All Together Now? Student Activism at UNC

BY WILSON SINK

It was an organized chaos.  The police had closed the street at both ends.  People crushed together, barely able to move.  Others shouted, the cacophony mingling to form nonsense.  Groups banded together, lobbying for power and support.  And into this madness dove roughly 3,946 first year students.  This is what the University of North Carolina calls “Fall Fest.”  This is how the vast majority of UNC student groups begin to recruit new students for membership and activism. In general, though, with 700 registered organizations and the consequent competition for members, funding, attention and impact, the state of student activism may be equally as chaotic.

  “It was overwhelming at first,” first year Brooke Davies says, “Every organization feasible was crammed onto South Road, accosting you with signs, sign up sheets, performances, and food.” Fellow first year Townes Bouchard-Dean echoed the overwhelming nature of fall fest.  “It was pretty hectic,” he mentions, with a “myriad of clubs and groups.”  Bouchard-Dean, though, saw the benefit of exposure to different ideas and organizations.  Both he and Davies would commit themselves to these different groups in an attempt to make an impact on campus.

   But, can all student groups be effective in achieving their goals?  According to Davies, yes and no. “Productivity is largely due to the type of people in charge. When the core leadership loses that drive to innovate and sustain its dynamism, it only breeds inefficiency and conflict.”  Bouchard-Dean attributed that same inefficiency to the large quantity of clubs. In his mind, with so many groups, it’s difficult to determine “What are good uses of your time? What’s pertinent to you?”

Alec Guettel echoed the same concerns. “As a state/regional/national voice, [student organizations] are rarely effective,” Guettel says. Now the Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Campus Y, Guettel is no stranger to activism.  As an undergrad at UNC, Guettel and his friends founded the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC).  Despite the admitted “haphazard” process of forming a campus group, Guettel and his team soon established SEAC as the largest student-run organization at UNC.  Not too long after, SEAC had a national presence.   Just a year after the organization was founded, “more than 1700 students from 43 states and over 225 schools came to Chapel Hill” for an environmental conference according to the group’s history.  The next year, more than 7000 students came to Champaign, Illinois.

 Guettel looked back at his impact as undergrad with mixed emotions.  At SEAC, he says, “We were effective in training and deepening the commitment of many thousands of students…[and] we helped some great local programs across hundreds of campuses and deliver some positive change.”  However, in Guettel’s mind, “we were never able to coordinate our efforts in a way that I think legitimately affected larger policy-making.”  The effectiveness of student organizations was often limited to the local community.  Today, these issues are exacerbated by “two things,” in Guettel’s opinion.  “First, students are so turned off by the political process that they seem reluctant to even try to influence policy,” limiting the scope of activism’s impact.  “Second, there’s such an emphasis on resumé building and being a ‘founder’ that students seem to want to start their own organization rather than being part of something bigger.”  With the muffling voices of 700 individual groups, one clear student voice has been “eliminated…in the political process.” However, Guettel believes these challenges are “solvable,” but “it will require exceptional leadership by some individual or group of students to rally diverse organizations to join together.”

 Now, Sophomore Alex Wilhelm is one of the co-presidents of SEAC.  “SEAC used to be the largest student-run organization on campus and it slowly died off, but we hope to bring it back,” according to Wilhelm.  Starting with monthly newsletters and a speaker series, SEAC is trying to educate students on environmental issues.  After that, Wilhelm says, “We hope to…create one common movement for change.”  SEAC has a proud tradition of activism.  However, there are no mass conferences today.  “Apathy is a significant issue on campus… students are busy with school work and simply do not have the time to devote to clubs,” Wilhelm notes.

  The sheer number of clubs also hinders progress.  With many individuals working on individual projects, collective action and its power for change are lost.  In the environmental field alone, UNC has groups and acronyms galore. RESPC, the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, funds and supports efforts in renewable energy and sustainability on campus.  The SSC, the Sierra Student Coalition, has devoted its efforts toward coal divestment in the past.  The EAC, the Environmental Affairs Committee of student government, aids a number of special projects, from Tar Heel Bikes, a bike sharing program, to the organization of Earth Week.  SEAC, meanwhile is attempting to unite these disparate groups, and that is just a sampling.  These are groups with different goals and agendas, working on similar yet separate ends.  Students can only devote their time to so many projects.

 Perhaps though, activism has taken a different form.  Mass conferences and protests are out of style, yet people are still informed and involved.  At a place as diverse as UNC, there will always be diverse interests, with diverse student groups to match.  In some ways, that’s a positive. Davies noticed activism in her JStreet events.  “We have witnessed record turnouts to our speakers this year,” she says.  At UNC, “we love to grow,” she notes happily.  Students can now express their passions in more and more specialized ways, growing and affecting the community.  As Guettel mentioned, “Student energy is the basis of a TON of great local progress and programs.” Groups now face the challenge of connecting these varied groups to affect national problems.  Wilhelm believes SEAC is on the right track.  “We are beginning to unite these students…who really want to make a difference.”  Just like the chaos of Fall Fest, student activism is messy.  Fortunately, students still care, and UNC’s 700 organizations, both individually and collectively, are making an impact, just at different scales.

The New Environmentalist Movement: What it means, and how it’s going to change the world

BY COLE WILHELMI

In the 1960s and 70s, the U.S. environmentalist movement was in its heyday. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring generated a whirlwind of popular support for the defense of Mother Nature. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were passed shortly thereafter, signaling the government’s newfound willingness to tackle environmental problems with national policy.

But it’s 2014, and the days of Silent Spring are long past. The traditional environmental movement is slowly losing its vitality. Americans are becoming apathetic, even hostile to a campaign that seems increasingly disconnected from anyone outside academia. Meanwhile, overconsumption of resources, global climate change, overfarming, and pollution threaten to destroy the planet.

But as the old environmentalist movement fades to irrelevancy, a new one is coming to take its place- a group of investors, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and other powerful figures who don’t just discuss environmental issues; they actively integrate them with economic development and national security. By making the environment relevant to government, business, and ordinary people, this movement might just be what the world needs to finally acknowledge and address some of the most critical issues of our time.

Most people have a strong preconception of the typical “environmentalist”: a hipster or a shoddily-clad Greenpeace member screaming epithets against deforestation, global warming, GMOs, or the government in general. Terms like “hippie” and “tree-hugger” most frequently come to mind, and studies confirm that most Americans have a heavily negative opinion towards environmentalists.

But it’s now time to cast aside the “20-something fringe activist” stereotype- instead, picture a 70-year old British investor, donning a freshly-pressed suit and talking nothing but assets, profit management, and securities. Not your typical hippie, but this is exactly the character of Jeremy Grantham, regarded as the world’s most powerful environmentalist. Grantham is the co-founder and chief investment strategist for Grantham, Mayo, van Otterloo investment management firm. He currently controls 112 billion dollars in assets, and was on the list of Bloomberg’s 50 Most Influential in 2011. He is also revered as a virtual prophet of the investing world- he successfully predicted the 1980s Japanese equity crash, the Internet bubble of the 1990s, and, most recently, the 2008 American housing and financial crisis.

But Grantham has already predicted the next major economic crash, and it’s turned him into a devoted environmentalist.  When Grantham visited UNC in February, he warned of the impending economic crisis, generated by the world’s unsustainable consumption of resources. Grantham is a self-proclaimed Malthusian: he understands that humans will eventually reach biological limits to growth and agricultural production. Oil and coal resources are running out, climate change is increasing the volatility of the weather, and food yields are starting to plateau. Combined with China’s recent ascent and ravenous appetite for resources, Grantham understands that these problems aren’t going to resolve themselves. If investors and governments don’t develop new strategies in consumption and development, the world market and the environment are on a violent collision course.

As Grantham puts it, we’re now the unwilling participants of “The Race of Our Lives”, a dead heat to adopt alternative energy, lower fertility rates, and curb environmental damage before it’s too late. In today’s society, it’s somewhat surprising to see someone with such financial influence advocate so strongly for sustainability and environmental protection. What’s even more eye-opening is that Grantham presents his case in terms that policymakers and the American public can relate to: economics and national security. He frames the discussion in ways that put his investors first. His confident, matter-of-fact tone, combined with his tremendous financial clout, convince the public that environmentalism is an obvious economic choice. Most importantly, Grantham debunks the notion that consumers and governments must choose between environmental consciousness and economic progress. He’s showing the world that sustainability and financial security are inextricably linked, and if we want to win this “Race of Our Lives”, we have to acknowledge this fact and react to it.

Powerful investors like Grantham command the financial resources, political influence, and public attention that the environmental movement so desperately needs, that environmental fringe groups and Greenpeace campaigns could never provide. These “new” environmentalists are reinvigorating a struggling movement, integrating the health of the planet with the pocketbooks of consumers and governments.

The new brand of environmentalism still needs time to gain momentum, but UNC has been taking steps to encourage collaboration among policymakers and experts. On Feb. 26, the university hosted the North Carolina Clean Tech Summit, a conglomeration of the state’s leading researchers, policymakers, activists, and entrepreneurs in the field of green energy. Their goal? To foster public-private partnerships, share expertise, and ultimately, transform North Carolina into a world leader in sustainable technologies.

Last year, North Carolina was the 3rd leading state in new solar installations (trailing only California and Arizona), and 5th in total solar energy capacity. Prices for solar panels are falling rapidly, unlocking vast potential for industry growth.  Lee Anne Nance of the Research Triangle Regional partnership identified clean tech as an emergent sector that has generated $700 million in revenue and thousands of new jobs.

The Triangle needs to “align regional assets to establish [itself] as U.S. leader for clean tech, research, innovation, and economic development,” she said. “Connecting corporate venture capital with innovation industries” is key.

If state and local policymakers heed the observations of the summit, the Triangle area has the potential to become the Silicon Valley of environmental technology: a breeding ground for innovation, magnet for young talent, and economic powerhouse. Most people don’t suspect that environmentalism could power a regional economy, but that’s just what it’s poised to do.

If this vision of a new Silicon Valley is to come true, however, we have to make some fundamental changes in the way we process information and solve problems. Key flaws exist in policymaking systems and education programmes, even here in the Triangle, that limit the success of the environmentalist movement. The Nexus 2014 Conference on Water, Food, Climate and Energy convened to debate matters of environmental protection, food security, resource management, and international development. Their message? A complex network of interactions, a nexus, combines all of today’s critical issues, and environmental concerns are an integral part of that network.

But most governments and universities don’t think in terms of the nexus- academia and policy making are compartmentalized into distinct “silos”. The Department of Finance worries about finance, the Department of State worries about national security, the Department of Agriculture worries about agriculture, etc. Government programs are developed mostly within their own silos, with little interdepartmental collaboration. It’s easy to see how silos that deal with more publicized issues, like foreign policy and economics, can become more influential than weaker silos (e.g. the environment).

Bringing national attention to environmental problems requires a paradigm shift, one that adopts the intersystem nexus approach rather than the silo approach. Logically, it makes sense: of course agriculture and the economy are linked, as are energy, public health, and virtually every other major government issue. But the public is slow to accept that the environment should be treated with the same urgency as other issues, and the government is even slower to respond.

It’s something that the new environmentalist movement is focusing on, but even UNC is struggling to make the transition. There is little partnership between departments- everything “environmental” is taught within the university’s Department of the Environment. Even though engineering is a vital component of innovation in solar development and clean energy, UNC has no strong engineering program, and makes little effort to collaborate with NCSU and Duke to fill these academic gaps. If UNC and other academic institutions want to get on board with the new environmental movement, they must make interuniversity and interdepartmental networking a top priority. Creating a nexus community, rather than a collection of silos, reflects the understanding that the environment influences nearly all areas of study.

The old environmentalist movement focused on sentimentalism, “Saving the Animals” campaigns, and morality. They isolated themselves into a fringe group, and failed to bring the environment to the forefront of policy discussion. The new environmentalists, however, are transforming environmental protection into a desirable component of economic vitality, global security, and public health. In short, they’re making environmentalism matter, and that’s just what mankind needs to save our exhausted planet.

Duke Energy & North Carolina officials claim Dan River cleanup finished, only cleaned up 8% of toxic coal ash

BY LINDSEY KELLOGG

 

As we at Campus BluePrint covered in February, a Duke Energy plant spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash slurry into the Dan River near the North Carolina-Virginia border. Now, with only about 3,000 tons cleaned up, Duke Energy and North Carolina state regulators claim the work is done. Dianne Reid, water sciences chief at the NC Division of Water Resources, actually told the Charlotte Observer that they would “do more damage trying to remove all the ash than leaving it in place.” The state and Duke Energy say they will continue to test the river’s levels of coal ash.

 

While continuing to clean the river may release coal ash that has been trapped under sediment (the state’s main argument for halting cleanup), not cleaning will eventually bring more problems. The ecosystem is a fragile, interconnected thing, and any substance present in the river may eventually seep into the groundwater and be spread around in a number of ways based on complex underground flow paths. The Dan River flows up into Virginia from the spill site and then back down to North Carolina, so the coal ash slurry could continue to affect a number of counties in both states. Also, a hydroelectric dam upstream releases irregular surges of water that make the Dan River sediment prone to remixing anyways.

 

Local groups have stepped up where the government and the corporation responsible fail to act. Two local environmental groups, the Dan River Basin Association and the Roanoke River Basin Association, will continue testing local water for toxic heavy metals that the coal ash spill brought into their lives. The local groups made this decision after the EPA decided that Duke Energy’s responsibility to clean was completed. While we in the major urban centers of North Carolina may be able to put this out of our minds, the people in small towns in the area will bear serious economic damages caused by the spills, which have caused up to $700 million in damages and hurt the burgeoning tourist industry that had sprung up along the Dan.

Pat McCrory is not just any other guy

BY ANITA SIMHA

Pat McCrory is not your average Joe. He’s a controversial figure in North Carolina, one whose name garners powerful reactions in a politically divided state. He and his administration have faced increasing scrutiny as Moral Monday protests continue to gain media attention and his approval ratings continue to drop.

 

More recently, Governor McCrory witnessed the realities of this public disapproval in an unsuspecting place – while grocery shopping at Reid’s Fine Foods in Charlotte. A huge uproar resulted from the firing of an employee in the affluent Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte due to a complaint from Governor McCrory’s security. The governor was shopping at Reid’s Fine Foods when Chef Drew Swope asked if he needed help. Upon realizing he was speaking with the governor, Swope refused to help him, saying, “Thanks for nothing.” McCrory and his security detail complained to owner Tom Coker in the parking lot after the incident, after which Swope was fired. Coker later stated that his decision was not influenced by McCrory’s position and that it was simply “an inappropriate comment to a customer.”

 

McCrory, however, is more than just another customer, and he’s not even just another governor. He’s a governor who was elected for two reasons: to bring both parties together and to create jobs in North Carolina. When dealing with a disgruntled employee, he was unable to separate his identity as a customer from that as a governor. People are studying the governor’s actions under a microscope, especially those who believe he has swung the state too far to the right with legislation that has harmed the working person.

 

The Reid’s Fine Foods incident is not the first food-related controversy McCrory has faced. Last July, the governor responded to a mostly female abortion legislation protest with a plate of cookies. Protesters saw the move as sexist, chanting, “Hey, Pat. That was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.” The governor has found through these incidents that his support base is not as bipartisan as it used to be.

 

As mayor of Charlotte, McCrory was a Republican in a largely Democrat area. As governor, he is working with a far-right General Assembly and struggling to rein in their agenda. McCrory was elected as a moderate, but he has signed several controversial pieces of legislation, including a motorcycle safety bill that contained abortion restrictions. This has especially led many lower-income North Carolinians to believe McCrory does not understand their needs.

 

McCrory has come under fire for a number of cuts to working class benefits. In 2013, he rejected large portions of the Affordable Care Act, preventing 500,000 low-income workers from receiving health care coverage. He signed away tenure for teachers and salary increases for masters or doctoral degrees. While cutting public education funding, McCrory’s government attempted to create a private school voucher system using taxpayer money. North Carolina is now 49th in the nation in public school funding. Amidst these benefit cuts to the working class, McCrory signed legislation to lower the corporate income tax to a 6% flat rate, benefiting large corporations. These measures have alienated his lower-income support base.

 

North Carolinians who disagree with the governor have not been silent. Created by the NAACP, Moral Monday protests have garnered a steady audience of 2,500 members – including low-income workers, minorities, and women – disillusioned with McCrory’s governance and the various pieces of legislation he has signed. Around 1,000 arrests have been made in connection with the Moral Monday protests.

 

Protests against the McCrory government shed light on a larger belief held by many:  the notion that McCrory has trouble understanding the needs of the common man simply because he is not one. He has lived a classic success story. Before he was North Carolina’s governor and before he was Charlotte’s mayor, Pat McCrory spent 29 years with Duke Energy. After graduating from Catawba College, he joined Duke Energy and rose through the ranks to arrive at the role of training director. Along with his position as governor, he currently serves as a Partner at McCrory & Company, a sales consulting firm, and as a member of Catawba College’s Board of Trustees.

 

A long-time manager and, later, training director at Duke Energy, McCrory is predisposed to think like a businessman, in terms of numbers instead of individuals. On March 6th, the governor appeared on Fox Business’ Opening Bell, where he explained that “government has to look for streamlining and efficiencies just like business.”

 

He also clarified his reasoning for cutting unemployment benefits – that the state owed too much money (on the order of $2.5 billion) to the federal government. He claimed that North Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped the most in the past three months due to these cuts, stating, “The major variable is the one decision we made [on] unemployment.”

 

While beneficial in reducing North Carolina’s debt to the US government, the common person may be wondering whether McCrory understands his or her challenges and needs. In response to whether his unemployment benefit cuts would deepen the income inequality gap, McCrory clarified, “we did have a certain number of people who were […] turning down jobs.” He continued, “In our lives, we’ve all had to take a job that maybe wasn’t our dream job but we had to take it because we had to put food on the table and fill those jobs.” Drew Swope expressed a similar idea in February after he was fired, an idea that many lower-income individuals might agree with. “I don’t make a lot of money,” Swope said, “Life is hard. Everyone needs work.”

 

McCrory will try to raise his approval ratings in the next few months as midterm elections approach, and a key group to sway will be lower-income voters. According to Public Policy Poll, a liberal polling group, 39 percent of voters now approve of his work as governor, down from 42 percent in December. Elon University Poll, a university-funded non-partisan group, rated his approval at 35.6 percent with 43 percent of North Carolinian voters disapproving.

 

McCrory was known as a moderate during his tenure as Charlotte’s mayor. As midterm elections approach, he must return to that image to mend his relationship with liberal and swing voters. While McCrory’s term as governor will last for another two years, his name is closely tied to discussions of Thom Tillis, current Speaker of the General Assembly and US Senate hopeful. These mid-term elections are crucial to determine which party controls the Senate moving forward, and incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan will be a tough competitor. As the governor’s – and the General Assembly’s – approval ratings drop, it becomes more important for McCrory to appeal to swing voters.

 

McCrory has already begun this task. While raises are generally not announced so far away from the budget process, he recently proposed boosting the starting salary for early-career teachers from $30,800 to $35,000. This would benefit the 42,000 teachers who have up to 10 years of teaching experience. He also recently visited Franklinton Elementary School and Franklin Academy to discuss this proposal, highlight the importance of education, and gather feedback about long-term teacher payment. It is clear the governor will push for a more moderate North Carolina in the next two years, one in which he reconnects with lower-income groups and the unemployed. In the meantime, Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon has called up Drew Swope and asked for a resume to help him find a new job.

 

Underpaid, Undervalued and Many on the Way Out: North Carolina’s teachers struggle with limited means

BY CAROLINE WORONOFF

Teachers are one of North Carolina’s most undervalued assets.  The state ranks 46th in the nation for teacher pay—with teachers making approximately ten thousand dollars less than the national average—and Governor Pat McCrory has stated that raising teacher compensation is one his top goals for 2014.  The state has already made some large changes to the education budget, but not all of the changes have been met with widespread approval.

        While teachers in North Carolina are receiving some of the lowest of salaries in the education sector, those across the nation are faced with compensation problems.  Teachers make considerably less than people in other professions with the same level of education.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, teachers make an average of $14,000 less than people entering other careers with the same amount of training.  This wage gap has grown larger over time.

        North Carolina is starting to lose teachers in two ways—current teachers are switching professions and fewer college graduates are choosing to go into the education field.  The poor compensation of teachers has much to do with it.  North Carolina has seen the most severe drop in teacher salary rankings than any other state in the past ten years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  Most North Carolina teachers have seen stagnant or decreasing salaries.  Salaries are not just failing to rise with inflation; they are failing to rise at all.  Fifth year teachers make less than they did five years ago, even on a nominal scale.

            Teacher pay has had a few negative unintended consequences that decrease the quality of education for North Carolina students.  First, class sizes are growing.  North Carolina has 4,000 fewer teachers than it did prior to the 2008 recession due to cuts in the education budget and decreased teacher wages.  On the other hand, the student population in the state has grown by 16,000 students in the same time period. Growing class sizes make both teaching and learning more difficult. The second unintended consequence of decreased teacher pay is a decrease in student achievement.  Student achievement is directly correlated to teacher experience, and higher teacher retention rates are linked to better compensation, according to the Journal of Public Economics.  With poor compensation and empty promises from both former Governor Bev Perdue and current Governor Pat McCrory, fewer teachers are choosing to continue teaching.  Since fewer teachers are staying in the education field and gaining experience, students in North Carolina may be less likely to achieve as much or get as high grades as they once did.

               The General Assembly has changed more than teacher pay in the past year.  They voted to end teacher tenure, remove salary bonuses for teachers holding masters degrees, and eliminated the cap on class sizes.  Additionally, they altered the education budget, taking $50 million out of the public school system and putting it towards private school vouchers.  Removing this money took away seats in pre-K classrooms, and led to fewer teaching positions and fewer classroom materials.  However, the voucher system is currently in court, and a North Carolina Superior Court judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to spend taxpayer money on private or religious schools.

        There has been an overwhelming amount of public outcry about the education budget.  Teacher pay has been put on the Moral Monday agenda, and teacher morale is incredibly low.  Public Policy Polling, a liberal leaning firm, reported that 79 percent of North Carolinians want to raise teacher pay to meet the national average over the next four years.

            As a result, state Senate and House leaders have admitted that removing the bonus for teachers holding masters degrees was a mistake, and they hope to re-implement it in the future.  In an attempt to retain more math and science teachers, McCrory has announced the possibility of paying math and science teachers higher salaries to make up for their higher opportunity costs for choosing teaching over high-salaried science and tech jobs.  While this rationale makes sense, many dislike it because sends a message that liberal arts teachers are less valuable.

           Between the clear constituent opinion and low teacher morale, the state decided to make some lofty financial changes far outside budget-writing season.  On Feb. 10, top state lawmakers promised to add $200 million to the education budget over the next two years to increase the starting salary from $30,800 to $35,000.  This will improve the state’s teacher pay rankings significantly, especially compared to other Southern states.  However, the pay increase only affects teachers who have been in the profession for less than ten years, or about 25,000 of the state’s 95,000 teachers.  NCSU’s Institute for Emerging Issues hosted a two-day forum in February discussing teacher pay, and many at the forum were unhappy with the pay bump going to the teachers in the profession with the least amount of experience. Policy makers have said they hope to raise salaries for teachers with more experience later on in the process.  While many people feel the pay raise is unfair, it does make some policy sense since the goal was to increase teacher retention, and the likelihood that teachers will leave their field decreases every year that they stay in education.  Statistics differ significantly by subject, but on average 17 percent of North Carolina secondary school teachers leave after one year, and nine percent leave after two years.

          Many North Carolinians blame McCrory for North Carolina’s low teacher pay.  The issue has become yet another polarized party debate.  While McCrory and the current state legislature are responsible for big budget cuts and a far below average teacher compensation rate, they entered office with this problem.  Granted, the recent removal of the masters degree pay bump as well as cutting teacher tenure exacerbated the compensation problem. Former Governor Bev Perdue proposed pay raises that the state legislature could not put in the budget, and she cut the education budget in the aftermath of the recession.  Teacher pay in North Carolina has become a polarized issue with blame to be thrown around between the two parties, but with few plans to solve the compensation problem ever coming to fruition.

Christopher Browning: After Four Decades of Holocaust Scholarship, Academic Luminary Prepares to leave UNC

BY JENNIFER WALDKIRCH

The Frank Porter Graham Professorship, one of the many distinguished professorships at Carolina, was created in 1991 to encourage academic prestige at the university.  In 1999, Professor Christopher Robert Browning accepted the position.  As one of the foremost scholars on the Holocaust, Browning holds an important key to the way historians understand one of humanity’s most horrifying events.  One of the many classes he’s taught, History of the Holocaust, focuses on the “origins and implementation of the Nazi genocide during World War II, as well as reactions of and realities for European Jews.”  Every semester it’s offered, history majors and non-history majors alike scramble to get a seat.  After this semester, however, Browning is retiring from his professorship at Chapel Hill.  We’ve taken a look back at his entry into the field of Holocaust history and his accomplishments thus far.

An Unexpected Path

Graduating with a Master’s degree in French diplomatic history in 1968, Christopher Browning had not originally planned to devote himself to the study of the Holocaust.  At that time, research on the Holocaust was at a very early stage, and few historians had attempted to make sense of the tragedies that happened just two decades earlier.  It wasn’t until he read Raul Hilberg’s book, The Destruction of the European Jew, published in 1961, that Browning began to turn his attention to the study of the Holocaust.  “It covered a topic that had been totally ignored in the European history courses that I had taken as an undergrad in the mid-1960s,” Browning recalls.  “I was fascinated by the book, and decided to switch the research area for my PhD to some aspect of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.”

        Hilberg’s book was the first widely read publication to acknowledge the Jewish Holocaust as a departure beyond the regular atrocities of war.  It propelled scholars to engage in a broader discussion of racial genocide under the Third Reich.  Since his entrance into the historiography of the Holocaust, Browning has contributed immensely to one of the primary debates within Holocaust research concerning the Final Solution as an early intentional policy of Nazi leaders or simply a function of German war and conquest.  Browning believes these two school of thoughts, called intentionalism and functionalism, to be a “false dichotomy,” and has labored to recognize both the ideological and situational factors of Nazi policy.  In interpreting the motivations of Holocaust perpetrators, from Adolf Hitler to the everyday man, he has shed a bright light on the nature of human depravity.

         During his professorship at Pacific Lutheran University, in 1992, Browning published his most famous work, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101.  The book explores the story of one Nazi police force, tasked with the mission to exterminate and deport Polish Jews to death camps in 1942.  In choosing his subjects, Browning attempted to diverge from the typical view of Nazi perpetrators: radical party members and top-ranking leadership.  Instead, the focus of Ordinary Men, is a unit of “average, middle-aged Germans” of mostly working-class backgrounds.  Yet as the book progresses, these “ordinary men” become cold-blooded killers, committing the murders of tens of thousands of Jews.  Through his work, Browning forces his readership to confront the humanity of Holocaust perpetrators and the banal nature of their atrocious crimes.  In a 2006 interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Browning explained that “once you start treating the perpetrators as human beings, then you are faced with that uncomfortable awareness that: Are they fundamentally different than I am? And, in that situation, what would I have done?”

Scholar in the Spotlight

        Since its publication, Ordinary Men has become a landmark in Holocaust historiography, placing Browning at the top of his field and garnering him world recognition.  In 2000, David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denialist, sued Deborah Lipstadt for her words on him in her book, Denying the Holocaust.  As the case amassed publicity, Christopher Browning was called as an expert witness and cross-examined by Irving.  In one stunning moment of the case, Irving attempted to legitimize his denialist revisionism by asking if “the last chapter on the Holocaust” had yet to be written.  “We are still discovering things about the Roman Empire. There is no last chapter in history,” Browning responded. While Irving may have been searching for validation, it is the assertion that understandings of history must be continuously revisited that threatens the thin groundwork on which Holocaust denial stands.

Finding a home at UNC

       In his professorship, Christopher Browning has cherished the opportunity to share this outlook with his students.  Throughout his four decades of teaching, Browning has invested his time in ensuring that future generations of Holocaust scholars may follow in his path.  He hopes to prepare future history teachers “to teach a course on the history of the Holocaust, or at least to incorporate Holocaust materials into the other courses on European history that they will teach someday.”  Though the history of the Holocaust may be emotionally heavy, many students find themselves enthusiastic to learn.  Junior history major Scott Nelson feels that Browning’s lectures are engaging because they lack the pedantic tone of a lecture.  “Rather, he is telling a 70 year old story that, due to his clarity and knowledge of the subject, seems like it could have taken place yesterday,” Nelson says. “He knows precisely what happened on what day to whom and where.”

     Students taking his class find themselves inspired and deeply affected by the material.  For senior global studies major, Stephanie Sistare, taking History 262 with Professor Browning was a perspective changing experience.  Before taking the class, she had a one dimensional understanding of the Holocaust, she says.  Yet by studying the varying actors, actions, and interests of Nazi Germany, she has gained insight into an event that many high school history classes can only skim the surface of.

        How does genocide on the scale of the Holocaust happen in the modern era?  It is this question that Browning has devoted his life to understanding and teaching to undergraduate college students.  In his words, he hopes each of his students will walk away from his class with the knowledge that “the Holocaust was not an isolated aberration or freakish event but had its origins deep in European/Western history and reflects basic vulnerabilities of the nation state, modern bureaucratic society, and human nature.”

 

Five things you ought to know about poverty and wealth inequality in North Carolina

 BY LINDSEY KELLOGG

Do you know how much income the top fifth of North Carolinians make? Think not in terms of a yearly salary, but in a fraction of all the dollars earned through work in North Carolina in any given amount of time. Well, the top 2 0percent couldn’t be earning only 20 percent of the income; some jobs earn vastly more money than others. So, what is it? 30 percent of the income? 40 percent?

Actually, it is 51 percent, according to the North Carolina Justice Center (NCJC), a non-partisan research organization. Does that surprise you? It may not, given all of the recent coverage on wealth disparity and the lack of social mobility in our country, never mind the fights on how to tax people of different income levels. President Obama even touched on them in a speech last December, calling them “the defining challenge of our time.” So you may not be shocked by these high levels of income earned by the top fifth of North Carolinians. But, of course, that leaves only 49 percent of the income for the remaining 80 percent of our state. What do you think the number is for the bottom fifth? These five points attempt to shed light on inequality and social mobility in North Carolina, and, more broadly, the entire country.

1.     The bottom fifth of North Carolinians earn 3 percent of all income earned in the state. The GINI coefficient of the state, which measures inequality of income (and therefore is higher to signify more inequality) is 0.464. This number is tied for 15th in the country with New Mexico and New Jersey, and so marks North Carolina as a more unequal place than over half of our fifty states. Southern states in general tend to be more unequal, partly due to historical processes, and the Midwest is the most egalitarian. The United States as a whole has a GINI coefficient of 0.469, as states with lower GINI coefficients like Utah (coming in last with 0.419) have lower populations than states like New York (ranked number one at 0.499), which tend to bring the whole country’s ranking up.

2. North Carolina’s cities aren’t that high up when compared country-wide for income inequality. In a study released this February by the Brookings Institute, U.S. Census data was used to compare the 50 largest American cities by income inequality. To do this, researchers used the “95/20” ratio, comparing yearly income earned by the households that earn more than 95 percent of others in the city with those that earn more than only 20 percent. This puts people in the highest rung of income earners, those that have reached the top 5 percent, in comparison with those in the bottom fifth of all earners. Some American cities were deemed very unequal, like San Francisco (ranked third), due to the richest earning very high amounts in relation to low earners at a ratio of $354,000/$21,000. Other cities, like Miami (ranked second), come in high onto the list due not to astronomical wages for the rich but to rock-bottom earnings at the 20 percent level. Its ratio is $164,000/$10,000. Of the two major North Carolina cities on this list, Charlotte comes in the top half, though near the middle, at number 21 and with a ratio of $22,000/$219,000—its citizens earn above average at the lowest level but much above average at the highest level. Raleigh is low on the inequality list at number 42. Its 95 percent-level earning households make $200,000 per year, and households at the 20 percent level make a healthy $24,000.

3.    But, that could be because poverty in the state is concentrated in suburbs and rural areas. People in the urban centers of Charlotte and Raleigh do pretty well for themselves, but North Carolina still has persistent centers of poverty. However, unlike urban poverty that many imagine to be the US’s main problem, poverty in our state is more likely to take the less visible form of rural poverty. Many rural parts of the state, especially eastern parts, have persistent generational poverty and low social mobility, and are also far removed from growing economic sectors that might bring more employment and money. (To illustrate, four out of five of the poorest counties in North Carolina are in the eastern part of the state and have less than 100,000 people—Pitt, Robeson, Wilson and Wayne.) Studies, like an additional report done by the Brookings Institute in February, also show that low-wage workers are increasingly seeping out of expensive cities to live in the suburbs. Suburbs are now home to over 70 percent of sales employees, the largest low-wage sector in the country.

4. While social mobility and wealth or income inequality can be correlated, they are not the same thing. Social mobility is the ability to move up or down through different levels of income relative to the level where you were born. Wealth or income inequality refers to the stratification of wealth or income across a population, and is quantified by how concentrated the money is at the top level of earners. While they may be correlated, not every city or state with high income inequality has low social mobility. Returning to our poorer counties in eastern North Carolina, it is interesting to note that they have fairly average levels of social mobility, according to the NCJC. The part of the state with the lowest levels of social mobility is the central part of southern North Carolina, especially counties lying on the North Carolina/South Carolina border.

5.    American wealth and income is much less evenly distributed than we think it is. In work done by Harvard University professor Michael Norton, 5,000 people were asked how they thought America’s wealth was distributed. They guessed the top 20 percent of the population had about two-thirds of all the wealth in the country. In reality, the number is above four-fifths. (This number is higher than the proportion of income earned because rich high-income earners tend to accumulate additional wealth through stocks and property.) They guessed the bottom fifth had about one-tenth of the wealth. They really have less than 5 percent. This shows that Americans generally are ignorant of how skewed wealth distribution is across all states. In fact, when asked, people generally wanted a more equal distribution of such wealth, citing the top 20 percent being in control of 30 percent of wealth in the country as ideal.

The Unacceptable Decline in North Carolina’s Support for Education

COMMENTARY BY EMILIO VINCENTE

Today, along with teachers, students and community members, I’m taking part in a civil disobedience to highlight the constant attacks on our public education by the North Carolina General Assembly.

I’ve always believed that education is a true equalizer that can lift people up economically and socially – that even if you come from a working-class family, like me, getting a good quality education can offer you unique opportunities. I want my nieces and nephews, who are currently going through the education system, to have a good quality education like I did.

It is unacceptable that teachers will get an 11 percent pay raise if they give up their tenure. It is unacceptable that up to 7,400 teacher assistants could lose their jobs if the NC Senate budget is adopted. Instead of taking away benefits, we should be giving our teachers and teacher assistants more incentives to stay and teach in North Carolina. While other states are re-investing in classroom resources, we are underfunding ours. For example, in North Carolina funding for textbooks is only 25 percent of what the Department of Public Instruction determined was needed. All of this translates to inadequate funding and resources, which compromises the educational experience of students in our state.

Nationally, support for public colleges and universities rose by an average of six percent in 2013-14. But in NC, we’re still cutting. Instead of joining Texas, Virginia, and 38 other states who recognize the value of higher education, we’re joining Louisiana and West Virginia in further cutting our higher education budget. Since 2011, the UNC system has had its budget cut by almost half a billion dollars. These continued cuts are not sustainable for the future of our public universities and the future of our state. Universities are forced to grapple with these budget cuts by increasing their tuition. UNC Chapel Hill Out-of-State students face a potential 12.3 percent increase in tuition for this up-coming year. These continued increases are unacceptable as it makes UNC less accessible to students.

Elizabeth City State University was recently targeted as a possible school to shut down because of its decline in enrollment. While the Senate budget dropped the provision that would have eliminated Elizabeth City State University, it is unacceptable that our public universities, especially our historically black colleges and universities, are feeling the full effects of budget cuts. The NC General Assembly shouldn’t be treating our colleges and universities as business investments that need to turn a profit.

Our education system brings so many benefits to the communities they serve and cutting away funding affects the state as a whole.

I’ve thought that engaging in resistance via civil disobedience should always be a last resort. Think about it; something must be that bad for people to risk arrest for what they believe in.

I’m doing this because I believe education – from K-12 and universities in the UNC system – should be accessible to ALL North Carolinians. I’m doing this because I love North Carolina.

Now is the time that we must make our voices heard! Join us online by using the hashtag #schooltheNCGA.

Sporting Different Sexualities: Why Orientation & Gender Matter in Athletics

BY NORMAN ARCHER

“This is an area where no one in sports should be too proud. Sport has led society in so many critical areas…this is one where we fell behind.”

        So said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver while discussing the signing of Jason Collins with the Brooklyn Nets. Recently, Collins became the first publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues.

       Despite being proud of and excited for the seven-foot, 35-year-old center, Commissioner Silver had mixed feelings about the historic moment. “This is so long overdue that I don’t think this should necessarily be on the list of the greatest accomplishments of the NBA,” he said. Silver does however recognize that the Collins signing is definitely a move in the right direction.

        “It is a big deal for this league, and hopefully, in the way that sports can uniquely impact society, that this is an area where, for the next Michael Sam, they feel that much more comfortable coming out,” he said. “ And, more importantly, the next high- school player feels comfortable being public about his or her sexuality with his or her teammates.”

        While Collins is an off-the-bench role player in the NBA and sufficiently in the terminal part of his career, Michael Sam, an All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year from the University of Missouri, enters NFL Draft this May. If he is signed by a NFL team — and by analysts indication he will be — he would become the first active NFL player to have publicly declared his homosexuality.

     Sami Jorgensen, a junior at UNC from Pawling, NY, is a varsity athlete in both cross country and track and field. When asked about Collins and Sam, she explained how their actions were brave considering the stigmas that tend to surround professional sports.

      “I think they made it pretty clear when they came out that, for a long time they feared that their status in their sports, as well as their reputation in general, would be tainted if they had revealed themselves sooner,” she says.

Jorgensen continues, “ I honestly think it’s kind of sad that people have to be afraid and hide their true identities when they’re in the limelight because they’re afraid of how their reputation will be affected. Everyone should have the opportunity to be true to themselves.”

 

Heteronomativity, Homophobia, and Gender in Sports

Between the macho environment of locker rooms and the promotion of hypermasculinity of sportscasters, it can be both uncomfortable and difficult for a player to come out. As the dominant paradigm in sports culture, heteronormativity promotes the intolerance of homosexuality. A recent study by sociologists Osborne and Wagner examined this homophobic attitude in adolescents and showed that males who participated in core sports (football, baseball, basketball, and/or soccer) were nearly three times more likely to hold homophobic attitudes than other peers their age.

The use of masculinity and machismo when describing sports culture further perpetuates the idea that sports are part of a man’s world. While Collins was the first active publicly gay male to come out in major American sports, he was more than 30 years behind pro tennis player Billie Jean King. King, who won 39 Gran Slam titles over her career, paved the way for WNBA players such as Sheryl Swoopes and Seimone Augustus, and soccer players such as Megan Rapinoe. A month before Collins came out, Brittney Griner, the top pick in the WNBA draft, came out informally, and the sports world hardly blinked an eye.

      The dichotomy of the reactions to Griner and Collins/Sam is telling of the way that the media and society perceive sports, masculinity, and sexuality. A physically strong, heterosexual man who excels at sports and has relationships with women is socially aligned with traditional views of sexuality and masculinity. Change his relationships with women to relationships with men and the notion that masculinity and heterosexuality are inexplicably linked is challenged.  As it turns out, being gay does not make a man passive or athletically feeble.

       If, in society’s eyes, it is not feminine to excel at sports, then the equation for normality is flipped. A woman who participates in sports defies gender norms, and a woman’s success in a male-dominated field makes her subject to assumptions about her sexuality based on her body and skill. While Collins and Sam challenge the strict adherence to masculine gender norms, Griner’s orientation only confirms the idea that successful athletic women deviate from the physical and sexual assumptions associated with being feminine.

       In the media, a male athlete’s sexual orientation is often more likely to be a bigger story than what he does on the court or field; for female athletes, the understatement of coming out and its resulting acceptance is sign of greater tolerance, but it is not without lingering and unfair stereotypes.

      The different issues that men and women’s sports have with homosexuality are both rooted in heteronormativity. The idea that being gay makes it impossible to be an athlete and that being an athlete, whether gay or not, makes it impossible to be a woman are equally false.

LGTBQ Athletes at the Collegiate Level

For a perspective on how sports and culture are integrated, look now further than the Dean Dome, Franklin Street, or the Carolina blue t-shirt that a student passing by is inevitably wearing.

      In addition to being hailed as a basketball “Mecca,” Chapel Hill is know as a welcoming place of great tolerance for the LGBTQ community. As an institution, UNC includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in it Non-Discrimination Policy. So why are there so few college athletes out?

    “I think it’s just a carryover from the stigmas of professional sports that influences collegiate athletes… I hope that with the general shift in acceptance within society that athletes are feeling more comfortable with coming out if that’s what they would like,” Jorgenson explains.

     Some would point to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) as the real problem. Former NBA player John Amaechi, who came out after his pro career ended, has been outspoken about this issue. “[The NCAA] maintain separate behaviors for sports that we would never deem acceptable anywhere else,” Ameachi said, “Colleges are complicit. College sports are a space where homophobic slurs, physical and psychological abuse are not only acceptable but considered normal.”

      Take Rutgers University, where head basketball Mike Rice was fired after video surfaced of him physically and verbally abusing his college players, including using homophobic slurs. In light of such events, the NCAA has recently started to focus on LGTBQ inclusion, however the organization still has no power to enforce sanctions over homophobic behavior. If a student-athlete feels he or she has been discriminated against then they can either take legal action of go through their universities administrative process. NCAA guidelines for inclusion of LGTBQ student-athletes are solely voluntary and administrators, coaches, and players are not mandated to follow or even read the guidelines.

     But UNC is taking strides towards acceptance and equality. At the end of last semester, UNC joined the You Can Play Project (YCPP), a movement dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. The YCPP focuses on judging athlete on what they contribute to the sport and their team’s success, promoting that “if you have a skill, if you have work ethic, if you can skate, pass, shoot, run, hump, hit, row, or play – then you can play”

      The video features a diverse group of varsity athletes, including J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt from men’s basketball and football players Shakeel Rashad, Allen Champagne, Jon Heck and Jarrod James. “It is important for all LGBT students athletes to be accepted by the people they spend most of their time with,” Britt says in the video.

If You Can Play You Should Play

Slowly but surely, a new generation of open-mindedness is granting civil rights to persons identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). In fact, a majority of Americans see gay and lesbian relations as morally acceptable; this is a substantial shift from what was a minority view at the turn of century.

      With this newfound tolerance comes some adversity. While same-sex marriage in now legal in 17 states in the US, it is officially banned in 33. Despite this imbalance, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, indicating the direction of its impending legality nation-wide.

     Culture, like sports, is an individual and collective process, and it continually being remade. Inseparable from politics, religions, and even biology, sport culture is an excellent indicator for a social mindset, and it clear that with regard to homosexuality, the tide is beginning to turn.