CHAPEL HILL, N.C,. (WTVD) -- More than 100 current and former UNC student-athletes have signed a petition calling for the removal of the Silent Sam statue from the university's campus. Created Tuesday, the statement, and accompanying petition is the work of former Tar Heel fencer Ezra Baeli-Wang, a 2017 graduate.
I spoke to him via video chat this afternoon: "I think that the situation has come to a point where it is very clear that if the University of North Carolina is to remain committed to diversity and inclusion and uphold itself as a "beacon of light and liberty" as the motto suggests, that symbols of division and racial violence cannot remain on campus. The proper place for those statues is in museums or someplace else, not on campus, where diverse populations of students and scholars and athletes and researchers share its space."
The petition opposes the University's plan to spend more than $5 million in taxpayer money to erect a building enshrining the Silent Sam statue on campus.
Baeli-Wang is no dilettante when it comes to organizing and leadership. He's the former head of the ACC's Student Athlete Advisory Council, a group that works hand in hand with athletics administrators to make sure the voices of student-athletes are heard before policy is enacted. In his words, he feels it's important to "leverage" the voices of Tar Heel athletes so that they're heard in both the discussions and decisions to come surrounding the statue.
"There are a variety of student groups who have already put out statements who we are now joining as student-athletes."
While Baeli-Wang understands the legislative strictures that UNC's administrators are working under regarding Sam, he thinks there's a way around them. "This is a symbol of racial violence ... considering Sam's historical role as an epicenter for clashes between white supremacists and student groups, I think that it is not outside the realm of reason to say that Silent Sam is a threat to public safety, which is one of the requirements for relocating monuments."
The petition continues to garner signatures from just about every varsity team on campus. Among the most notable signatures: basketball players/alums Garrison Brooks, KJ Smith, Brice Johnson, and Kendall Marshall. Football players William Sweet and Michael Carter also signed. While Baeli-Wang acknowledges that those names will garner the most attention, his goal is to make sure the university realizes the full gamut of student-athlete opinions around the issue.
"It is very clear that no matter where you stand on this issue, that the statue is a detriment to the University," he said. "The university cannot continue to thrive and prosper as an institution of higher learning unless it is welcoming to all people and right now Silent Sam makes that impossible."