Members of the UNC community called on campus leadership and students in letters this weekend, addressing failures in the handling of COVID-19 at the University.
These letters, sent from the UNC chairperson of the faculty, chairperson of the Commission for Campus Equality and Student Equity and student staff from Carolina Housing, asked leadership and greater community for accountability — the latest in a months-long series of petitions, letters and protests.
In three days, the University confirmed four clusters of COVID-19 in student living — Ehringhaus Community, Granville Towers, Hinton James Residence Hall and the off-campus fraternity house Sigma Nu.
Lamar Richards wrote a letter addressed to the UNC community that was made public Saturday night, asking students to hold themselves accountable.
“You’re fighting and I hear you. You’re scared and I see you. You are not alone in this fight and I will continue to advocate alongside you until I no longer have breath in my body. The longer our administration continues to put our lives at risk the more likely it becomes that a member of our community will die. My heart goes out to each person affected by COVID and I am in disbelief of the current social climate of our community.”
Writing to the greater community was intentional, Richards said. The commission has advocated for holding all courses virtually and for restricting on-campus housing since July, directly to UNC administrators. But the “train has left the station,” Richards said.
“I’m no longer interested in attempting to persuade the Chancellor, the Provost — anyone that’s in the leadership,” Richards told The Daily Tar Heel.
Now, Richards is appealing to students. The campus community must acknowledge its impact not only on campus but on Chapel Hill residents, he said.
“We’re students and we pass through — and we leave all the damage in our wake,” Richards said. "We need to be more responsible about how we’re addressing the people around us.”
Richards is now asking students themselves to take responsibility for their actions, rather than the actions of the administration.
“We are the largest stakeholders, we are the key stakeholders — and this University belongs to us,” Richards said. “And so it’s time we take responsibility for our actions.”
Also on Saturday, Mimi Chapman wrote a letter to Chairperson of the Board of Governors Randy Ramsey and other members of the BOG asking for local autonomy for UNC-Chapel Hill leadership — again.
Chapman wrote that at a Faculty Assembly meeting last week, she asked System President Peter Hans about UNC leaderships’ level of independence, citing the letter written by the director of the Orange County Health Department recommending five weeks of remote instruction.
“ … he confirmed that such a choice would require a 'conversation' with the UNC System Office and the BOG, meaning that our Chancellor does not have the authority to do what he believes, given the best advice he is being given, is right,” Chapman wrote in her letter. “This is an untenable situation in which to put our leadership and I ask that you change it right away.”
Dawna Jones, chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, wrote a letter on Saturday to support Chapman's request, which was also addressed to Ramsey and the BOG.
Her first letter, sent on July 21, was based on the concerns of rising COVID-19 cases in North Carolina as a whole. But this latest letter is based on the identification of multiple campus clusters — all in a span of three days.
“It just seemed like once again, we really need the authority locally for the Chancellor to be able to make whatever decisions he needs to make based on the best science and our local conditions,” Chapman told the DTH.
Chapman said she hopes the BOG will grant this autonomy to UNC to instill confidence that the decisions affecting UNC and local community are made with considerations that line up with the reality in Chapel Hill.
“This is a chance for the System to really show what their values are, and that they have confidence in the leaders that have been selected for our local campuses,” she said.
Carolina Housing student staff
Student staff of Carolina Housing sent a letter addressed to leadership, including Executive Director Allan Blattner and Senior Director of Residential Education Kala Bullett, among “all other concerned parties.”
In this letter, over 50 members of student staff communicated that they do not feel safe in their positions.
“We understand that the University has put into place COVID-19 protocols to keep people safe, as has Housing; but we also understand it is not enough. It was never enough,” the letter states.
“We are, once again, left out of the conversation. Now, in addition, our safety has been compromised on multiple occasions, and many student staff are left anxious and unaware as our residents begin to move out, some en masse -- as they are left fearful too.”
One resident adviser, who co-signed the letter and asked to remain anonymous due to future employment concerns with Carolina Housing, said she has felt unsafe on multiple occasions.
She has witnessed residents not wearing masks, going to parties and “showing a blatant disregard for human life," she said.
Over the weekend, she said she received a call from residents concerned that a suitemate who they believed to be at a party off campus would bring exposure to COVID-19 into their living situation.
If the RA witnesses a resident not wearing a mask, she can issue an incident report.
“And then at this point it’s out of our hands and given to the community director,” she said.
But enforcement of community guidelines is not in her job description as an RA, she said. Fear of exposure to COVID-19 has negatively impacted her ability to focus on her coursework.
“I’m not the COVID police,” she said. “There’s only going to be too many times where I’m putting myself on the line of fire to do a job that’s really not even my job.”
Student staff were informed in advance of the Alert Carolina sent to inform the community of the clusters at Ehringhaus and Granville Towers. But student staff were not given advance notice when the University confirmed a fourth cluster at Hinton James Residence Hall on Sunday.
Blattner said in a statement via UNC Media Relations that he has received the letter.
"We have received the letter and are preparing a response the student staff who have expressed their concerns. We value all of our staff and appreciate their hard work, especially during this time," Blattner stated.
“I’m terrified,” the resident adviser said. “I have been seriously just contemplating whether it's safe for me to stay here.”
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