As sociologists, we appreciate that people and groups can construct different meanings for statues like the one known as “Silent Sam.” But the historical record on that statue is not in dispute. It was placed on the UNC campus as a symbol of white dominance in a period when white southerners were reasserting pervasive and brutal control over African Americans. This indisputable fact supports the view that the statue is opposed to UNC’s contemporary vision as an inclusive space for learning and innovation.
We join students, faculty, alumni and other members of the Carolina community in commending those who removed the monument from its place on our campus. Decades of debate did not bring Silent Sam down; we understand the frustration and actions that did. 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.
Sociologists 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 collect and evaluate evidence of the social, cultural, structural, and economic systems that contribute to social change and persistence. This includes the boundaries groups create to define who belongs and should be valued and who should be excluded and devalued. Symbols play a pivotal role in creating and reinforcing inequality.
“Silent Sam” was such a symbol, founded to celebrate and promote white supremacy. Its continued presence signaled that African American students, staff, and faculty were neither fully welcome nor fully valued at UNC.
Efforts to “put Sam back up” are unacceptable. The symbolism of this act would be intolerable. The monument conflicts with our Department’s and University’s goals and mission to serve all of our students. The faculty of the Department of Sociology therefore strongly opposes any effort to return “Silent Sam” to its original location or a similar position of prominence on campus.
Moving forward, promoting inclusion on UNC’s campus cannot end with the toppling of Silent Sam; less visible but still noxious forms of exclusion remain pervasive. We strongly urge Dean Guskiewicz, Provost Blouin, Chancellor Folt, and the Boards of Trustees and Governors to further the University’s stated goals of inclusion, diversity, and excellence.
** Approved unanimously by the Sociology Department faculty, September 5, 2018.