UNC protest against Silent Sam now moving to campus store and restaurants

UNC-Chapel Hill student activists have held marches, sit-ins and noise demonstrations outside the chancellor’s office in their effort to remove the Silent Sam Confederate statue, but now they’re taking their protest to the university’s bottom line.

This week, a coalition of students launched a boycott of commercial goods on UNC’s campus, including the Student Stores, cafes, a snack stand, a bagel shop, Wendy’s and Starbucks – even parking garages. The boycott started Monday with a social media push and will end Oct. 18, organizers said.

Student leaders say they don’t know how many people are participating in the boycott, but they’ve noticed short lines at some university food venues. Organizers say they’re not expecting students to let their prepaid meal plans go to waste, but they are offering low-cost alternatives and suggestions for downtown restaurants providing discounts to boycotting students.

On Tuesday, a table of pupusas, traditional Salvadoran stuffed tortillas, was set up outside the Campus Y building. Proceeds were earmarked for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, a law school center that the UNC Board of Governors recently banned from litigation on behalf of its low income and minority clients.

There was a run on the $3 tortilla treats Tuesday at the lunch hour, said Courtney Staton, a co-president of the Campus Y student social justice organization. “They were very sad when we sold out,” said Staton.

Alexander Peeples, a senior from Daphne, Ala., said students have felt like their previous protests have been ignored so far.

“The hope is that they will begin to maybe pay attention and listen if we use our economic voices and if we show that this isn’t a flash in the pan,” said Peeples, also a co-president of the Campus Y. “It’s continued action, and we’re not going to allow them to ignore what’s happening.”

Staton, a junior from Greenville, said, “The university thinks we’re just words at this point. We’re trying to show that we are taking action, that we can make an impact.”

Peeples and Staton are among the students who signed on to a lawyer’s letter last week to the UNC administration, notifying officials that they are prepared to file a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit if the statue is not removed.

UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt has been the target of some student protests in the weeks since deadly violence at an August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. But Folt has said the university does not have the legal authority to take down Silent Sam, citing a 2015 state law that protects monuments from being moved or altered.

Her interpretation differed from that of Gov. Roy Cooper, who said last month that the university could remove the monument under a public safety exception to the law. University lawyers have said that exception appears to apply only in situations where the statue itself poses a physical hazard to people.

Under the law, the N.C. Historical Commission could take up the issue, but the panel has little leeway to remove the statue permanently. The commission is scheduled to meet Friday, but the Silent Sam statue is not on the agenda.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill