Saturday, May 28, 2022

Student leadership ‘disappointed,’ ‘shook’ over UNCW Chancellor’s use of ‘All Lives Matter’ in response to black students’ concerns

University of North Carolina Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
University of North Carolina Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

Update 4 p.m. — UNCW shared Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli’s response to Chris Neal, head of the Black Student Union. You can find it below.

WILMINGTON — According to student government leaders, including the Student Government Association and the Black Student Union, UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli responded to a request for support for the Black Lives Matter movement on campus by saying it would be ‘difficult’ for the University to do so, because he felt ‘All Lives Matter.’

The exchange took place on a student forum call on Thursday evening. According to several students who were on the call, Sartarelli was pressed for more vocal support for the Black Lives Matter Matter. Last week, Sartarelli issued a statement on the murder of George Floyd, but did not mention the movement.

The exchange was confirmed both by the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Black Student Union and Matt Talone, president of the Student Government Association for the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a voting ex officio member of the UNCW Board of Trustees.

On Friday afternoon, BSU issued the following statement as part of a post on Facebook (you can find the complete post, below).

The statement read in part:

“[W]e began to discuss the ways the Univesity could show solidarity with the #BLM movement. It was suggested the university could possibly paint #BLM somewhere on the campus, or anything of that magnitude to show the university’s solidarity with its black students and the movement. Our Chancellor, Jose V. Sartarelli, responded and said, “If you are asking me tomorrow to start painting and decorating the university with Black Lives Matter, that’s going to be very difficult because I believe ALL LIVES MATTER.”

BSU’s post went on to state the ‘fury, anguish, and sadness’ felt by student leaders.

According to Talone, the meeting was “going well” until the issue of support for Black Lives Matter came up. Students, particularly black students, had expressed disappointment that other Universities had issued more forceful and explicit statements showing “solidarity with the movement.”

Talone said that during the call, both he and the student body vice president were ‘surprised’ and ‘shook’ at Sartarelli’s use of the term, which Talone said was “very demeaning to everything that the Black Lives Matter movement stands for and everything they’re fighting for.”

Talone said he will be working with his fellow SGA staff to have a conversation with Sartarelli about why his words were taken as ‘hurtful’ to black students. He also said he and SGA would be reaching out to BSU.

“It’s important and we do stand with them. We do strongly support all the needs they brought up last night. They’re students and SGA’s mission is to represent the voice and mission of the student body — and if this is their vision we’ll do our part to see it through,” Talone said.

On Friday afternoon, Chancellor Sartarelli’s response to Chris Neal, head of the Black Student Union, was shared with Port City Daily. The response does not mention Black Lives Matter or the request by students to show support for the movement. Asked if the Chancellor or his office would issue an apology, a spokesperson said ‘no further comment.’

Sartarelli’s response is below.

Dear Chris:

I thank you for your thoughtful response, and for your time and candor during last night’s call. Your response below is understandable, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

I want to make clear, and should have done so last night, that I believe the Black experience unequivocally must be the focus of efforts to increase the safety and well-being of our students and community. The events of the past few weeks have underlined the need for us to recommit to our institutional values of diversity, inclusion and respect, and especially for those students historically marginalized, who have lived in fear of violence, bigotry, or unfair or cruel treatment.

I am very grateful that you shared last night, and again this morning, what you believe our institutional needs to be if we are to make the progress that is both necessary and overdue. I assure you we will take great care to evaluate them and determine what our next steps may be, collaborating with our students at every opportunity. Your voice is being heard. You are the reason we are here, and we have an obligation to respond to your concerns and any threats to your safety, education, or enjoyment of being a Seahawk. I also want to acknowledge that I must be open to listening, responding with sensitivity, and learning more about the concerns and needs of our Black student population. It is so important that moving forward, I do my best to respond with empathy and an open mind.

Thank you again, and I look forward to continuing this discussion, and this important work. I hope you will remain open to that collaboration, and I am optimistic that together we can effect the change that will be so critical to UNCW’s future, and most importantly, will help ensure that our students can and will thrive in a safe, supportive and diverse environment.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Sartarelli


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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