In a 11-2 decision, the Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to lift the 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings and memorials on campus. The BOT voted unanimously to freeze the renaming of campus buildings in 2015, alongside a vote that changed the name of Saunders Hall — named for former Ku Klux Klan leader and UNC graduate William L. Saunders — to Carolina Hall.
Though the Editorial Board is grateful the BOT elected to do the right thing (this time), let us not forget the many battles we have not yet won, or the reason this decision was made in the first place. Black students, faculty and their allies petitioned the BOT to make this change happen, just as they were responsible for the removal of Silent Sam from our campus nearly two years ago. Given the impotence of our University’s administration, student and community activists are the sole harbingers of justice and accountability at Carolina, and the Editorial Board stands in solidarity with them always.
This victory, however, is short-lived. There is still much work to be done, and the BOT’s decision leaves us with more questions than answers. Which buildings will be renamed first, and when? Will the University solicit — and seriously consider — input from students during the renaming process? Will they choose to honor Black men and women, such as Zora Neale Hurston, who played a pivotal role in UNC history?
UNC has no shortage of institutional flaws — and based on its repeated tokenism of BIPOC students and initiatives of so-called “diversity and inclusion,” it’s clear the administration has little to no grasp of what racial justice truly means. Indeed, the University is long past the point of oblivion and has ventured firmly into negligence and willful ignorance.
What Guskiewicz and the administration fail to realize is that UNC is certainly not the University of the people — and it never has been, not even a little bit. But this is not news. Students and activists have been sounding the alarm for decades — and every time, the University has been indifferent. And thus, the only rational conclusion is that UNC simply does not care. It doesn’t care about its Black students or students of color — in the University’s eyes, they are merely a prop, a pillar buttressing the liberal facade that allows UNC to amass money, power and respect as a top-tier establishment of higher education.
UNC will not be a safe and welcoming environment for Black people while physical spaces dedicated to white supremacy remain on campus. Names have meaning, and what (or who) we choose to remember matters. Context matters. Despite the halfhearted efforts of last year’s Reckoning initiative, UNC has yet to fully reckon with its racist past, nor has it adequately acknowledged the pain and injustice it has caused Black students, faculty and staff for centuries.
This reckoning is long overdue. We hope that the BOT’s decision will be a catalyst for real, substantive change within the UNC community and beyond — it is sorely needed.