We, the rank-and-file members of the Workers Union at UNC (UE 150) condemn the UNC Chapel Hill’s Honor Court’s decision against our union sister, Maya Little, for her act of non-violent protest against the white supremacist monument known as Silent Sam. Maya Little deserves no punishment. Her actions should not be charged as a violation, but rather lauded as a clear embodiment of the Honor Code’s Student Commitment to “maintain ideals of academic honesty, personal integrity, and responsible citizenship.” Instead, it is the Honor Court that betrayed any notion of justice and honesty for UNC workers and students.
Maya’s contextualization of Silent Sam was the ultimate expression of academic honesty. The statue stood on a foundation of lies for over a century. Despite decades of protests from students and other community members of Color, the University ignored and whitewashed the violently racist ideology it symbolized. Maya Little did not deface Silent Sam; she revealed it for what it always was. As She explained in a public statement following her action:
“This statue was built on white supremacy. It was built by white supremacists. It was built by people who believed that Black people were inferior and wanted to intimidate them. So these statues were built on Black blood. These statues symbolize the violence toward Black people. Without that blood on the statue, it’s incomplete, in my opinion. It’s not properly contextualized.”
We, the rank and file of the Workers Union at UNC, affirm this statement in full. By placing the cause of justice over her personal and professional concerns, Maya Little’s actions demonstrate great personal integrity. Maya undertook this action knowing she could face unjust criminal and honor court charges, police violence, and threats to her physical safety. She took these risks to provide a voice for workers, students, and community members of Color who have historically been and continue to be abused and exploited by the University. As Maya had already explained well before her honor court trial:
“The monument affects Black students, Black faculty members and Black community members on this campus. It continues to affect them: the many ways in which Black people on this campus are abused, the way that Black athletes are exploited for the Tar Heel brand, the way in which our faces are plastered all over the Carolina for All Campaign when the University doesn’t want to remove a statue that is against our very existence as Black people on this campus. The fact that Black students have to eat and live in buildings named after people who made their fortunes by selling Black children. Those things are degrading. They’re humiliating. They’re traumatizing and they’re dangerous to Black students.”
Maya Little’s non-violent actions are a sterling example of “responsible citizenship,” particularly in the face of an unjust and undemocratic state government in North Carolina. All institutional means of addressing past and current wrongs were blocked by the signing of “Protection of monuments, memorials, and works of art” (GS100-2.1.) by a Republican Governor and passed by Republican legislators in an illegal, racially gerrymandered General Assembly, leaving “responsible citizens” with non-violent protest as the only recourse. Every one of the twelve sponsors and signatories of the bill was white.
If anyone failed to uphold the supposed values of the Honor Court, it is Honor Court Board Member, Frank Pray. Despite his long history of public statements supporting Silent Sam and deriding anti-racist activists and protestors, he refused to recuse himself from the panel, making it impossible for Maya LIttle to receive a fair and impartial hearing. Any instrument that neglects to address such a glaring problem and fails to uphold its own commitments to delivering justice should be abolished. Amelia Ahern, who decided that Frank Pray could remain on the panel, Kisha Patel, Ahern and Pray’s governing authority, and Courtney Bain, who elected to bring charges against Maya, have also failed to uphold any standard of student conduct.
While Maya Little should be lauded for her commitment to justice and as the embodiment of academic honesty, personal integrity, and responsible citizenship, the University has utterly failed to live up to it’s supposed ideals of “endeavor[ing] to instill in each student a love of learning, a commitment to fair and honorable conduct, and respect for the safety and welfare of others. It also strives to protect the community from those who, for whatever reason, do not embody these values in their conduct, and to protect the integrity of the University and its property for the benefit of all.” As the last century has demonstrated, the University has abjectly failed:
- to address concerns about Silent Sam’s place on campus
- to protect students and workers from police infiltration and violence
- to protect students and workers from white supremacist threats and violence
- to address its own exploitation of campus and graduate workers
We wholeheartedly agree with our fellow workers on the National Board of UE when they state that, “Disciplining Maya Little for defacing a symbol of white supremacy and racism while not disciplining others for the same offense of defacing the statue would be a grave injustice. It is hard not to conclude that Ms. Little is being disciplined, not for her actions, but for what her actions represent.”
Given the the blatant racism motivating these proceedings, we demand:
- The Honor Court vacate all charges and punishment against Maya Little;
- All Honor Court officials involved in Maya Little’s hearing resign or face recall;
- The Attorneys General cease disproportionately charging students of Color.
Until these demands are met, we encourage the University community to boycott the Honor System.
As a community, we all have a responsibility to demand justice and fair treatment for one another. Maya Little did just that when she contextualized the confederate monument on campus in order to make visible the violence of white supremacy at UNC. The Honor System has failed to live up to its responsibility to “maintain ideals of academic honesty, personal integrity, and responsible citizenship.” So, we must come together as a community to enact real change and realize a university and workplace that is truly for all.