UNC Wilmington to move Black Lives Matters banners to art exhibit, chancellor says

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The University of North Carolina Wilmington will remove Black Lives Matter banners from campus buildings and put them in an art exhibit, the chancellor says.

The plan is part of the school’s updated policy that regulates the display of posters, banners or other outdoor signs by “non-university sponsored individuals or groups,” according to a Friday message from Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

Under the rules, these groups or individuals can post banners during “reserved speaking times” available during certain time frames: Sept. 1 through Nov. 30 or Feb. 1 through April 14. Otherwise, they must either be displayed in a “permissible location” or approved by Campus Life, the policy says. Posters promoting events and activities on campus are allowed under the policy.

The chancellor’s Sept. 18 message said the university had policies in place that “outline the time, place and manner” of free expression activities by “student events and public events sponsored by external community organizations or individuals.”

“Until recently, we did not have a specific policy designated to manage the time, date and place for expressive activities, such as banner placement, by faculty and staff,” the message says.

The Policy on Banners, Posters and Temporary Outdoor Signs will “bring banner placement by employees into alignment with similar policies around the UNC System and related university policies governing students, external constituents and political activity housed in the Code of Student Life,” it says.

The policy “defers to existing university regulations on student speech,” which are unchanged, Andrea Weaver, interim chief of communications officer at UNCW, said in a statement to McClatchy News.

The school says the policy is content neutral, meaning it applies to all expression regardless of content.

But the chancellor’s message on Friday specifically points to a plan for Black Lives Matter banners currently on campus.

“Under the new policy, the university will work with faculty and other campus constituencies to arrange for transition of the remaining #BlackLivesMatter banners that were placed on campus buildings over the summer to a collective art exhibit,” the message says.

The university’s Office of Facilities will begin “carefully” removing the banners in the coming days, the message says. They’ll then be stored in a locked warehouse until they’re moved to the art exhibit.

“With the leadership of the Office of the Arts, existing #BlackLivesMatter banners have been photographed by the Office of University Relations for initial inclusion in a virtual exhibit,” the chancellor said. “With faculty and staff support, existing banners will be curated into an outdoor and indoor exhibit that will be housed in the center of campus”

The university had collected 14 banners as of Monday, Weaver told McClatchy.

“Planning for the exhibit is underway,” she said in the emailed statement.

Employees who don’t want their banners displayed in the exhibit can arrange to pick them up, the chancellor says.

The letter starts by listing several recent diversity-related initiatives taken up at the university.

“Since July, we have taken the following steps to enhance the UNCW experience for people of color and to build awareness among all Seahawks of the racism and bias that we must work to address,” the letter says.

The announcement comes months after Sartarelli came under fire for his response to student leaders’ requests for more support on campus for the Black Lives Matter movement

According to multiple student leaders on a call with the chancellor in June, he said allowing Black Lives Matter to be painted somewhere on campus would be “difficult” because he felt “all lives matter,” WWAY previously reported.

His reported comments sparked outrage among some students.

“The fury, the anguish and the sadness felt by the Black student leaders made it very clear that the problem is the head of this institution,” the UNCW Black Student Movement posted on Facebook in June. “Although we too believe that all lives matter, our Chancellor must realize as well as those who think the same that all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.”

The call came after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody on May 25 after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes, as three other officers didn’t intervene. Chauvin has been charged with murder.

Floyd’s death sparked an avalanche of protests across the nation.

The chancellor released a statement in June about Floyd’s death, but it did not specifically mention the Black Lives Matter movement.

McClatchy News reached out to the Black Faculty and Staff Association at UNCW for comment on the new policy and plan to move the banners but had not received a reply as of Monday afternoon.

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