Departmental Statements on the Future of the Confederate Statue

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Departmental Statements on the Future of the Confederate Statue
 

Update (March 5, 2019): The decision has been delayed until at least May (see here for details).

Letter from the Department of Religious Studies to UNC Leadership Regarding the Pending Decision on the Confederate Statue
February 6, 2019

Dear Interim-President Roper, Interim-Chancellor Guskiewicz, and Members of the Board of Governors:

The Department of Religious Studies supports the September 6, 2018 statement by 54 UNC Black Faculty calling for the permanent removal of the Confederate monument from UNC’s campus. We echo its words, “To reinstall the Confederate monument to any location on UNC’s campus is to herald for the nation and for the world that UNC is not a welcoming place for Black people…. A symbol of racism, violence, and white supremacy has no place on our 21st century campus often called the ‘University of the People.’”

As the March 15 deadline for determining the fate of the monument approaches, we are deeply concerned about the climate of physical and psychological insecurity that pervades our campus. Our teaching and research at UNC are made immeasurably more difficult by the prospect of a decision that would lead to a monument to the Confederacy and white supremacy being re-erected on this campus. The results of such an action would be cataclysmic for UNC’s students, staff, and faculty and would irreparably damage the national reputation of this great university. We urge Interim-President Roper, Interim-Chancellor Guskiewicz, and the Board of Governors, each in your capacity, to assume the historic leadership this moment demands and prevent the monument from returning to UNC.

We also call on Interim-President Roper, Interim-Chancellor Guskiewicz, and the Board of Governors to repair the crisis of governance and confidence that damages UNC. We ask you to lead us toward reconciliation by dropping all charges against the activists who toppled the statue, and by disavowing the creation of police and other surveillance bodies that impede peaceful protest and hinder free expression on this campus.

As scholars of religion, we understand that those who erected the statue treated it as sacred and rooted it in racism, misogyny, and calls for a return to a white “Christian nation.” We recognize the complete removal of the statue as a historic turn toward a more equitable, hospitable, and just future for UNC. We welcome this future and pledge ourselves to its service.

Respectfully,

The Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

Department of Religious Studies Statement on the Future of the Confederate Statue
September 5, 2018

We are heartened by Chancellor Folt’s August 31 communication stating that the Confederate statue does not belong back in McCorkle Place, and by her appeal for an inclusive, collaborative process to determine the statue’s fate. We call on the university administration, the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Governors to dispose of it in a space where its ability to symbolize racial hatred and white supremacy will be limited by scholarly contextualization. By no means can the statue return to any outdoor place on our campus. This includes the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, which has only recently reckoned with the ignominious neglect of slave burials there. We believe it must be placed indoors, and that its future must be to serve UNC’s larger mission of public education, in this case about the history of racial oppression and civil rights activism that have marked our community. We also urge the university administration to promote reconciliation by dropping all charges against the activists who toppled the statue.

As scholars of religion, we understand that the white supremacists who erected the statue treated it as sacred and rooted it in racism, misogyny, and calls for a return to a white “Christian nation.” We recognize the removal of the statue as a historic turn toward a more equitable, hospitable, and just future for UNC. We welcome this future and pledge ourselves to its service.

For more information on the history of the Confederate Statue, see UNC Library’s Guide to Researching Campus Monuments and Buildings: “Silent Sam” Confederate Monument.

 

Statement by the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Religious Studies concerning “Silent Sam”
October 4, 2017

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.

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