Lawyers representing a group of students and a professor urged the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to remove a Confederate statue Wednesday, claiming the monument violates federal anti-discrimination laws.
The bronze and marble statue known as “Silent Sam,” erected in 1913, has been a focal point of demonstrations over the years. Students have staged regular protests and sit-ins recently, while someone painted “murderer” and “KKK” on the statue in 2015.
The letter – which was sent to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC system President Margaret Spellings – states: "The statue violates federal anti-discrimination laws by fostering a racially hostile learning environment. As UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office acknowledges, federal laws guarantee a series of rights to members of the UNC campus community. Among the applicable laws are Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbid racial discrimination at UNC as an institution of higher learning and a recipient of federal funds."
Written on behalf of a dozen students, UNC Law Prof. Erika K Wilson and the UNC Black Law Students Association, the letter suggests the university authorize the statue’s removal to avoid “needless litigation.”
“As a black male in the South I can’t help but feel that the statue is disrespectful," Aaron Epps, one of the students who signed the letter, told The Washington Post. "…When I first came to campus, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong. Statues like this necessarily contribute to that feeling of not fitting in and not belonging.”
Prof. Wilson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Joel Curran, a spokesman for the university, released a statement saying the school will continue to address the community's concerns.
“While we do not have the unilateral legal authority to move the monument, these students have raised questions about federal civil rights law that will need to be addressed, and we will work with our Board of Trustees and Board of Governors to do so,” Curran said, according to The Washington Post.
The students' letter, however, claims UNC does in fact have the authority to remove the statue.
“A core principle of the United States Constitution that you have sworn to uphold is that state laws cannot justify trampling federally protected rights," the letter states.