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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC covers up its racist past — literally

Last week, The Daily Tar Heel reported that the plaque dedicating Kenan Memorial Stadium to the violent white supremacist William R. Kenan, Sr. had been covered up with a large UNC logo. 

Why does this matter?

Last year, former Chancellor Carol Folt announced that the University would recontextualize the stadium to instead focus on Kenan’s son, William R. Kenan, Jr. This allowed them to sidestep the 16-year moratorium that the Board of Trustees imposed on renaming campus buildings back in 2015.

But rather than adding context to or removing the plaque, the dedication was simply obscured by the UNC logo in what the University referred to as a “temporary fix.”

The University's History Task Force was assigned to the Kenan Stadium project, but the group’s latest news update on its website was on Oct. 12, 2018, The Daily Tar Heel reported. 

This is the latest installment in an ongoing series of UNC's attempts to cover up its racist past.  

The University itself is built on white supremacy. The names of approximately 30 buildings on UNC’s campus have ties to white supremacy, past yearbooks show brothers of Chi Phi wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and blackface and the University routinely fails to recognize the role of civil rights activists in fighting Black oppression and segregation in Chapel Hill. 

We can’t erase our past — but what we can do is learn from it. Our history informs our present, and we need to be intentional about acknowledging who we were in order to change who we are. Centuries of institutional racism have resulted in profound and irrevocable harm to communities of color. But the University has failed to truly reckon with it, despite many half-hearted attempts to do so. 

So much of UNC’s legacy is thanks to the Black community, from the slaves who helped build this campus 229 years ago to the Black athletes who play for its beloved basketball team. The University owes the Black community so much more than a souped-up UNC logo slapped on top of the name of a man responsible for the massacre of at least 25 Black individuals. It’s just a Band-Aid fix — literally — to a much bigger issue.

Properly recontextualizing Kenan Stadium, as Folt promised over a year ago, should move to the top of the University’s priority list. By postponing the changes, the University continues to dehumanize and devalue its Black students, sending the message that their concerns aren’t worthwhile. 

Kenan is more than a name. It’s indicative of a power structure that disproportionately favors white lives over Black ones, and it perpetuates the glorification of white supremacists who never deserved to be heroes in the first place. 

If UNC cares about diversity and Black lives as much as it claims to, the administration should immediately follow through on the promise it made and remove Kenan Sr.’s name from the stadium. Reparative steps like this are the only way the University can begin to regain trust and credibility among its students. 

We’re tired of writing different versions of the same editorial, begging UNC to recognize the humanity of its marginalized students. At this point, it feels like we’re just screaming into the void. But more importantly, we know students of color are tired of living it.

This is an easy fix. Do better, UNC.

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