Maya Little, the UNC-Chapel Hill PhD student that protested the university’s Confederate memorial statue in April, walked out of her university Honor Court hearing on Friday, journalists covering the trial reported, after it was revealed one of the students sitting on the court had previously been vocally supportive of the statue in the past and called student protesters “petulant children.”
With Little gone from the room, the Honor Court ultimately decided to levy a punishment of 18 hours of community service, the student newspaper The Daily Tarheel reported; the five-person panel also decided to issue her a warning, a decision she will have an opportunity to appeal.
The biggest news of the trial wasn’t so much the revelation of Little’s punishment as it was Honor Court member and UNC law student Frank Pray’s staunch support of the Confederate statue, widely known as Silent Sam. The news broke midway through Thursday’s session of the trial when Little’s supporters found Pray had numerous online posts—some of which he admitted deleting—and even made an appearance on a local news station in his role as UNC College Republican chair to speak out in support of Silent Sam.
On Friday, Little told the court that she did not feel she would be granted a fair trial with Pray’s continued presence on the court. Presiding officer Amelia Ahern responded that Pray would maintain his position, claiming it would not affect the outcome of the trial, according to the The News & Observer. Little then walked out of the hearings and was followed by nearly the entire room, which at that point was standing room only.
In the hallway, she read a statement, which can be read in full at the bottom of this post. Noting that Pray admitted during the hearing that he had deleted some of the posts the day before and on the day of Little’s Honor Court appearance, Little also pointed out how she was given less than five minutes to object to his participation in her trial.
“When I asked why Pray had not recused himself or been dismissed, I was told that a motion to dismiss, to recuse, to even discuss could not go forward, that the ‘stage’ of trial where I could bring that up had passed,” Little said in the statement. “When my counsel pressed, Ahern then decided that the panel itself would discuss whether Pray could be impartial behind closed doors.”
She went on to refute Pray’s pro-statue stance, saying, “the Confederacy is not ‘our state’ nor is it UNC’s. It was a defeated treasonous army. Pray continually boasts of his adherence to text while ignoring the vast range of academic historical texts that disprove his claims about the Civil War and the Confederacy. Do Pray’s beliefs fit within the mission to teach and to make this hearing ‘educational?’”
After a lengthy recess, the court reconvened and stated it would continue the proceedings without Little, adding that Little’s “non-participation will not be weighed against her by the court.” Several hours later, around 8 p.m. Friday night, the Honor Court released their decision and Little’s punishment.
Here’s Little’s full statement, sent out to members of the press (emphasis mine):
Following my public honor court session yesterday, I do not believe that I will receive a “fair, impartial, and speedy hearing” as granted in section 4A of the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance. The Office of Student Conduct has had 6 months to prepare an impartial, informed panel of my peers, who are supposed to represent the values of the honor code and the university’s proclaimed mission to educate. I was not informed of who was chosen to be on the panel to determine whether I can continue my studies until 4 p.m. yesterday (10/25), when the panelists walked into the hearing after me. Within a few minutes of research, UNC students learned that for years, Frank Pray has been a vocal and active supporter of Confederate monuments. Frank Pray publicly harassed and insulted one of my witnesses, UNC Professor Dr. Altha Cravey, calling her “a disgrace” and anti-racist activists “petulant children” in a reply to a post Dr. Cravey made on twitter. However, the opportunity to raise objections regarding the objectivity of the panelists came at the very beginning of the hearing, when no one had had time to discover Frank Pray’s bias.
This information would not have been admissible in my hearing had my counsel and I not corrected presiding officer Amelia Ahern’s confusion about my rights as a student. When I asked why Pray had not recused himself or been dismissed, I was told that a motion to dismiss, to recuse, to even discuss could not go forward, that the “stage” of trial where I could bring that up had passed. When my counsel pressed, Ahern then decided that the panel itself would discuss whether Pray could be impartial behind closed doors. I asked Pray about the number of previous comments he has made on the news, in the Carolina Journal, at BOT meetings, on facebook, twitter, and other social media. Despite having half a year to discover the bias that students found immediately, the Honor Court gave me less than five minutes to object to Pray’s place on my panel.
I also asked why he had apparently taken down social media posts that very day—what was he trying to conceal? Pray admitted to deleting Facebook and social media comments condemning activism against Silent Sam before and on the day of my trial.
Pray claims that his vocal support for slave owners who would not have wanted a Black student at UNC does not impair his ability to decide whether to sanction me. Why then did Pray conceal his comments in favor of Silent Sam? He did so because he knows that his prior public statements make it impossible to view him as impartial. He admitted to deleting comments yesterday, at the outset of my trial, in order to appear less political for the sake of his law career.
If I am to believe that the Honor Court is giving me my rights as a student, why would they not inform me about panel members before today? Why would they only speak publicly about my motion to dismiss in order to defend Pray? Why should I believe that this will be a fair and impartial hearing, when the only word I have to go on is Pray’s own, proclaiming his commitment to the instrument which has already been misrepresented by the presiding officers of the court in the course of my trial?
I believe that Pray’s comments qualify, as noted in 2A4 of the Instrument, as conduct that impairs the capacity of University and associated personnel to perform their duties, manage resources, protect the safety and welfare of members of the University community, and maintain the integrity of the University. Further, calling people who fought specifically for slavery, boasted of assaulting a black woman on campus, and participated in murders of Black politicians and the establishment of Jim Crow laws “North Carolinians defending our state,” conflicts with the aim of the University to endeavor for “respect for the safety and welfare of others” in the preamble of the Instrument.
The Confederacy is not “our state” nor is it UNC’s. It was a defeated treasonous army. Pray continually boasts of his adherence to text while ignoring the vast range of academic historical texts that disprove his claims about the Civil War and the Confederacy. Do Pray’s beliefs fit within the mission to teach and to make this hearing “educational?” In light of his advocacy for the Confederacy, should Pray be given the right to decide my fate, the way that slave owners were once given the legal power to decide the fate of black people accused of crimes?
Although the extreme lack of oversight, transparency, and respect for my rights as a student has been exemplified through this incident with Pray, this episode accords with the overall behavior of the Office of Student Conduct and its failure to equally serve students. This is apparent in my hearing, in charges the court chose to press against a woman raped on campus, and in the fact that the 56% of the students the honor chooses to pursue charges against are students of color.
Again, I do not believe the honor court aims to give me a fair and impartial trial.