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Movement to remove Silent Sam continues to grow at UNC

As the N.C. Historical Commission studies its options and the UNC administration and Board of Governors lock horns over the issue, the movement to remove the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument from UNC’s Chapel Hill campus continues to gain momentum.

Last week UNC’s Department of Religious Studies became just the latest in a series of university departments to release a statement supporting removal.

The statement is brief but covers a lot of ground – connecting the study of religion to the issue, calling for administrative action and student protests of the statue as a “vital service.”

It is impossible to study religion without recognizing the importance of cultural, social, and political diversity, the enormous power of material objects, and the profound ways in which the past pervades the present. The Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” exerts the ongoing power of white supremacy on our campus. As religious studies scholars, we are particularly aware that it was erected as an icon of social inequity and that white nationalist groups today have invested its presence on campus with sacred value.

In his 1913 speech dedicating the statue, Julian S. Carr celebrated the “sacrifice” of Confederate soldiers, the purity of “the Anglo Saxon” as a “Christian race,” and God’s providential blessing of the southern states in order to sanctify racial violence, a violence that continues today against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. “Silent Sam” still enjoys the privilege of sacred space on this campus, not only raised high but also guarded by cameras, police, and sometimes barricades. Allowing this statue to remain in McCorkle Place contradicts the university’s policy on non-discrimination, which states that “The University is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.”

In her August 30th, 2017 email, Chancellor Carol Folt called on the campus community to “promote robust dialogue and debate” in an effort to encourage and protect free speech. In order to demonstrate its sincere commitment to the freedom of expression, the University must end its policies curtailing student activism around the statue and throughout the campus. Their material, embodied, and creative counter-narratives provide a vital service in challenging the legacy and ongoing threat of white supremacy.

The Department of Religious Studies calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” from McCorkle Place and the full protection of the student activists’ freedom of political expression.

“Silent Sam” is the only Confederate Monument on a UNC campus.

The Religious Studies statement joins those from a number of other departments, including  AnthropologyHistory, Art & Art History and English and Comparative Literature.

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UNC responds to “Silent Sam” lawsuit threat, students boycott

Attorneys for The University of North Carolina responded late Friday to a threatened federal lawsuit from students over “Silent Sam” – a Confederate monument on the Chapel Hill campus.

The university’s response  suggests students claiming that the monument creates a racially hostile learning environment take their complaint to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office at UNC-Chapel Hill but says the university disagrees that they have a valid Civil Rights claim under Titles IV and VI.

Hampton Dellinger, the Durham attorney and former N.C. Deputy Attorney General working with students toward the complaint, penned a response of his own Friday:

“I am surprised that UNC is contesting the fact that Silent Sam creates a racially hostile environment. The case law is clear that even a single verbal or visual incident can cause a hostile environment and that Confederate symbols are evidence of racial harassment.  In light of these precedents, we believe the courts will conclude that a towering armed soldier dedicated to white supremacy and placed permanently in the middle of campus creates a hostile environment for some African American students. UNC claims to have contrary administrative guidance, but we have not seen it and the university has not identified it.  It is time for UNC to acknowledge federal law and focus on removal not resistance.”

Meanwhile, a separate group of students is organizing a boycott of UNC over “Silent Sam.” In a press release Friday, the group outlined their position:

“While we understand that UNC may not have unilateral authority to move Silent Sam, we do expect Chancellor Folt, as the leading representative of our UNC community, to vigorously advocate for the removal of Silent Sam and publicly acknowledge the statue’s connection to both white supremacy and racism. Every day that she continues not to do so, she is failing us.

The latest example of Chancellor Folt’s failure regarding Silent Sam is the fact that UNC did not petition the N.C. Historical Commission, prior to tomorrow’s meeting, for permission to remove Silent Sam from campus.UNC could have petitioned the Historical Commission, and should have done so. And Chancellor Folt should have been out front, leading the effort.

It is because of the failed leadership of Chancellor Folt and the UNC administration that we are urging all people of conscience to boycott UNC from now until October 18. By withdrawing our financial support, we can show the UNC administration that we are absolutely serious when we say we expect them to vigorously advocate for the immediate removal of that racist statue from our campus.”

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The cost of securing “Silent Sam”

As the controversy over Confederate monuments  heads to the North Carolina Historical Commission on Sept. 22, we thought it was worth asking the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill what it costs to secure “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument that has become the most recent flash point in the controversy.

MC VanGraafeiland, media relations manager for the university, said it can be difficult to separate the cost of patrols and surveillance related to the statue from the larger security of McCorkle Place, the historical heart of the campus that includes the quad and “Silent Sam.”

But between 2014 and July of this year, the university has spent $41,000 on maintenance, upkeep and security of the monument, VanGraafeiland said.

That includes cleaning up after multiple instances of vandalism.

“In at least once case, the University spent more than $17,000 to remove the paint and seal the statue and monument,” VanGraafeiland said.

In the wake of deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA and the toppling of  Robert E. Lee statue in Durham,  the question fo how to deal with “Silent Sam” has caused controversy on the UNC Board of Governors and divided members of the N.C. Historical Commission. The commission will need to approve any moving or removing of historical monuments, according to a 2015 law.

This week UNC students threatened a federal lawsuit if the statue is not removed.

 

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UNC Students threaten federal lawsuit over “Silent Sam”

University of North Carolina students threatened a federal lawsuit Wednesday unless the Chapel Hill campus’ “Silent Sam” statue is taken down.

Hampton Dellinger, a Durham attorney, is representing the Black Law Students Association, a professor and 12 individual students. Dellinger sent a letter Wednesday to UNC President Margarent Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, members of the school’s Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors.

From the letter:

“As UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office acknowledges, federal laws guarantee a series of rights to members of the UNC campus community. Among the applicable laws are Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbid racial discrimination at UNC as an institution of higher learning and a recipient of federal funds. Because Silent Sam violates the rights guaranteed by these and other federal laws, we request that you authorize its immediate removal in order to avoid needless litigation.

Any federally funded institution (such as UNC) that is deliberately indifferent to a racially hostile learning environment runs afoul of federal law. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights defines a hostile environment under Title VI as “harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic, or written) sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by a recipient.”

In a Wednesday interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Dellinger said he helped organize students in the legal effort because the violation seemed so obvious.

“This violation has been hiding in plain sight,” Dellinger said. “I think the case law is strong. It’s particularly compelling in this instance.”

In many instances where campuses have been sued for creating hostile environments, the violations boil down to students creating the environment and the University tolerating it, Dellinger said.

“But this is university created and university tolerated,” Dellinger said. “It’s not something ephemeral – it’s a permanent structure that represents white supremacy in the center of campus.”

It’s been established a university’s deliberate indifference to racially insensitive public displays can violate Titles IV and VI, Dellinger said.

“I hope that they’ll voluntarily take it down and end the violation,” he said.

The confederate monument controversy will be the subject of a meeting of the N.C. Historical Commission, which must approve any removal of such monuments, on Sept. 22.

Members of that board have recently begun to speak out on the issue, with several supporting the monuments’ removal.

A 2015 law – which even board members regard as vaguely written and confusing – limits the circumstances under which monuments can be removed – and to where they can be moved.

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Former UNC chancellor, prominent faculty speak out against “Silent Sam”

Former UNC Chancellor James Moeser is among the voices that spoke out for the removal of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on the school’s Chapel Hill campus Monday night.

The statue was the focus of a panel discussion on campus Monday night and has been at the center of a recent firestorm on the UNC Board of Governors.

In a Facebook post last month, Moeser wrote he had once supported keeping the monument but his thinking has shifted.

“I too have changed my mind about Silent Sam,” he wrote. “I was, for a long time, arguing for contextualization and preservation, and I think if UNC had acted on this idea a couple of years ago, we might have been able to hold our course. But now events have passed us by.

“These monuments have been adopted by Nazis and their fellow travelers as icons for white supremacy,” Moeser continued. “Silent Sam needs to come down. Now.”

The confederate monument controversy will be the subject of a meeting of the N.C. Historical Commission, which must approve any removal of such monuments, on Sept. 22.

Members of that board have recently begun to speak out on the issue, with several supporting the monuments’ removal.