GSLL Statement on the Removal of Silent Sam
The Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures at UNC-Chapel Hill joins students and faculty from disciplines across campus in calling for the removal of the confederate monument known as Silent Sam. This statement was unanimously approved by the assembled faculty (01/24/18) and graduate students (01/25/18).
As Germanists, we are acutely aware of the need to confront the past. Central to Germany’s reckoning with its fascist history is the acknowledgement that German citizens live in a society that is forever shaped by this past, although most contemporary German citizens are generations removed from the horrors of the Third Reich. It is an unwanted legacy, but an unshakeable one. In this context, the removal of Nazi symbols and the memorialization of the victims of National Socialism serve not to erase history. Rather, they are active engagements with this history and its horrors, the result of reflections on the country’s relationship to its past, its current identity, and its path forward.
As Slavists, we can testify to the ability of publicly displayed symbols to define not only the present moment, but also the future. When symbols are employed to prevent positive progress, understanding, and dialogue from taking place, everyone suffers. We study a corner of the world where symbols of fear and hate continue to define cityscapes while lending an air of legitimacy and normality to the abuse of power, denigration of human dignity, and state-sponsored mass terror. Students come to this campus to shape a better, more just future. How can they be expected to build a world free of prejudice when they are confronted with a blatant glorification of an oppressive past? If we do not want to emulate and resemble autocracies, we should rid our campus of this prettified representation of the ugly phenomenon that is white supremacy.
A statue in a prominent space on campus honors and glorifies. To honor and glorify a confederate statue as a symbol of Southern heritage and the lives of fallen soldiers is not a recognition of history, it is an erasure of it. Those conceptions of Southern heritage and Southern soldiers do not exist in a vacuum—they are part and parcel of a legacy of brutality in the form of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the perpetuation of white supremacy. Through the monuments that we erect and preserve, we actively shape the collective memory of the society in which we live. We should not honor and glorify collective trauma, and thereby encourage its perpetuation. Therefore, we call upon the Board of Governors and the administration to remove the Silent Sam monument so that we may continue to dismantle this legacy of oppression.
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Following the toppling of the Confederate monument (“Silent Sam”), GSLL faculty and graduate students maintain that the monument and its pedestal should not be afforded their former place at Carolina’s threshold. We welcome Chancellor Folt’s invitation to a dialogue regarding the monument’s future. As that dialogue commences, we urge its participants to heed our Black colleagues who call on the Chancellor, Provost, Board of Trustees, and Board of Governors “to permanently remove the Confederate statue and its pedestal from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
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While we approve of the decision to ban the Confederate monument (“Silent Sam”) from being displayed on any UNC campus, we the GSLL faculty and graduate students condemn the plan of the UNC system to pay $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its preservation and display elsewhere. Providing financial support for the preservation of a symbol of white supremacy to appease the interests of a prominent discriminatory group and organization does not align with the stated mission, vision and values of UNC Chapel Hill – nor those of GSLL.