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Letter: UNC Black Congress message to Student Body President Savannah Putnam

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Black Congress logo

Message to UNC Undergraduate Student Body President Savannah Putnam: 

In light of the Daily Tar Heel article published on June 14, 2018 detailing your use of the N-word and other racially derogatory terms and expressions, Black Congress finds it important to highlight this event and detail the importance of true accountability to the communities you have committed yourself to serve as student body president. 

Upon discovery of your past statements, your instinct to deflect and dismiss the consequences of your words, shift blame to the DTH journalist, and tokenize your platform of supposed-inclusivity is extremely disturbing and dangerous. As a 21 year-old, you are culpable for your actions because you have been educated on the ramifications of racially insensitive language. The totality of your past and current actions demonstrate a lack of genuine critical thought about your past and sends concern to your student body, especially Black and other students of color. 

We, concerned students of the University community upon which such derogatory terms have greater consequences, want to see transparency, an ability to accept criticism and grow, and an ability to translate promises into substantial actions. We want to see you engage in candid and challenging dialogue about race on the campus you serve, so that you can learn, teach, and apply these lessons in your leadership on the campus we share. 

This past academic year, students formed coalitions across campus to continue the decades long fight to remove the Confederate statue Silent Sam from our campus. The pattern of Nazi, Alt-right, and Confederate rallies around Confederate statues across the US such as in Charlottesville, VA have created a racially hostile environment and have had real and detrimental effects on the educational experiences of students of color, particularly Black students. UNC is not excluded from this pattern of racist behaviors. The work to move our campus past this racist commemoration has pushed students to extremes because we know that this statue has no place on a campus that should be “For All Kind.” 

Following the news of your social media feed, your administration has now taken an effort to mitigate racial tensions on campus. While reactionary, Black Congress recognizes and is encouraged by your statement on Maya Little. We support the effort calling on Honor Court to drop all charges against Maya Little. She has worked tirelessly for the removal and proper contextualization of Silent Sam, while facing harassment and wrongful surveillance by this university and other actors. Maya Little’s brave act of civil disobedience to push out community towards a moral stand against racism should not be punished by Student Conduct. Nonetheless, there is still work to be done by your administration to demonstrate your commitment to a diverse, healthy and inclusive environment here at Carolina. 

We call on you to do the following: 

1. We demand more transparency through the release of a diversity report on your administration​. 

a. Your platform states: “This administration is determined to support underrepresented groups in fighting for equitable resources, including necessary on-campus spaces, so that they can flourish.” 
b. Too often students from diverse backgrounds become topics for discussion instead of being included in the discussion. If you intend to support these communities, they should be represented among your leadership— we want to see the complete breakdown of your administration. 

2. We demand more transparency and substance on the implementing of your ​diversity council.

a. If you truly stand with student activism, we are calling for student organizers​ to be included in this diversity council. 
b. Your administration should be transparent on who will be place on this council, the community they are serving, and their qualifications. There should be inclusive representation, not just from individuals through the student government pipeline, but from organizations and students who have been serving the campus community in diverse ways. ​ 

3. We demand the public release of your plans on an ​implicit bias training. 

a. Students of underrepresented backgrounds deserve to see exactly how you and your administration plan to to train others on bias. As these new revelations have brought your own biases (past or present) to light, your plans must be open to the public to foster accountability and trust. This release should include who the drafters of the plan are, information on the trainers, information on participant selection, and any other relevant information on its implementation. 

4. We demand that you highlight the intersection of mental health and a racially hostile environment​. 

a. Your campaign and personal work has extensively promised mental health efforts and reforms. Calling attention to the defunding of CAPS is necessary; however, it is a grave disservice for your advocacy to ignore how the mental health of students of color is severely impacted by the prioritization of a racist statue and other harmful practices over our safety​. Any policy reform towards CAPS should be inclusive of the traumatic experiences of marginalized communities. 

5. We demand that you and your administration publicly call for the immediate removal of Silent Sam​ from this campus. 

a. The real history of this statue as a commemoration to White Supremacy has been highlighted by various UNC historians. Its removal has been called on by multiple faculty members and departments, and it’s time your administration took a strong, public, and vocal stance on this pressing campus issue. 
b. When you call on its removal, you are working for all students. The racially hostile environment this statue has created for our campus doesn’t go unnoticed and it is greatly impacting your student body​. Your administration, per your campaign promises, should be joining the effort to foster an environment where ALL Carolina students have the potential to prosper, not just some. 

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Last Friday, you showed us that the work continues. We need to see a tireless effort to serve your student body by constantly improving. We demand you put the best interests of your student body in mind when you roll out the plans you shared with the Daily Tar Heel. We look forward to see if you act to foster a Carolina for ALL. 


Black Congress