Education

Black alumni group calls for boycott of UNC fundraising campaign

Protesters call for removal of UNC's Silent Sam statue

A group of about 100 gathered at the "Silent Sam" statue on the UNC campus to protest, seeking for it to be removed from the school grounds, on August 31, 2017.
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A group of about 100 gathered at the "Silent Sam" statue on the UNC campus to protest, seeking for it to be removed from the school grounds, on August 31, 2017.

Several African-American alumni of UNC-Chapel Hill are calling for a boycott of the university’s $4.25 billion fundraising campaign, citing a lack of administrative response to a “toxic racial climate.”

A document announcing the effort was posted on social media Wednesday.

The group includes former Tar Heel basketball star Sam Perkins, a 1984 graduate, and Michelle Cotton Laws, a 1992 graduate, community activist and minister.

The group cited the ongoing presence of the Silent Sam Confederate monument on campus, the UNC system’s Board of Governors action to ban legal work by the UNC Center for Civil Rights and a decision by the Kenan-Flagler Business School not to reappoint former faculty member Deborah Stroman, who led the Carolina Black Caucus.

The group called its grassroots effort “Hark the Drum,” a play on the school song, “Hark the Sound.” The document announcing the boycott said the group wanted “to expose the continued facade of acceptance, engagement, and promotion of the Black community at UNC regardless of the changes of senior administrators over the years.” They also cited “toothless and non-innovative programs that focus on individuals (and not institutional barriers).”

Several dozen protesters held small signs demanding the removal of the Confederate 'Silent Sam' statue from the UNC campus as the university held its annual University Day ceremony in Chapel Hill on Oct. 12, 2017. Governor Roy Cooper and UNC Chan

The black alumni group said it wants to create awareness of what they say is an uncomfortable environment on campus because of racial inequities.

“Alumni have recently found efforts to engage in real dialogue and the design of effective solutions to be unwelcome from the current leadership,” the group’s announcement said.

A statement late Thursday from university spokeswoman Kate Luck said Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Bob Blouin had met with members of the group several times in the past two month, offering to work together on solutions.

“While we don’t believe the statement reflects our conversations or the strides the University has made over the last decade, we value input from people who care about the University,” Luck said.

She said data show that the number of underrepresented faculty, including the number of African-American and black faculty, has increased over the past 10 years. UNC ranks second among top-30 public universities nationwide in the percentage of undergraduate students who identify as black or African-American.

“Our students, faculty and staff are highly competitive strong performers and when we get them here, we want to foster their success,” Luck’s statement said. “Suggestions for how to improve are always welcome.”

The alumni group’s announcement came the same day Folt touted the university’s recent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and the new effort to honor pioneering alumni with scholarships named for them. The university recently announced 19 new scholarships for UNC’s “Bridge Builders,” including a number of prominent black alumni.

Students and activists gathered outside South Building on UNC’s Campus in September with drums, pots and pans, and noise makers to disrupt business as usual and demand that Chancellor Folt take down Silent Sam.

Folt and other UNC leaders have been criticized by protesters and others who want to see the Silent Sam statue removed. In September, Folt said the monument is draining energy and goodwill from the campus.

She has said she thinks it is best for Silent Sam to be moved, but the university is stymied by a 2015 law that prevents the alteration of monuments on state property. The N.C. Historical Commission is considering the fate of Confederate statues on state Capitol grounds in Raleigh.

The university announced its largest ever fundraising campaign in October. Dubbed “For All Kind: The Campaign for Carolina,” the drive aims to raise $4.25 billion in five years. So far, the campaign has raised about $1.9 billion.

“It is important for those in higher education and the Tar Heel nation to truly understand the connection of our history of struggle and today’s policies and sentiment that serve to stifle and deny dreams,” Laws said in a statement, adding, “UNC lacks a sense of urgency to a serious and alarming problem.”

Reached Thursday, Laws said she had no further comment.

The statement by Luck said the university’s work to improve diversity is never over.

“We are disappointed to see the counterproductive call to boycott the campaign, which is dedicated to securing the funding needed to make a significant difference in areas including attracting and retaining faculty, staff and students and remaining accessible to students from all backgrounds,” Luck’s statement said. “We firmly believe that a diverse community makes for the best educational experience by fostering better ideas, more innovation, collaborative teamwork, empathy and respect for each other; we remain unwavering in our commitment to advancing this area.”

Perkins, an 18-year NBA veteran, said in the statement: “It is very sad that we have to resort to this action. However, Dr. King said that we would remember ‘not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’ and it seems for us that message rings true. We have clearly not received the respect deserved based on our loyalty, sacrifice, and assistance to the university since our ancestors first laid the bricks for Old East in 1793.”

Later, in an email, Perkins said he was disappointed in the university he had long admired. While he faced some racism during the four years he played at UNC, he said, black students then had a platform and a role model who broke racial barriers.

“Today, there is no Dean Smith,” he said. “There is no voice of reason or inclusion.”

The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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