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Protests and rallies mark Winter Commencement in Chapel Hill

A counter protestor shouts at a supporter of Silent Sam through a megaphone during a confrontation in McCorkle Place.

As more than 2,000 UNC students turned their tassels at Sunday afternoon's commencement ceremony, student protesters and supporters of Silent Sam once again clashed in McCorkle Place.

The  University granted permission for Silent Sam supporters to gather for a group prayer Sunday, alongside the base of the toppled statue.

At noon, about eight of them — most donning the Confederate flag on some article of clothing — entered an area enclosed by metal gates.

They  were greeted by about 30 impromptu counter protestors. Soon, the two sides began to shout insults back and forth, with the metal gates acting as barriers.

Several local media outlets arrived to cover the protest. When reporters attempted to speak with supporters of the Confederate monument, counter-protestors blared various noisemakers, such as sirens and stereo systems, to interrupt recordings.

Members of Heirs to the Confederacy stand inside metal gates Sunday afternoon in McCorkle Place. They said a brief prayer before protesting in support of the toppled Silent Sam monument.

“We don’t want them to have a platform to advance their racist ideology,” said Lindsay Ayling, a history graduate student. “A lot of these neo-Confederates who come to UNC campus to demonstrate in favor of Silent Sam are either affiliated with groups who were in the (Charlottesville, Va.) ‘Unite the Right’ rally, or they themselves were at that rally, in support of the neo-Nazis.”

At 3:57 p.m., supporters of the Confederate statue packed their bags and were escorted from McCorkle Place by Chapel Hill Police.

About two hours earlier, more than 2,300 undergraduates and graduate students received their diplomas at the Dean E. Smith Center across campus. Outside of the venue, several anti-racist demonstrators held a rally.

The  rally — which was organized through a Facebook event titled “Anti-Racist Commencement Rally” — drew about 10 people. Among them was James Sadler, a Ph.D. candidate in education.

“We’re  here to support our anti-racist people that are graduating today, and we’re here to show up against white supremacy, especially since there are neo-Confederates up at the stump right now,” Sadler said.

Several anti-racist demonstrators rally outside of the Dean E. Smith Center Sunday afternoon during Winter Commencement.

In  their Friday meeting, the UNC Board of Governors rejected a proposal by Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees to house Silent Sam in an on-campus museum that would cost $5.3 million to build on the former site of Odum Village. 

Folt said in a conference call with reporters that the University is reconsidering off-campus alternatives to house Silent Sam. Five members of the BOG will guide campus administration and work towards a new proposal on March 15.

Danielle Dulken, a U.S. history graduate student who attended the rally, said graduate students will continue to demonstrate until campus is completely rid of the confederate statue and its legacy.

“We’re  absolutely determined to keep our actions going,” Dulken said. “These strike actions will continue until there’s no form that Silent Sam returns to campus, and there’s no center erected in its history.”

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