UNC Graduate Students Fight The “Silent Sam” Confederate Statue By Withholding Grades

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Last August, student protesters tore down a Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Now, the board of trustees proposed re-erecting it within a brand-new building, but that won't happen if graduate teaching assistants have anything to say about it. UNC students are fighting the "Silent Sam" Confederate statue by withholding grades until the board's plan is withdrawn, according to The Washington Post.

Teaching assistants (TAs) have been refusing to release their students' grades since Monday, The Washington Post reported. On Friday, the movement — which calls itself #StrikeDownSam — announced on Twitter that 79 people reportedly agreed not to give out grades and an estimated 2,182 scores would be withheld.

In a Twitter Q&A on Monday, history Ph.D. student Maya Little called the project a "TA strike." She wrote, "Confederate monuments, the myth of a good confederate cause, the legal enslavement and segregation were still fighting after 1865 were all built on Black blood and anguish." Little argued that UNC cannot "claim to have an education mission if it hides this proven fact."

"Silent Sam" was given to UNC in 1909 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected four years later. Many Confederate monuments date from the period around 1910 or the mid-20th century, when racial tensions were high. University of Chicago historian Jane Dailey told NPR that these icons were meant as "power play[s]" to intimidate people of color and send the message "that elite Southern whites are in control."

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UNC's statue officially memorializes "the sons of the University who died for their beloved Southland 1861-1865"; at least 40 percent of the student body fought in the Civil War, according to the university. The school's archival materials on the "Silent Sam" dedication ceremony show that a Confederate veteran gave a speech claiming that the Confederacy had fought to "sav[e] the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South."

Back on Aug. 21, around 250 students toppled the monument just before the first day of classes, according to CNN. Activists had been urging the university for months to take it down. The incident lead to additional demonstrations in which several people advocating for the statue's return were arrested for charges including assault and public disturbance, per NPR.

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The Board of Trustees' plan to restore the statue involves putting it back up in a new center for university history. Erecting the center would cost $5.3 million, per The News and Observer, as well as an additional $800,000 in annual operating costs. Some grad students are arguing that those funds shouldn't be spent on "Silent Sam" when their university stipends aren't enough to cover many living expenses, according to The Washington Post.

"Re-erecting Silent Sam on our campus elevates a symbol of white supremacy at a leading public university and constitutes a significant risk to public safety," UNC grad students wrote in an open letter circulating this month.

"If students and workers of color are not guaranteed safety, a university that values their lives and dignity, then we will not work to perpetuate its administration," Little wrote in the Twitter Q&A. "If we don't get it, shut it down!"