To deem graduate students’ brave and moral action – exceptional characteristics when it comes to UNC authority figures standing against white supremacy – as harmful and hostage-holding is distorted, factually unfounded and shameful. Despite the near-unanimous consensus that Silent Sam should be permanently removed from UNC, the TAs who partook in the action to withhold grades were the sole group standing up for Black and Brown students’ and faculty members’ safety by quite literally putting their money where their mouth is (the epitome of personal sacrifice).
The obtuse DTH editorial characterizing the TAs’ actions as selfish and exploitative disregards the conspicuous risks of engaging in such an action, especially for an already vulnerable, underpaid and unrecognized workforce at UNC.
Admittedly, I was at first concerned about the action because of the potential retaliation TAs would face. They put their futures on the line by intending to withhold grades until assured UNC’s Board of Trustees offensive proposal to return Silent Sam to campus would be rescinded. (The proposal, released the Monday before finals started, etched in our minds a $5.3 million price tag to exhibit how much UNC is willing to pay to uphold its white supremacist legacy and a militarized police force to target its own students.)
Then, I attended a meeting with Dean Kevin Guskiewicz and former Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt held to intimidate TAs from participating in the action. There, I witnessed the TAs’ collective and contagious power. While the administrators attempted to gloss over the pain and upheaval in which the campus was reeling from the proposal, the TAs stood strong on our behalf, thoughtfully imploring them to take the moral high ground and righteously protect undergraduates’ rights to safety, wellbeing and healthy learning environments. TAs in fact defended us from the harm Silent Sam poses on Black and Brown students and challenged the hostage-holding of UNC-sanctioned police forces violently attacking student protestors.
Beyond the sheer mischaracterization of the TAs’ intentions and action, the editorial appallingly equates the ‘harm’ students experience by not receiving grades on time – though we did all receive them by Dec. 17, the final day to turn in grades – with the dangerous harm inflicted on Black and Brown students by having a white supremacist monument that gathers those with such beliefs, where they verbally and physically abuse students and are condoned by UNC police and officials.