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UNC students gather for opening ceremony of 'Hurston Hall'

Followed by the music of Nina Simone, student activists called for the end of white supremacy on UNC’s campus. 

Students gathered on the steps of the currently named Carolina Hall to hold an opening ceremony for Hurston Hall, the name activists have been pushing for since last year. 

During the summer, the UNC Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the building from Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall and issued a 16-year moratorium on renaming historic buildings, despite activists' efforts calling for the building to be named after Zora Neale Hurston. 

"'Carolina Hall' is a sugar-coating of Saunders Hall updated for the aesthetics of 21st-century white supremacy: color blindness and multicultural diversity," said the statement released by the Real Silent Sam Coalition after the decision to rename the building. "This isn’t justice, it’s pageantry. We named this building after Zora Neale Hurston precisely because racist and sexist admissions policies excluded her and other Black women from UNC.” 

Friday’s event began with senior June Beshea reading out the released statement. 

“We will not honor William Saunders, an architect of white supremacy. Nor will we honor 'Carolina Hall,' because neutrality is white supremacy in disguise,” Beshea read. 

After Beshea, other students came to the mic and read quotes from Hurston from some of her essays and publications.

After quotes were read, the floor was opened to any students who wanted to share.

Shelby Dawkins-Law, a third year PhD student in the School of Education, took the stage to speak about her experiences as the President of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation. 

“In that position I felt silenced," she said. "I felt that my blackness, my womanhood had to be thought of second before my status here as a student."

Dawkins-Law said she has never felt comfortable in her nine years at UNC and then called out the University for ignoring past issues of slavery, rape and racism.

“At the end of the day this Carolina Hall is whitewashing every single black person who has been on this campus, every single black person who built this campus,” she said. "All of this is just a slap in the face."

Once Dawkins-Law had finished, sophomore Mitch Xia brought out a ribbon that had Hurston Hall written on it and said they wanted to welcome everybody to the official opening of Hurston Hall. 

“We will not accept the school’s renaming of this building," Xia said. "Carolina Hall is a cop out. Carolina Hall was a way of appeasing the mass, and appeasing correctness and making themselves feel better without actually doing shit."

After the ribbon was cut, Beshea ended the event with music.

Students hung around after the event to talk about Hurston Hall and problems with the University.

“I personally think it was a way to almost reinforce that black and people of color’s voices don’t matter as much,” sophomore Cara Pugh said. 

Pugh also read a Hurston quote during the event and said it was a very special moment.

“It was very empowering to read a quote by Zora Neale Hurston on the stairs of Hurston Hall in front of students that looked all different colors, all different sizes, shapes, genders, sexual orientations," Pugh said. 

"This is not just an issue with the black student issue — this is an everyone issue."

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