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UNC student body president slams university in open letter, encourages Black students to look elsewhere

Lamar Richards, student body president and a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, released an op-ed Thursday titled "Brace for Reckoning," encouraging Black students and educators to look into other institutions and away from UNC.

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By
Kevin Kuzminski
, WRAL multiplatform producer
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Lamar Richards, student body president and a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, released an op-ed Thursday titled "Brace for Reckoning," encouraging Black students and educators to look into other institutions and away from UNC.

Richards' open letter began with a first-hand account of racism he experienced at a university function.

"Dear Carolina Community,

When I arrived at the meeting venue on the morning of my swearing-in as a member of the UNC Board of Trustees, I pulled up to the valet and proceeded to exit my car – at which point, the valet stopped me and said, 'Sir, this valet is for members and patrons only. Protestors are standing over there.'

Yes, I was in a full suit and tie. Yes, I had been elected Student Body President of our university earlier this year. And, yes, I was just moments away from being sworn in as a university trustee. The valet, however, still asked for my ID before walking inside to confirm that I was, in fact, who I said I was. I got out of my car, grabbed my briefcase, and headed inside.

But before I walked off, I stood and watched through the glass doors as other cars pulled in. One by one, as the valet opened car doors, individuals got out, nodded their heads, and headed into the building without a single word spoken. As I walked into the boardroom, it hit me: I was entering this space as one of the only people of color to serve as a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill."

Richards explained that he doesn't believe UNC is doing what is truly necessary to enact change.

"You cannot reform a system rooted in oppression, racism, and hatred," he said. "Tragically, the term 'reform' at this university continues to be used as a subtle tactic to oppress students, faculty, and staff -- past, present, and future alike."

He went on to write that people of color are still facing challenges at the university that should have been left in the past, long ago.

"UNC has continually fallen short of meeting the challenge of serving each and every one of its students," he explained. "Students of color must speak twice as loud just to be heard at the same volume; graduate students, especially those of color, are treated as modern-day servants, barely paid minimum wage; our staff and faculty of color are overworked and underpaid, treated like property."

And then Richards encouraged Black people considering attending UNC in any capacity to "look elsewhere."

"Until this rebirth occurs, Carolina is not deserving of your talents, aspirations, or successes," he said. "If you are a student, staff member, or academic from a historically-marginalized identity exploring UNC, I invite you to look elsewhere. If you are considering graduate school, law school, medical school, or other professional programs at UNC, I challenge you to seek other options. While Carolina desperately needs your representation and cultural contributions, it will only bring you here to tokenize and exploit you."

On Wednesday, members of the UNC Black Caucus said that many were considering leaving the school over the tenure controversy surrounding Nikole Hannah-Jones.

"It’s a really hard time to be at Carolina and to lift up the values we thought we shared, but are clearly not the same," said Dawna Jones, a member of the UNC Black Caucus.

Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize winner best known for her work on The 1619 Project, which re-examines American history from the date on which the first enslaved Africans arrived in the colonies.

While Hannah-Jones has received plenty of support from students, faculty and activists, not everyone agrees with her messages.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and other Republican senators introduced the Saving American History Act, which would to prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts.