Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed an audio tour app to facilitate discussion about race, history and Silent Sam.
No Longer Silent is a project of the sixteen students in Sabine Gruffat's digital art class. Users can download the app and hear interviews conducted by students as they walk around McCorkle Place, where the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam is located. The recordings are triggered by the listener's GPS position, so you have to be on campus to listen.
"The idea is that you're listening to other people talk and as you listen to their views you kind of think more deeply about how you fit into it," Gruffat said.
Students will be offering guided tours on Thursday. They'll help attendees get set up on the app and join them for a discussion after they finish the tour, which takes about thirty minutes in full. But the audio will still be available after Thursday.
Gruffat says the class started working on the app the first day of the semester, just before hundreds of people gathered on UNC campus for a protest calling for Silent Sam's removal. Before the semester began, a discussion about Confederate monuments was already brewing nationally following the Unite the Right white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville and locally after demonstrators tore down a Confederate monument in downtown Durham and Duke University removed a statue of Robert E. Lee from Duke Chapel. Faculty members in UNC's Art and Art History departments
, Anthropology Department
and Progressive Faculty Network
have called for Silent Sam to be removed.
"When the protest happened that kind of changed the tenor of the conversation," Gruffat said. "We didn’t have to create a discussion around this issue, it would happen organically."
No Longer Silent
No Longer Silent is an audio tour created by UNC students to facilitate a discussion around Silent Sam.
The project has taken on a new relevance as students continue to protest the monument, first by staging a sit-in
and now through a boycott
of UNC stores and restaurants. Protesters had covered the statue with cardboard signs explaining its history and allowing people to write down how they have been affected by white supremacy. While those items have all been removed, No Longer Silent is able to pick up some of those same threads.
"Anything put up around the statue was immediately removed," Gruffat explained. "It seemed to me like the only way you could have something there and be inconspicuous was to have something like this."
Although Gruffat initiated the project, students took the lead in creating and curating the recordings. Over the past month, they've been interviewing fellow students and other people around campus on their feelings about Silent Sam, the Confederacy and race relations in America. Then, they narrowed down the material to a representative sample. Recordings most related to the statue, which was dedicated in 1913
, play closest to it and differing views are interspersed throughout the tour.
"Over the time we’ve been doing this it's changed a little bit of our thinking. At the beginning it really was just kind of about the statue and in the ensuing weeks it’s been more about these bigger institutions, so the topic has kind of mutated."
Student Sydney Hale says the project really seeks to capture "what the average person is thinking" outside of those who have been most vocal about the issue. A studio art major, Hale said it was her first school assignment that involved creating an app.
"I personally am in the position of taking the statue down. I think there are a lot of people on campus who want to take the statue down but I learned through interviews there are also a lot of people who aren’t really thinking about it," she said. Some interviewees said they had no opinion because they are white; others said they'd lived in Chapel Hill for years and hadn't given Silent Sam much thought. Hale said some of her classmates were staying out of the debate as well. She hopes the audio tour will help neutral listeners "realize why it's so important to people and why they should be upset."
Gruffat was also surprised by how many people either had no opinion, or just didn't think it was a good idea to remove the monument. The group discussed whether interviewees were guarded in their comments based on who was interviewing them.
"People are uncomfortable with anything being destroyed, like it's too violent or too extreme," Gruffat posited.
Guided tours will be offered Thursday at two, two-thirty, three and three-thirty p.m. To get the free app, download Echoes XYZ on your iPhone or Android and find No Longer Silent.