Since it fell in August, Silent Sam has been in the minds of many people at UNC. But it has weighed most heavily on the minds of many students of color, and especially Black students, like UNC junior Sydney Adams.
Before the beginning of the past semester, Adams said she had never been to a protest.
“I won’t speak for everyone in the Black community, but I know for a lot of us, our family outside of UNC have encouraged us not to go to protests,” she said.
Shortly after Silent Sam fell, Adams ignored the warnings of danger and attended a protest to make her voice heard.
But she didn’t know she would end the night gasping for breath after police deployed pepper fogger to disperse protesters.
“My eyes were watering. I was coughing,” she said. “People were standing on Franklin Street with water bottles and handing water bottles out, and I had to get halfway down Franklin Street before I could breathe again.”
Adams said this event weighed on her mentally, leading her to avoid protests for the rest of the fall semester. But as Silent Sam was in the news more and more, she found it was always there in the back of her mind.
It moved to the forefront for Adams when former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt proposed the University build a $5.3 million building dedicated to the statue, especially because it would have been located in Odum Village, which the UNC Black Student Movement describes as a historic "significant location for Black students to live and congregate."
For other Black students, such as junior Xzavian Carter, the museum proposal felt like "a slap in the face."
“As opposed to putting those millions and millions of dollars, or however much it was, into diversifying our campus and making sure that our students’ voices are heard, I sort of felt like it was a museum dedicated to the Confederacy,” he said.
Adams was happy she went to the Silent Sam protest, but in the coming weeks, she said she had two or three days where she could not mentally balance the news around Silent Sam with her academics and extracurricular activities.
Instead of studying, she found herself watching a UNC Board of Trustees meeting with her friend.
“I’m supposed to be studying for finals, I had three or four papers due, three finals and some other final assignments and I’m sitting there watching that for an hour and a half because I can’t get my mind off it,” she said.
During this time, Carter was also unhappy with the amount of mental space Silent Sam coverage was taking up in his head. But instead of embracing it, he decided to cut it out for the most part.
“I tried to still stay abreast of certain things, but also make sure I took some time for myself in terms of ensuring mentally I was stable and functioning properly and effectively,” he said. “So that meant taking some time away from the news and media coverage.”
This news coverage has not only affected the mindset of Black students, but also their friends.
UNC senior Cindy Oropeza said Silent Sam has messed with her friends’ peace of mind, because for a long time while the protests were going on, her friends wanted to avoid those areas of campus.
“If you want to walk around campus, and you want to go from point A to point B, you can just go straight to it, but for them no, they say, ‘Let’s go this way, and that way,’ so it affected them a lot,” she said.
The statue is now gone, but Adams said she believes the issue is far from over.
“I think I could never forget it, regardless (of whether) I was a Black student,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s something I can feel resolved about ever, especially because I don’t think the solution here is going to be to my benefit at all.”
For Carter, this tumultuous year has changed his mindset.
“I would say that since the falling of Silent Sam, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about this University and the country at large,” he said. “It’s forced me to sit back and think and reflect on certain things that have happened and overall be more critical of the things going on around me.”
Ultimately, for many Black students like Adams and Carter, Silent Sam has made their relationship with UNC increasingly strained and unclear.
Adams said UNC was her first choice university, and in the past she has always raved about how much she loved the University. But during interviews for internships, she has been asked if she is proud to be a Tar Heel, and whereas before she was always enthusiastic, she finds it’s now a difficult question to answer.
“I feel like I’m lying if I say 100 percent yes,” she said.
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