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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

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Black Lives Matter mural removal sparks new controversy at UNC Asheville

Courtesy of UNCA
The Black Lives Matter mural on UNCA’s campus.

Three years after a bomb threat at the University of North Carolina at Asheville over the Black Lives Matter mural that students worked to paint on University Heights, another controversy surrounds the mural. 

Construction that began earlier this year brought not just the disruption of traffic flow, and student beaten paths, but also the removal of the iconic mural. 

“I found out about it last year through SGA, under the Braswell/Okoro administration,” said Liv Barefoot, a 20-year-old political science major from Raleigh. 

Since last year, the Office of Multicultural Affairs is working with the interim chancellor in order to preserve the mural in some way, said SGA officials. 

“There are talks of a more permanent structure or sculpture, between the Office of Multicultural Affairs,” Barefoot said. 

During the summer, many pieces of the mural were saved and stored in the SGA office for the very intention of creating something new out of something broken, SGA officials say. 

“I definitely think the mural should be repainted,” said Natshia Best, a 20-year-old political science major.

The creation of the mural was a joint effort of students who spent over eight hours working on what some consider to be a part of UNCA history. 

“I was a part of the history of the mural. While I didn’t design the letters, my peers, and I was out there; volunteering to paint, I brought a speaker out there to make it more of a ‘block party’ and just to have a good time,” Best said.

A piece that could be seen from high overhead, the mural represented a connection to the campus for black students that was special to them. 

“It’s special because it gives us black students’ reassurance that the school actually has our back when it’s predominantly white here. With the amount of black students on campus, that reassurance is very important,” Best said. 

The construction of the mural caused such a controversy that a bomb threat was called in and the school had to go into lockdown. The university responded quickly. Students and faculty remained unharmed. 

However, through talks between the Office of Multicultural Affairs, SGA, and the interim chancellor, the decision to remove the mural was made in order to make way for the construction currently underway. 

Some students say the mural may have been removed on purpose as a sort of safety measure to prevent future threats against the campus. 

“Honestly, with everything going on with anti-DEI law, I feel that this was on purpose. That’s all I have to say about that,” Best said. 

The mural may have caused controversy, but it was also a piece of campus history. Some feel as though that history is being erased.

According to Melanie Fox, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, there is hope for the mural as there are talks of maintaining the pride and history of the Black Lives Matter movement by building a permanent structure somewhere on campus.

“The previous administration, Braswell-Okoro, has written legislation for it, all we have to do is sign it off as soon as SGA gets settled,” Best said. “If it’s permanent, it’s been talked about as being where the first Black students on campus lived.” 

“The campus is discussing some options with the larger group of campus constituents in conjunction with the Steam Studio, the idea of creating a memorial bench out of the remaining artwork has come to the forefront,” Fox said. 

The new structure is estimated to be on campus in the fall of 2024.

“A large part of the course will be to engage with the campus community on the plans and creation of the artwork in order to honor and memorialize the original piece most effectively. Because of this, there will be opportunities for students, faculty and staff to provide ideas and feedback to the artists throughout the creation process,” Fox said.  

While the mural was a landmark, and though it’s now out of sight, the chancellor assures students this project will not be pushed aside and forgotten.

“This will not be something that is out of sight and out of mind as the artwork is created. Instead, we believe that this is a community piece that will be created out of the collaborative efforts and feedback from any and all members of the university. One of the attributes that makes UNC Asheville great is in the creation of a project like this, where student work is commemorated, the community is involved, and great product is created, much like the process that took place with the original mural,” Fox said.

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