UNC Law student letter calls out ‘culture of bullying,’ silencing of dissent

Those sharing factual arguments or opposing opinions are labeled ‘white supremacists’ or ‘racists’

Photo of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School building. Photo via UNC Law

CHAPEL HILL — A letter penned by a group of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law students details a “culture of bullying” at the school and pushes back on allegations of racism stemming from a debate during a January Zoom call.

The letter obtained by North State Journal, titled, “Bullying at UNC Law: A Call to Action,” contains a preface describing themselves as a large group of “multicultural students from every law school class at the University of North Carolina School of Law.” They also make clear they do not condone racism.

“The subjects of bullying were once called victims,” the Call to Action (CTA) reads. “They now categorize them as suffering from an inability to understand or ‘white fragility.’ Those who oppose being threatened, bullied, or shouted down are called ‘white supremacists,’ ‘white nationalists,’ ‘bigots,’ or ‘racists.’”

One of the students involved in creation of the CTA letter spoke with North State Journal about the intense bullying and “cancel culture” activity at the school. The student wished to be identified only as “Liberty Pro Se,” out of fear of retaliation.

“Anybody who speaks out is at risk, including professors and faculty,” said Liberty Pro Se. “This culture has built in the law school over the past few years.”

“This culture has broken us all down. We have no voice; we cannot address our bullies; and we must remain faceless. Those who speak out against this bullying are immediately denounced as ‘racists,’ and shut down,” the letter reads, going on to say that there is such a hostile environment that students are afraid to speak up.

“Merely having a visible American flag as part of your room decor over Zoom puts a target on your back,” says the CTA letter.

The letter goes on to cite one law school student posting to social media that an “American flag hanging on your wall and centered in your zoom background is big MAGA energy, and I appreciate my (white male) MAGA law school colleagues ‘outing themselves’ so easily and visibly.”

Liberty Pro Se said they hope their letter encourages others to come forward and speak out, but also for the administration at the law school to take a stand.

The January Zoom call

The group of law students who created the letter wants to make sure the whole story is being told following an article by the News & Observer, which they say “reported on the incident but did not provide the escalating context.”

During a Jan. 14 Zoom call, the subject of colonialism was raised, and a student made the claim that “Amazingly, Native people lived here for 60,000+ years w no problems, and in 600 years of colonialism the planet has been set on fire.”

That claim was countered, with another student arguing that “Conquest, enslavement of defeated tribes, human sacrifice, ritualized rape, etc. were all war tactics used in tribal warfare, from the Mayans to the Comanche. This does not excuse Spanish or English colonization, but in the name of academic honesty, thought it was worth mentioning.”

From there, the conversation escalated. The transcript shows the first student attempting to shut down the second student with accusations of racism. Following an explanation by the second student of why European conquest was successful and led today’s current privilege circumstances, the following exchange took place:

First student: “Oh I live in privilege? Tell me more about my privilege.”

Second student: “You are an American attending an elite law school in the 21st century. If you are looking for a good cause, you can always travel to Cameroon and fight the colonizers there.”

First student took offense and responded: “Did you just tell me to go back to Africa?”

Second student: “What? Dude what are you saying? I’m saying that people talk about colonization like it we’re [sic] all culpable for great evil. My point is that if you want to fight colonization, there are actual civil wars occurring now between natives and colonizers (like in Cameroon).”

The second student ended his argument by saying “your point is racist.”

Reactions to the Zoom call

The Zoom conversation was reported to UNC Law School officials, who took no action. A message issued by the UNC School of Law in February mentioned the incident, but did not go into details, citing Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) limitations.

“Law school is a place for thinking aloud and learning about other people’s perspectives. We are called on to defend arguments we as individuals don’t believe in, and to dismantle the reasoning of the side we are most passionate about,” the UNC School of Law message reads in part. “Our discussions are painful, in part, because the law does not validate and endorse everything we believe in.”

The first year (1L) class co-president issued a letter on Feb. 20 after reviewing the transcript, which said he wasn’t able to conclude that any student told anyone else to “return to Africa.” The 1L co-president was then harassed for his decision.

The CTA letter says that after the 1L co-president shared his findings, “he – a student of color himself – was immediately told ‘[s]o you’re racist’ by, oddly enough, a white student. He was told to resign and was threatened with a recall election if he did not comply.”

During the month following the incident, a letter was passed around accusing the second student of suggesting “that a Black peer should return to Africa.” That letter was met by an anonymous rebuttal posted on law school Facebook groups which agreed with the 1L co-president’s findings.

The anonymous rebuttal referenced the “cancel culture” and bullying that has become pervasive among the law school’s student body. One response to the post confirmed the premise of bullying by stating “I’m glad these a**holes know they’ll get dragged for their bullsh*t.”

Black law students demand diversity dean, Critical Race Theory expansion

The UNC Black Law Students Association (BLSA) issued a letter on Feb. 22 that alleged “there were multiple racist incidents that occurred within 1L classrooms that have yet to be publicly acknowledged and addressed by the UNC Law Administration.” The letter also repeated the claim, ruled as false by the class co-president, that a student had told another to “return to Africa.”

The BLSA letter was followed by a list of “expectations” of administration and faculty at UNC Law. The demands included a new UNC Law Office of Diversity and Inclusion, “which would House a Dean of Equity,” diversity scholarships for black students, hiring a “mental health counselor of color,” and expansion of the recruitment of black law professors.

Additionally, the BLSA demands “Expanding the Presence of Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) at UNC School of Law by Making CRT a Mandatory Class and Establishing a Critical Race Theory Fellowship.”

“By incorporating a mandatory Critical Race Theory course into the curriculum, the law school can foster a learning environment that’s anti-racist and honest about the law,” reads the BLSA expectations document, of which the text at the bottom of each page reads, “Black lives matter. Black education matters.”

North State Journal reached out to the UNC School of Law’s communications department for comment about the BLSA’s letter and demands document. In response, NSJ received a statement attributed to Martin H. Brinkley, dean and Arch T. Allen distinguished professor of Law:

“On February 24, UNC School of Law held an event titled, ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Where We Are and Where We Are Going at Carolina Law.’ The event was hosted by the Black Law Student Association and, among other things, considered the letter of expectations sent to the law school’s administration and faculty on June 15, 2020. Carolina Law leaders have been and continue to be committed to providing an affordable, world-class legal education and to making Carolina Law a more diverse, inclusive and equitable place for our students. We are dedicated to maintaining, as the University Code requires, ‘an environment in which academic freedom flourishes and in which the rights of all members of the academic community are respected.’”

About A.P. Dillon 466 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_