As the fall 2018 semester drew to a close, Chancellor Carol Folt apologized to the student body.
“I know how difficult these past few months have been and am sorry that this semester has been so trying and painful for many as we struggle to deal properly with Silent Sam,” Folt said in a campus-wide email.
The apology accompanied the announcement that Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees’ proposal to house the Confederate monument in a separate building on campus was rejected by the UNC-system Board of Governors. The BOG has since given the responsibility of determining Silent Sam’s fate to five BOG members, trustees and select UNC leaders with a March 15 deadline.
One of Folt’s key resolutions for discussions about Silent Sam in the new year is to meet with students and student groups on campus. Some of these meetings have already begun, preceding the start of classes.
“What we’ve learned is that we need to have many more conversations with our students and with our community so that people are feeling that they are part of that conversation,” Folt said in a conference call with reporters after the BOG rejected Folt and the BOT's plan on Dec. 14. “Every time I see students come be part of the conversation, I think it has really improved the situation.”
Dean Barbara Rimer of the Gillings School of Public Health led a session on Tuesday which included graduate student proposals for Silent Sam and personal anecdotes about how difficult the past semester had been for some students.
In the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Kevin Guskiewicz proposed departments meet with him separately, but was met with stark opposition from #StrikeDownSam, a graduate student and faculty group that claims to oppose UNC administration until the monument is permanently removed from campus.
An email requesting that the Dean meet with all departments simultaneously was signed by supporters and sent on Jan. 4, but the College of Arts and Sciences has continued to offer only department-specific meetings. #StrikeDownSam has boycotted these meetings, claiming that attendees from departments such as English and math have been in the single digits.
“Our objections to white supremacy and police brutality at UNC transcend academic discipline,” the email to Dean Guskiewicz said.
Folt has also stressed the need to ensure that students are able to focus on school and activities outside of Silent Sam.
“We also need to do everything possible to get them involved doing the other things that they love and do so well here,” Folt said. “It’s going to take all of us working together, all the deans of all the schools. We’ve all been talking about that, and we really do see it as one of our biggest goals going forward in the new year.”
The empty pedestal where Silent Sam once stood is still surrounded by gates and is along the path to classes for many students. Although most protests did not take place during traditional class times, many protests in the previous semester were held on weekday nights.
“I hope there will be fewer protests just because I don’t want to have to deal with the environments created by them,” sophomore Chris Cataldo said. “I’m not going to be naive though; I know that once the new plan comes, out the protesters are gonna come out in force again, and we’ll be right back to where we started.”
In a phone call following the Board of Governor’s decision to extend the deadline once more, Chancellor Folt stated multiple times that she was looking forward to finding an off-campus solution for Silent Sam. She said her priority for the moment is to involve the campus in finding a solution, as opposed to focusing on the March deadline.
“Most of the people I’ve met that aren’t anti-Silent Sam just want the whole thing to end and for people to calm down about it,” Cataldo said. “They don’t necessarily care where they put it as long as it isn’t disruptive.”
Despite Cataldo’s speculation that the start of the 2019 Spring semester will be somewhat quiet, a protest has been scheduled for Jan. 13 by “Take Action Chapel Hill.” The group plans to oppose Heirs to the Confederacy, a pro-Silent Sam group who held a prayer service at the Confederate Monument on Dec. 16 and plans to return on Sunday.
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