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Tuesday June 6th

Letter written by Black faculty on Silent Sam receives support

<p>Silent Sam, a controversial monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, creates a divide between unaffiliated voters and those who have strong opinions about the decisions regarding this statue.&nbsp;</p>
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Silent Sam, a controversial monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, creates a divide between unaffiliated voters and those who have strong opinions about the decisions regarding this statue. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a letter written by Black faculty has over 400 signatures. 400 faculty members did not sign the original statement by Black faculty, but over 400 faculty signed a statement in support of Black faculty. The story has been updated for clarification on the signatures. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

More than 400 UNC faculty members have weighed in on the Silent Sam debate, signing a letter stating their support for 54 Black faculty who called for the statue’s permanent removal at the beginning of September. 

“The undersigned 417 faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, copied here, endorse and support the following position of (roughly) 60 Black faculty members of the University, regarding the disposition of the confederate statue that formerly stood on campus,” said the letter, addressed to the UNC Board of Governors, Board of Trustees, and President, as well as the general UNC community. 

The original letter was signed by dozens of Black faculty members at UNC. It asks officials to permanently remove Silent Sam from UNC.

“We have witnessed a monument that represents white supremacy in both the past and present be venerated and protected at the same time that we have been asked to serve as examples of diversity and inclusion,” the letter reads. “That is a demoralizing burden.”

The letter’s 417 additional supporters work in departments ranging from chemistry to communications.

“I first came to campus 30 years ago, and I remember seeing Silent Sam for the first time and being somewhat taken aback by it,” said Kevin Jeffay, a professor in the computer science department. 

Jeffay said the letter written by his Black colleagues accurately expressed his own views. 

“It was succinct, and it very much captured, I think, precisely my feelings and positions on the matter,” Jeffay said.

Some signers work in fields that directly pertain to the racial discourse that the monument has inspired.

David Garcia, a professor of musicology, felt compelled to speak out beyond his signing of the letter. He’s also responded to a University survey regarding Silent Sam, stating his desire for the statue to be removed from campus. 

“Issues of diversity and inclusion are very important to me, (and) have always been for all of my professional career," said Garcia, who can almost see the monument’s pedestal from his office window. "I research race. As a musicologist, as a professor, these are things that I think about all the time.” 

Like many student activists, Garcia said he believes the statue represents harmful ideas and stands in direct contradiction with the University’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

“When you go and read that diversity statement, it’s very clear about acknowledging and respecting all communities, including those historically marginalized,” Garcia said. “And it’s rather untenable … to keep very powerful emblems whose effects run absolutely contrary to what those statements are intended to do.”

David Baker, a professor in the department of English and comparative literature, expressed similar views.

“This momument (sic) was originally meant as a testament to bigotry and cruelty, as Julian Carr made clear in his dedicatory speech in 1913,” Baker said in an email. 

Carr’s remarks are unambiguous, Baker said, and should not be disregarded or supported at any American university. 

In an Aug. 31 conference call with reporters, Chancellor Carol Folt said it will be necessary to listen to all sides of the Silent Sam debate as university officials decided its future. The 417 signers add to the discussion surrounding Silent Sam’s future since demonstrators toppled it in August.

“I hope that it will be taken very seriously as a really important part of the public dialogue that Chancellor Folt requested,” said Janet Downie, a professor in the classics department. “And that it will be taken seriously as a part of that public and community and campus conversation.”

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