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Physics and Astronomy department releases statement supporting arrested students

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the letter condemning Silent Sam was released by the entire Department of Physics and Astronomy. Those who signed the letter represented themselves and not their institutions. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

Members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy released a statement on Monday condemning Silent Sam and supporting the students affected by protests.

Two graduate students from the department, Timothy Osborn and Joseph Karlik, were arrested at two different demonstrations in late August and early September. Osborn was charged with affray, and Karlik was charged with failure to disperse and resisting arrest

"We call on the University to acknowledge the threats our department members face," the letter said. "Tim was threatened at McCorkle Place with a knife in the hands of a white supremacist. Joe was unexpectedly shoved by an officer at a protest and fell. He was then tackled by officers and arrested." 

Tim Osborn, physics graduate student, was one of many community members to spend the night of Aug 24 at the monument.

To show support for the two students, the department called for the district attorney and the UNC Honor Court to drop all charges against them and all other "anti-racist" protesters.

"Their accounts are well-corroborated, and we believe them," the letter said. "By ignoring these threats, the University has fostered an unsafe learning environment."

The letter was written by a group of eight graduate students and one undergraduate student, aided by the department chairperson and the head of the diversity committee. With this letter, the signatories wanted to show their support for the students arrested, students of color who feel “unsafe and unsupported," and for the permanent removal of the statue from campus.

“Students of color have found it very difficult to focus on the reason they are here (at UNC) and the work they are here to do,” said Casey Berger, a graduate student on the committee.

According to the letter, the treatment of students such as Osborn and Karlik created an unsafe learning environment that does not align with UNC’s mission statement and values. 

Berger said the letter is an outlet to voice concerns to Chancellor Carol Folt, the University and the community at large. 

“(The protest) is taking time away from what we are intended to be here for in order to protest something that should have already been handled by the University,” Berger said.

The letter addresses the Chapel Hill community at large, asking for signatures to expand their message and impact to support students affected by the statue and its removal. Almost 200 signatures have already been collected. Signatories include department Chairperson Christian Iliadis, Associate Chairpersons Sean Washburn and John Wilkerson, as well as several other professors, graduate students and undergraduate students. 

“I agreed with every word and think that the University should stop wasting money and time on this stupid statue,” Washburn said.


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