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Column: Taking responsibility and getting real

Sammy Slade is a Carrboro Town Council member. Photo courtesy of Sammy Slade.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Sammy Slade is a Carrboro Town Council member and UNC alumnus.  

I am writing as a UNC graduate, community member and now Town Council member of Carrboro, one of the towns that is being most affected by UNC’s reopening. I have been very disheartened by UNC leadership’s inability to keep the true longer-term well-being of our communities at the forefront of their choices, as well as their inability to take responsibility for their actions. 

When I first wrote this post, I was concerned about what UNC’s reopening would do and mean for our community and beyond. Today, I am saddened that those concerns were more than on point — outbreaks have happened and harm to students, their families and our communities is inevitable. 

But, more than that, I have been utterly dismayed by the inability of leaders to take responsibility for the reckless choices they have made. When asked, Provost Blouin said, “I don't apologize for trying.” His lack of humility or recognition that his “trying” was quite literally gambling with peoples’ lives blows my mind. 

Not only am I troubled by the fact that even though they have not been elected, they make decisions that are and will continue to negatively affect our communities, but also because they are unwilling to learn from, or acknowledge, their mistakes. On the contrary, they double-down, blaming the students for their behavior even when the CDC had listed UNC’s plan as “highest risk,” even when congregate living facilities all over our country demonstrated the inevitability of these outbreaks. 

This focus on individual behavior and blame is emblematic of our culture and our inability to consider the systemic and foundational assumptions that keep us locked into a set of institutional practices — even when they place our lives and the lives of others in mortal danger.

As such, my goal here is not simply to admonish these leaders. These leaders are just doing what leaders in this culture do. Rather, I want to make a connection to the larger crisis we are all facing: the climate emergency. Perhaps this pandemic can be an opportunity to understand the consequences of choosing expedient short-term actions rather than the more difficult longer term but REAListic approaches. 

Since leaders in our dominant institutions have shown that they refuse to, it is up to us students, faculty, workers and community members (and hopefully elected officials) to get real. We need to recognize the parallels to the REAL action and change needed to actually address the climate emergency and its root causes. 

Yes, many of these will be hard choices, not popular, and even seem to contradict our commitments to economic growth, among other things. However, if we are to take the science seriously — as we should have done in this case — it is clear that deep cuts and other fundamental shifts in how we operate are necessary NOW. We need to continue to build our power and democratize this system, or the consequences will be even more dire than the ones we face currently.

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