We join students, faculty, alumni and other members of the Carolina community in calling for the removal of “Silent Sam” from a central place on our campus. This position is rooted in our perspective as sociologists and as faculty concerned with holding the university to its highest ideals as the first public university.
As sociologists, we study patterns of social life and their effects on individual and group well-being, including durable and persistent social and economic inequalities, the social and political movements that contest these inequalities, histories of collective violence, and the symbols used to celebrate and enshrine a group’s values. We study and evaluate evidence of the social, cultural, structural, and economic systems that contribute both to social change and to social persistence, including the boundaries groups create to define who belongs and should be valued and who should be excluded and devalued. Symbols can play an important role in creating and reinforcing inequality.
“Silent Sam” is such a symbol, founded to celebrate and promote white supremacy. The statue has and continues to signal that African American students, staff, and faculty are neither welcome nor valued at UNC. With recent events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, Confederate symbols continue to be a rallying point for white supremacists. While there have been calls to remove “Silent Sam” throughout Carolina’s history, these efforts have taken on greater urgency with the recent resurgence of hate groups. The time is right for the statue to be removed and preserved as a historical artifact, rather than as a monument that conflicts with our goals and mission to serve all of our students.