Over the course of the last year, I have written a number of articles regarding Silent Sam, a Confederate monument which, up until last August, sat at the front of UNC's campus. The monument has a history riddled with controversy, and a grad student's thesis alerted the public to this history once more, which has spurred protests both from those who do not believe the monument should be granted such precedence given its history, and from those who believe that the monument truly embodies what the university stands for.
In November, the Board of Governors decided that the monument should not only be returned to campus but also placed in its own building with a several million dollar security systems in a predominantly black residence quad. Chancellor Carol Folt proudly touted this as a compromise which they felt would restore order to campus. The only problem with this is that it seems clear that placing the monument in what is essentially an independent shrine only highlights the significance of it, rather than reducing it. On the other hand, moving the monument to south campus was viewed by those who support the monument as an act of aggression against what they consider the culture of North Carolina.
It seems clear, therefore, that this solution spurred protests anew. In mid-December, the Board of Governors extended the decision period to avoid a massive TA strike wherein teaching assistants would not be submitting grades until the BOG reached a different decision.
That brings us more or less to now, where we are in limbo.
Whether you support Silent Sam remaining on campus or believe that Sam should be removed swiftly and without ceremony, it is important to remember that this is, first and foremost, a university campus. This is not really a place for violent protests or KKK marches, and it's definitely not a place where students should be (fairly consistently) told that they will not be safe visiting parts of their home.
People living on north campus have been told repeatedly that it will not be safe for them to walk through the quad directly outside their front door, people on south campus have now been told the same. Students have seen several violent incidents at the very front of their campus over the course of the past year. And yet the Board of Governors continues to consider this a political issue, reaching ineffective decisions and solutions with seemingly no sense of urgency.
I argue that this is actually an issue of public safety. What does it say about a university that claims to be "for all kind" if we cannot welcome people to every part of our campus every day? What does it say if selected groups of students are made to feel unsafe on our campus? What does it say if we have a well-recognized hate group marching on our campus?
Moreover, student views and survey responses have not really been taken into consideration. Though they have been presented and received with some regularity, it is not clear that students have really been given a voice at the table in the matter, even though the monument and the contention there surrounding has had the most direct impact over the last several months upon those living on campus - by and large the students.
When considering this issue, the Board of Governors must keep in mind the fact that this university is just that: a university. The campus is here to serve students, professors, and all the others who allow learning and research to flourish here. With the start of the new semester, UNC faculty have requested a seat at the table during deliberations on what will be next for the monument - a step in the right direction. Here's hoping that more such steps will be taken over the coming weeks and months.