BLM banners still matter


Kaylin Damico

One of the SGA sponsored BLM banners hung near Wagner dining hall.

Hannah McDonnell, Contributing Writer

UNC Wilmington (UNCW)’s chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli recently announced the university’s decision to take down the Black Lives Matter (BLM) banners and instead create two public exhibits, one virtually and another indoor and outdoor, on-campus to house the banners. Students all across the campus have a different response to this, however, it seems to hit harder on those in the Black community. 

Whether the work and banners are being taken down in malice or not, all that seems to matter to the students is that they are being taken in the first place.

“As a collective, the Black Affinity Organizations known as, The Coalition of Black Student Leaders, are working to release a statement in the coming days regarding the recent email sent by the Chancellor about removing the Black Lives Matter banners around campus,” said Chris Neal, President of the UNCW Black Student Union (BSU).

On Sept. 27, The Coalition of Black Student Leaders released their official statement to this decision on social media.

“Black Lives Matter is not an art exhibit. Black Lives Matter is not a political statement,” as stated in their post. “Black Lives Matter is a cry to be seen as we are and to simply be able to exist in this white-washed world that has constantly shown us that we do not matter.”

By creating an exhibit for the Black Lives Matter artwork pieces, some in the administration believe that the banners can be immortalized. 

“Unequivocally, Black Lives Matter,” said Donyell Roseboro, a professor at UNCW and the Interim Chief Diversity Officer. “This principle aligns with our institution’s core values. It is a principle that we must continue to publicly support in ways that honor the distinctiveness of diverse groups on this campus, particularly those who have historically been disenfranchised. 

As Chief Diversity Officer, I am committed to protecting and preserving the banners with support from faculty and staff in several departments and programs across campus. Although art exhibits cannot replace the original intent of the banners, curating exhibits that will be virtual, outdoor, and indoor will allow us to capture the reasons the banners were installed, to contextualize those stories in a larger history of Wilmington including the coup d’état of 1898, and to visually preserve the message in ways that transcend a particular moment in time.”

With the artwork and banners being outside, they will have to succumb to weather, foot traffic, and many other elements rather than be protected by the campus in an exhibit. 

“The Office of the Arts stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Fidias Reyes, UNCW’s Director of Arts Engagement. “We are doing our best to adapt to the shifting campus policies. Our goal is to celebrate and uplift the African American community through art. We are in the process of curating a virtual exhibit that highlights Black students, scholars and leaders from UNCW’s history. Additionally, we are in the early stages of developing a public art installation to immortalize a sense of advocacy for one of the biggest issues of our time.”

It is not yet known when these on-campus installations will be finished or open to the public. However, the online installation is said to be open in the spring semester of 2021. The virtual gallery will be held on a program called “Exhibbit” and will be home to 30 different pieces of artwork and portraits of prominent Blacks in history who had a significant impact on the university. 

Some key partners that will help create this exhibit include the Upperman African American Cultural Center, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and the Department of Arts and Art History, along with other organizations on campus. 

The on-campus art installations will be created in a series of steps. In the first step, photographs of the banners that remain in place will be taken and digital photos of those that came down during the hurricane will be shared. Those digital photos will become part of the virtual Black Lives Matter exhibit created by Reyes in the Office of the Arts. 

While the banners are on the virtual exhibit, Fidias will also lead a team to curate a physical exhibit that will be initially located outdoors in the center of campus. In the final step, the exhibit will rotate indoors to a centrally located place on campus. As part of the exhibit curation, the Office of the Arts team will also integrate a timeline of the history of Blacks in Wilmington.

To go along with these art installations, the exhibit will play a key role in the First Year Seminar curriculum in the 2021 spring semester. There will also possibly be a curbside-cinema event showing a documentary series. Before the on-campus installation is finished, Black Lives Matter banners will be hung up on the sides of Kenan Auditorium. 

Since this decision, UNCW’s Student Government Association (SGA) has denounced the administration’s decision and come in possession of the three of the five Black Lives Matter banners. The two will hang in sponsorship by SGA near the Fisher buildings and Wagoner Hall and Veterans Hall.