Last month, faculty from across the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gathered at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities for the inaugural event of the Difficult Conversations series, ‘Confronting UNC’s Legacy of White Supremacy.’ This month, faculty will convene on the topic of ‘Academic Freedom and University Governance’ on Wednesday, April 22.
“The purpose of this series is to provide an open and productive forum in which we can come together as faculty to discuss some of the most challenging issues that face us today,” explains Mark Katz, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. “The topics are broad, but they are also directly related to our work as faculty at the University.”
Much of the conversation at ‘Confronting UNC’s Legacy of White Supremacy’ was centered on the recent campus movement to rename Saunders Hall and contextualize the Silent Sam monument. Faculty spoke to their own experiences of grappling with UNC’s complex history. “What does it mean for this University, for all of us, to live in the shadow of Silent Sam?” asked Kia Caldwell, associate professor of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies, in her opening remarks. “What if this monument had been placed in the town of Chapel Hill? Would it have been removed by now?”
Some faculty stressed that white supremacy in the South is more far-reaching than most people realize. “I think a lot about my position as an Asian American faculty member,” said Jennifer Ho, associate professor of English and comparative literature. Ho shared that she was the first tenure track Asian American hired in the English department to teach Asian American literature. “There were always other races beyond black and white in the U.S. south, but they get covered over. We just don’t think about these kinds of histories.”
Many faculty also spoke to the fact that past exclusion has enduring ramifications for the present. Amy Locklear Hertel, director of the American Indian Center and clinical assistant professor of social work, stressed that the University’s history of excluding American Indian students has reverberations for American Indian students at Carolina today. “The first American Indian student that we know of came through in 1920. During the 1950s and ‘60s, American Indians were not welcome here unless were federally recognized tribes. These stories are fresh.” Hertel added that last year’s American Indian enrollment at UNC was 87 students. “That’s very sad in a state that has the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River.”
At this week’s Difficult Conversation, ‘Academic Freedom and University Governance,’ faculty will grapple with the meaning of academic freedom, particularly in light of decisions made by the UNC Board of Governors. Katz hopes faculty from across the University will join in the conversation about the responsibilities and limitations of academic freedom in the current context at UNC. “We talk about academic freedom, but we don’t often articulate what it means,” says Katz. “This conversation will offer faculty an opportunity to think through the implications of academic freedom at a time when many feel it is being threatened.”
All University faculty are invited to attend this week’s Difficult Conversation on Wednesday, April 22 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Andrew Perrin, professor of sociology, will moderate this discussion. This event is open to faculty throughout the University. Light refreshments will be served.