a demonstrator and UNC student.

Benjamin Rubin, a geography graduate student, said renaming Saunders would represent a move forward in the building’s history.

“When people say, ‘Oh, it was normal to be in the KKK at the time,’ yeah, it was normal at the time, and that’s the point,” Rubin said. “We are trying to say that we reject a dominant culture of hatred and violence toward black bodies.”

Demonstrators also expressed frustration with UNC’s treatment of minority students.

Lackey said people have told her if the University’s climate and landmarks offend her, she should leave campus.

“When people say I should leave if I’m offended, that means if a KKK member offends you — so all people of color — you should just leave this campus,” Lackey said.

Geography graduate student Pavithra Vasudevan said it is important for students to understand the history of their University.

“The 1920s was a time when a lot of memorials were placed that were explicitly about white supremacy,” Vasudevan said. “It was a very active effort in our past to honor white supremacy, and this is an active effort to correct that. That’s an important distinction because I think people want to make it a neutral history, but there’s nothing neutral about it.“

The geography and religious studies departments, which have offices in Saunders Hall, wrote a statement in support of renaming the building. It was signed by 83 faculty members and graduate students.

The departments also advocate for the creation of a first-year program that teaches UNC’s racial history, similar to the Black and Blue tour.

A common criticism of the campaign is that many buildings and monuments around campus are named after people affiliated with the KKK, and that renaming Saunders Hall could spark name changes across campus.

“If this name is changed it’ll be the result of so much struggle,” Rubin said. “The idea that changing this name after decades of activism will immediately lead to a flood of all the other changes is ridiculous."

“The slippery slope argument doesn’t work until you’re on a slope.”

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