LUMBERTON — Calls for the resignation of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s chancellor were made Monday in the wake of his attendance Saturday of a campaign rally in Lumberton for President Donald Trump.
The resignation demands came mainly from UNCP students and alumni who learned of Chancellor Robin Cummings’ presence at the rally when Trump pointed him out in the crowd.
About 150 students met by video conference over the weekend and formed the Nonviolent Students Cultivating Change movement. About 50 movement members took part Monday in a protest that began with students marching from Old Main and Cypress Hall and meeting at noon in front of Lumbee Hall, which houses the chancellor’s office, and calling for Cummings’ resignation.
Movement leader Jaylen Ellis said the protest would last until midnight, and a meeting with Cummings had been scheduled for Tuesday. Ellis also said he was coordinating with the Unified Robeson NAACP Branch. He also is working separately to organize a program to allow students to transfer out of UNCP, and to discourage other minority students from joining the institution.
“I feel like it’s just too late for a meeting,” he said.
One of the students’ concerns is that Cummings’ presence was inconsistent with COVID-19 restrictions the university has adopted to keep its doors open this fall semester. Some of the rules prohibit large social gatherings, and mandate face coverings be worn on campus.
Saturday’s rally brought in more than 3,000 spectators, according to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office.
Others who turned out to protest said Cummings’ presence could be interpreted as a show of support by Cummings and the university for Trump’s reelection campaign.
“We’re all being tied to Trump supporters,” Adeline Kelley said.
A post on Twitter stated that the university supports Trump, which is not the case, Kelley said.
Some students said if Cummings does not resign, they would be willing to accept a “genuine apology” and a path forward that allows for more inclusion.
Thomas Crowe-Allbritton, UNCP alumnus and former president of the Student Government Association, expressed his opposition of Cummings’ actions on Saturday.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Crowe-Allbritton wrote on Facebook Saturday. “Chancellor Cummings’ presence at the Trump rally today has nullified anything he has said about the march over the summer and anything since then. Let’s not even get started on the hypocrisy of him being at a rally where practically no one has a mask.”
The negative comments were enough to garner a response from Cummings, who sent out an email addressed to “Bravenation.” In it he explained his reasoning and acknowledged that his actions were “inconsistent.”
The letter reads, “For essentially my adult life, I have consistently and strongly advocated for full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe. In recent weeks, many elected officials have publicly confirmed their support of Lumbee recognition, an outcome the Lumbee Tribe has worked toward over the past 100 years. Advancing and supporting this region is one of our university’s driving goals, and the impact of the education, health and housing benefits full federal recognition would bring to UNCP, Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina is a critical step forward in that path. Most importantly, recognition is the just course to correct an injustice.
“I was asked to accompany a delegation of tribal members to an event in Lumberton, where the President was to offer his full support of Lumbee recognition efforts. Both presidential candidates have expressed their support for the Lumbee people, and I remain grateful to them and all who support these long-overdue efforts regardless of political affiliation.
“My commitment and passion for tribal recognition influenced my decision to attend the announcement. I understand and accept the concern and disappointment over participation in a gathering that was well over our campus limitations. While I did maintain social distancing given the seating arrangement provided and wore my mask throughout the event, it was still inconsistent with how we have navigated the fall semester under my direction.”
Ellis said the Nonviolent Students Cultivating Change movement supports Lumbee recognition.
“We are in full support of the Lumbee Tribe getting tribal status, and our mission and focus is not to devalue their fight of getting recognized by the government,” Ellis said. “It’s the fact that he was out there when he shouldn’t have been out there.”
Robeson County Republican Party Chairman Phillip Stephens supports the chancellor’s decision to attend the event. It was important that he represent the university’s interest regardless of who is president, Stephens said.
“It’s nonpartisan representation the chancellor provides regardless of who the sitting president is that is visiting the area,” Stephens said. “To criticize the chancellor for representing the interests of the university simply makes it a partisan issue when it shouldn’t be.”
Lumbee Recognition is a bipartisan issue, he said.
”I’d expect the chancellor or any leader for that matter to lobby, attend and represent regardless of the party affiliation of the president,” Stephens said. “I don’t think attendance is a signal of partisanship. I think it’s a signal of leadership.
“I would hope he’d do the same with a democrat president or leader to provide influence over university or tribal affairs that will impact our region.”
As far as safety, concern is understood but the Trump team provided masks, temperature checks and hand sanitizer, and attendance at the event was voluntary, and it was held outside, Stephens said.
Pearlean Revels, the chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, did not wish to comment on the matter calling it a “Republican issue.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865, and Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or at [email protected]