Faculty from another UNC – Chapel Hill department are joining some of their colleagues, students on the campus and other community members calling for the removal of Silent Sam from McCorkle Place.
It was the Department of Geography’s turn to join the chorus of protests of the Confederate monument on Thursday.
The faculty issued a statement saying that as geographers “we challenge our students to consider the importance of cultural landscapes and built environment in reflecting and shaping our identities, social reactions, and communities.”
The statue has been a lightning rod of controversy over the years, but the calls for its removal have increased this fall. The cries to remove Silent Sam grew after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was billed as being a protest of that city council’s decision to remove a Confederate monument. A counter protester was killed at that rally when a white supremacist drove his vehicle into a large crowd.
The geography faculty went on to write in Thursday’s statement, “We study symbolic landscapes as contested setting in which the politics of inclusion and exclusion have taken form, and as places that have served as staging grounds for political movements.”
Silent Sam’s placement in a focal point of the campus, the faculty write, “contradicts values of diversity, social justice and anti-violence that our discipline embraces.”
The faculty members contend that “the continued presence of the monument is damaging to all of us who share this campus, but disproportionately jeopardizes the wellbeing of students with marginalized identities.”
Geography professor Altha Cravey has been one of the most outspoken protesters of Silent Sam and other issues on campus and at the UNC System level. But other departments have been calling for the removal of Silent Sam as well, including 34 Law School professors issuing a statement last month.
The university has been threatened with a federal lawsuit if administrators do not order the monument be moved. Campus leadership has maintained that they do not have the authority to remove the statue due to a 2015 law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly that prevents the moving of “objects of remembrance.”
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has called for the removal of all Confederate monuments from public grounds and has told university administrators they can remove Silent Sam, if they believe it poses a threat to public safety. But who can make that determination appears to be a legal holdup.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina Historical Commission received a petition from Cooper’s administration to remove three Confederate monuments from the state capitol grounds. The commission voted at its last meeting to study the issue and have a report come back before the body at its next meeting in the spring of 2018.