By 9:30 am on August 31, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus police were the proud owners of five new picnic tables, a few folding tables, and several containers of food and water: all that remained of our nine-day sit-in at our university’s Confederate monument, Silent Sam, which we had refused to leave until it was taken down.
Earlier that morning, we had been told by UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken that the university was ordering us to dismantle the camp; if not, the police would do it for us. We rushed what we could into storage, but the police took what remained. There was no olive branch, no offering of peace, no place for discussion. We could only watch as campus police dismantled what had been donated by the community to keep the sit-in alive. “The university supports the free expression of ideas, and we appreciate the commitment of our students to an issue they are passionate about,” campus spokeswoman Joanne Peters Denny told the Durham Herald-Sun. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to maintain the cleanliness and order of all campus open spaces and grounds.”
To watch campus police, and by extension our university’s administration and chancellor, actively suppress a peaceful protest against white supremacy and racism was sobering. It became ever more clear that the obstacles we face in our fight against oppression are also well-cemented on our campus, despite it being considered, as is the case with so many campuses, a progressive bastion of free speech.
But with comprehension comes clarity, through which we can better see the path forward. The Silent Sam Sit-In was just one step on the path toward the end of oppression on our campus, in our community, and in our country. The actions of our university have only solidified our resolve: No matter the setbacks, we will continue on that path.
Like many campuses and cities across the country, we have had to face a moral and ethical battle at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Do we stand up for equality of all people, or do we defend white supremacy by endorsing its symbolic manifestations? As the students of the UNC Silent Sam Sit-In, we continue to call upon the university to denounce oppression and white supremacy in all its forms: Take down the Silent Sam statue. Dispossess our campus of an enduring symbol of white nationalism glorifying the fight to preserve slavery. Until the statue is removed, we will make our voices heard through future sit-ins, marches, and protests of all kinds. On September 6, 40 students gathered outside the building that houses Chancellor Folt’s office, chanting and banging pots and pans to protest the Silent Sam statue and reinvigorate the sit-in. And we will continue to occupy the space by the statue during the day, every day, until it is removed.