Students and faculty at the University of North Carolina have put forth a letter which states they will sue the college if the statue of (Confederate soldier) Silent Sam is not taken down.
The basis for legal action? Titles VI and IV of the Civil Rights Act.
The letter was sent by lawyer Hampton Dellinger to UNC President Margaret Spellings and Chancellor Carol Folt, according to The Daily Tar Heel.
“[T]he statue violates federal anti-discrimination laws by fostering a racially hostile learning environment,” the letter reads. By citing Title VI, the article states, the letter’s signatories are claiming Silent Sam represents “a threat to the safety of people of color on the University’s campus.”
“Taking that down is a way for them to show us that they are listening, not just hearing us, but that they are actually listening to what we’re saying, and how we’re feeling and that our feelings are justified and real,” signee Rimel Mwamba said.
OK, but a piece of granite is … a threat to someone’s safety?
Somewhat to that point, Campus Y Co-chair and letter signee Courtney Staton said Silent Sam could “serve as a rallying point for those looking to harm people of color on UNC’s campus.”
“It’s not just Silent Sam. When we were talking about Silent Sam, we were also talking about the Center for Civil Rights,” Staton said. “The people who are sitting in at Silent Sam are also educating people about the Center for Civil Rights and about other places that we lack on this campus.”
Some students — like junior Andrew Brennen, a member of The Daily Tar Heel’s Board of Directors who supports the letter on Facebook — felt the letter represented a broad sentiment throughout the UNC community in regards to UNC’s history of institutionalized racism and signified a starting point for a broader movement.
“My sense is that students who are pushing for the statue to come down are not doing it simply because they don’t like looking at a statue of a man with a horse as they walk onto campus,” Brennen said. “But they’re doing it to put a stake in the ground that institutional racism, these projects of racism that have existed at the University and the state for nearly 100 years should be dismantled, should be taken down. And it definitely starts with taking down monuments to the Confederacy.”
The purpose of Title VI is to prohibit “discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in federally-assisted programs,” such as education. Title IV makes it illegal to discriminate in areas such as housing, public accommodations, and employment.
Can an historic piece stone on campus grounds — or, more accurately, UNC allowing an historic piece of stone to remain on campus — discriminate against someone?
The UNC Board of Trustees said late last month that the university cannot legally remove Silent Sam due to a 2015 law which “forbids removal of monuments on public property without permission from a historic commission.”
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