What started as symbol of dissatisfaction turned into a tangible message when the student body president election results were announced on Tuesday night.
After minority student leaders derided the candidates leading up to the election, 10 percent of the total votes — or 403 votes — went to writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, who attended drama classes at UNC in secret before the University admitted students of color.
Hurston is a rallying call right now for students who believe that Saunders Hall, whose current namesake is a former University trustee that led the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1800s. Activists believe the Hall should be renamed to honor Hurston.
“It is important to tell the administration that in this election we would rather choose a person that is not with us anymore than one of the candidates that was running,” said junior Ishmael Bishop, who is also columnist for The Daily Tar Heel.
The idea to organize to show dissatisfaction with the student body presidential candidates began with discussions at the People of Color Caucus on Jan. 30th.
“That wasn’t because of apathy — that's just because of who the candidates were and were not,” Bishop said.
The original plan was to not write anything, but the idea was presented to write-in Hurston’s name to reflect the recent protests.
“We need to use different avenues to speak about lack of representation on our campus in places of power for people of color,” said senior Ashley Winkfield.
Other write-in votes included "UNC calls for Hurston Hall," a reference to the renaming of Saunders Hall and "Black Lives Matter," a national movement organized in reaction to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
The two remaining candidates, Kathryn Walker and Houston Summers, both expressed their desires to win over those who wrote-in Hurston after the election Tuesday night.
“I think it’s a powerful statement, I really do. I think it’s something that makes a statement more so about student government than any particular student group on campus,” Summers said Tuesday night. “I think it represents the fact that student government hasn’t stood as a voice for, you know, those particular individuals that wrote in ‘Hurston’ on the ballot.”
Walker echoed this feeling.
"I'm here listening, trying to understand what it is you need, what it is you want — not how I can tell your story, but how I can help you tell your story," Walker said Tuesday night.
Both Winkfield and Bishop expressed that they did not support the two remaining candidates, Houston Summers and Kathryn Walker.
“You have been given choice A and choice B, and there’s not much difference between choice A and B,” Bishop said.
Winkfield did not feel that either candidate could express the voices of people of color on this university.
“Neither one of these candidates can represent us to the Board of Trustees,” Winkfield said.
Some students who voted for Hurston said they wrote in the name to stand with students who felt they weren’t being represented.
“I think that it’s really important people of color feel like they are being represented,” said junior Christina Townsend. “It’s hard being a minority on UNC’s campus.”
Bishop said that he wanted the administration to know that they could’ve chosen to vote for a candidate, but were choosing not to.
“We know how to vote, we know what our rights are, and this election was not representative of what our views were,” Bishop said.
With the recent influx of activism, students are realizing the power they have on this campus.
“The alternative was to not vote and people are very aware of the power of student voices right now,” Winkfield said.
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