Graduate student Maya Little’s protest of Silent Sam late last spring will soon be judged not only in a court of law, but also in a court of her peers.
Little painted Silent Sam red with paint and her own blood in an act of protest on April 30. She was arrested and charged with defacement of a public statue.
Now accompanying the criminal indictment is one from the UNC Office of Student Conduct, which charged Little with stealing, destroying or misusing property on June 4.
In response, Little issued a statement along with a change.org petition calling on the Honor Court to drop the charges against her. The petition had nearly 6,000 signatures at the time of this article’s publication.
“The Honor Court will determine whether my protest against Confederate monuments is conduct unbecoming of a UNC affiliate,” Little said in her statement.
The charges Little faces in her Honor Court hearing are those issued by the graduate and professional student attorney general. After a report is filed to the Office of Student Conduct, it’s up to the student attorney general to determine if there is "reasonable basis for concluding that (the) student violated the Honor Code" and if the action affects University interests. If so, they then issue the charge as outlined in the Instrument of Student Governance.
Little’s alleged offense is listed in the Instrument under “student conduct adversely affecting members of the University community or the University” as “stealing, destroying, damaging, or misusing property belonging to the University or another individual or entity.”
Cases are tried under a burden of clear and convincing evidence. Every aspect of the offense must be found to have occurred by a majority of the Honor Court for the student to be found guilty.
“So, very frequently, students aren’t contesting the facts of the case, but rather just whether that behavior constitutes a violation,” said Undergraduate Student Attorney General Margaret Hassel.
For example, the Honor Court will have to decide whether Little’s act of protest constitutes damaging property.
However, Little and many other students, faculty and community members have asserted that this case should not be heard at all. Student Body President Savannah Putnam’s administration issued a statement in support of Little on June 21 in which they, too, called on the Office of Student Conduct to drop the charges against her.
“While we understand the controversy and backlash that Maya’s actions have caused, we also agree with the sentiments shared by our peers: it is inappropriate for the Office of Student Conduct to proceed with a case that could also expel Maya Little given the legal charges that she is already facing,” the statement said.
Every case that goes through the Honor System is eligible for expulsion since there is no maximum sanction. However, Undergraduate Honor Court Chairperson Mary Beth Browne said that, at least for the undergraduate court, it is an exceedingly rare punishment to implement.
Though it is possible for the student attorney general to drop the charges against a student, it is also a rare occurrence, Hassel said.
“We try really hard to get it right the first time by doing a thorough preliminary investigation,” she said in an email.
The power to reverse a charge decision also belongs to the Chancellor. The Instrument notes that “the Chancellor remains solely responsible for all matters of student discipline,” allowing them to intervene in Honor System proceedings. This is also generally only seen in extreme circumstances, but is not unheard of.
When asked for comment on the public response to Little's Honor Court charges, Chancellor Carol Folt declined to comment. The Chancellor's office provided this statement: "Due to federal privacy law and University policy, the Chancellor cannot discuss a specific case before
Little said that the silence from University administrators in response to the calls to remove Silent Sam has been both unsurprising and disheartening.
“To have such an overwhelming amount of people saying that you need to respond, you need to be held accountable, you need to deal with the white supremacy on this campus, and to just not respond, to me it’s so… it’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s really saddening.”
In her statement, Little once again cited the administration’s inaction and unresponsiveness, instead calling on the Honor Court to act.
“It is time to truly uphold lux libertas, light and freedom, at UNC. Chancellor Folt, the Board of Governors, and Margaret Spellings have already shown their opposition to both,” she said in her statement. “The student representatives of the Honor Court have chosen to investigate me, but they can still take this opportunity to act for free speech -- and against white supremacy.”
Little’s Honor Court hearing date has not been set, but her criminal trial is set for Aug. 20.
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