UNC Students and Administration Discuss Racism, Derek Chauvin Verdict

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Enrique Benavidez, who preliminary elections results point to as incoming student body president, speaks at the Bears in Solidarity event at the Bank of Colorado Arena April 20. Photo by Rowan Williams

Racial tensions at UNC were addressed Tuesday April 20 when UNC president Andy Feinstein spoke at the Butler-Hancock Sports Center. He, alongside university staff and student leaders, spoke on the issues of empowerment, trauma and healing, particularly for students of color.

Feinstein began his speech addressing the guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial announced earlier that day.

“I, personally, am happy about the verdict,” Feinstein said. “But I’m also sorry about what this country has had to go through over the last year.”

However, many students feel like this is no cause for celebration.

“It’s what should have happened you know, so why are we celebrating what should always be happening?” said Joshua Greer, UNC student and president of the Black Student Union.
Greer says he believes now is the time for actions, not words. While he acknowledges that a white police officer convicted for killing an unarmed Black man for the first time in Minnesota history can be seen as a victory, President Joe Biden’s administration has thus far failed to deliver any major police reform. It marks no progress on election promises such as the creation of a race task force, or passage of the George Floyd Act in congress within the first 100 days of his term. 

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Addressing the contentious issue of race again, Feinstein encouraged students to start the dialogue. 

“I want to be there with you when we have these conversations,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein did not mention conservative speaker Will Witt, whose speech was canceled the week prior, racial slurs graffitied in the McKee walkway, or the transphobic rhetoric from a student body president candidate.  He ended his speech by saying the words in his virtual letter sent to students and faculty via email, speak for themselves. 

In that email he did address George Floyd, commenting on his students for taking action in being anti racist.  Other speakers were less enthusiastic about the verdict. 

Eryka Charley, Navajo woman and interim director of Asian and Pasific American Student Services took to the podium after Feinstein and introduced herself in her native language, after which she expressed some reluctance to celebrate the verdict.

“It’s just one inch towards justice and equality,” Charley said.

She went on to acknowledge the legacy of white supremacy at UNC.  She also expressed her admiration for UNC’s students, specifically students of color.  

She applauded  students for their continued fight against the very principles the university was founded on. Charley also implored them to take care of their health, physical, spiritual and mental.

“You are the reason I serve this campus,”  Charley said. 

When Charley ended her speech, she opened the podium up to student leaders, who shared varying opinions on the Chauvin trial, and the UNC campus community. But all of them stressed the importance of mental health.

Enrique Benavidez, the preliminary Student Body President elect ended his time on the podium by opening the floor to questions, and concerns. 

  The room, fitted to seat 500 people for this event, held no more than 50 people, mostly UNC students, dispersed through the socially distanced seating. As the administration asked students to start the dialogue, the room remained silent.

UNC President Andy Feinstein sits behind a student speaker
at the Bears in Solidarity event hosted in Butler-Hancock April
Subjects discussed included the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s
trial, racist incidents on campus, and next steps for the
university community. Photo by Rowan Williams

This silence went unbroken for minutes on end. A student finally broke the long pause and thanked the administration for hosting this conversation. Another student reaffirmed that sentiment. The room returned to silence immediately afterwards. All the way until the meeting ended.

If there was to be a dialogue about race, generated by students, starting in that room, it did not happen.

For exclusive video coverage of the event, visit Bear News.

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