I also posted this at OrangePolitics.org.
If you don’t know me that well, you might be surprised to learn that I am one of the happiest people in town to witness the long-awaited opening of the free-standing Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at UNC. It’s future existence was the the primary purpose of my day-to-day existence during my last two years of college. As a member of the Student Coalition for a Free-Standing Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center, I organized marches, spoke at rallies, met with administrators, slept in South Building, and wrote flyers, press releases, and site analysis reports. I dedicated myself to helping the University community understand the compelling need for this institution.
I was glad to read coverage of the upcoming festivities around the opening of the new free-standing center in last week’s Chapel Hill Herald. But I was confused by the severe contortions they went through in that editorial. Comparing the CBHC (I still think of it as the BCC) to Carolina North was strange. But citing it as an example of administrators’ long-term vision and tenacity was absurd.
The opening of the CBHC’s new building is in spite of UNC’s leadership, not because of it. Chapel Hill Herald Assisant Editor Ray Gronberg ought to know this, since he was there. I remember meeting him in the lobby of South Building when I was among about 100 students who occupied it for two weeks to protest the Chancellor’s foot dragging on the BCC. It was almost 10 years before some UNC administrators realized the center would be an asset to the campus and the state, and saw that it wasn’t going to happen without their support (ie: funding).
In the early 1990’s, it was the UNC Board of Trustees and administrative leaders (like then Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Edith Wiggins) who raised the arguments against it that the Herald cites: “One of the arguments made then against the project — that it was a frill — finds echoes today in the general criticisms of what some in this community see as UNC’s mindless expansionism.”
In fact, the institutions that now support massive campus expansion, are the same ones who stonewalled against building a black cultural center for many years. They are are ones who claimed “we don’t have the money,” “we don’t need it,” “it’s divisive.” One could raise those same objections to Carolina North, but you don’t have to when there are so many more substantive things to critique.
So it’s putting it lightly to say that I think it’s a stretch for the Herald to compare UNC’s leadership on the BCC to it’s vision on Carolina North. If they supported the idea of building Carolina North like they did the idea of building a black cultural center, you’d find administrators claiming that the current campus is really quite adequate, and these research programs aren’t really that important to the university or the state, and the best location might be in distant Chatham County, if it really must exist at all.