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Students express Silent Sam concerns at Board of Trustee's public talk

Silent Sam was located on McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill. 

Silent Sam was located on McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained errors in a quote by Mya Roberson.

Nearly 30 community members addressed the University’s Board of Trustees about the presence of Silent Sam on campus. Chairperson Haywood Cochrane opened the event for public speakers, disclosing that the Board intended to listen to speakers’ statements, but not offer responses. 

“We are committed, as we’ve said many times in the past, to sharing the full and accurate story of our University’s history,” Cochrane said. 

Many speakers criticized the University for allowing the statue to stand while simultaneously launching the Campaign for Carolina, a five-year, $4.25 billion campaign with the slogan, “For all kind.”  

Atrayus Goode, member of the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, said Silent Sam does not accurately represent the goals set forth in the campaign. When making his statement, Goode used a line from a video published to promote the Campaign for Carolina: "As an institution created of the people, for the people, we at Carolina put people first."

“My question is, in the context of Silent Sam, and what that statue represents, what kind of people are we putting first? Is it really all kind?” Goode said. “If we are afraid to do what must be done to remove an unapologetic symbol for white supremacy from this campus, then we are not a 'Carolina for all kind.'”

Many speakers also expressed concern over the public safety threat posed to students by supporters of the statue and the symbol of the statue itself. Multiple students cited incidents of death threats, racial slurs and harassment as they handed out information about the statue. 

Out of the nearly 30 speakers, three spoke in favor of allowing the statue to remain. One speaker, who did not introduce himself, drew a parallel between today's student protesters and Confederate soldiers. He said Confederate soldiers fought with a sense of honor, duty, loyalty and service, and today's students are fighting too. 

“They believed the cause they were fighting a just and noble and worthy cause," the speaker said. "Today, we can look back and recognize that it was not."

He said he believes that students could be wrong once again.

“They are shouting down invited guest lecturers, they are shutting down debates and discussions that are vital to our civic life and democracy,” the speaker said. “Students are being told that these causes are just and noble and worthy.” 

Junior Aisling Henihan analyzed this situation from the perspective of a historian in a class about contextualizing UNC’s campus. As she studied the period of the statue’s dedication, she said the intentions of the erection were a clear symbol of white supremacy.

“No one scrambled to hide the meaning of the monument,” Henihan said. “The only people who seem to be unclear about the meaning of monument today are North Carolinians who stare at its base and insist it’s something else.”

She spoke about her experience in a North Carolina public school, in which the curriculum overwhelmingly taught the Civil War was about states’ rights and economics. Once delving deeper into the topic at UNC, learning about the previous curriculum angered her.

“This is the real evil of our Confederate monument,” Henihan said. “It is a part of a campaign to tell a certain part of history, a history that glorifies white supremacy.” 

Graduate student Mya Roberson, recent graduate from Brown University, serves on the Corporation of Brown University, and said she knows the importance of good, thoughtful governance. 

In reference to protests in Charlottesville, V.A, she addressed UNC’s lack of action to properly address the role of Confederate monuments.

“I am embarrassed,” Roberson said. “Because this institution has shown the campus community and has shown higher education overall that it cares more about upholding white supremacist hate speech and symbols than it does about the safety of people of color that make up the very fabric of this campus.

"You may be tempted to call me a coddled millennial, and that is fine, but I am human, I am Black and I am fed up."

Chancellor Carol Folt closed the meeting by thanking the speakers. She said the idea for the event was received well by the Board, which unanimously agreed to listen to the community members voice their concerns.

“I wanted them to hear the caring, the humane, the thoughtful, the terrifying, the angry, the full realm of voices that we hear every day,” Folt said.

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