Four reasons you should still care about the Duke Energy coal ash spill


Four reasons you should still care about the Duke Energy Coal Ash spill

On Feb. 2, ash from one of Duke Energy’s coal ash dumps coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic, gray, sludge. Wake Forest University researchers found that the amount of coal ash dumped into the river, which cuts through the northwestern part of the state, could fill 32 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The spill was almost three months ago, but the cleanup could take decades. Here are five reasons the spill is still relevant to anyone who lives in or loves North Carolina.

1) It caused $700 million of damage. Yes, you read that right. The News-Record (Greensboro) reports that Dennis Lemly, a biology professor at Wake Forest University and fish biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, computed that figure by considering the loss of revenue from outdoor recreation along the 70-mile stretch affected by the spill, lower property values along the river, the value of fish and wildlife that otherwise would have been sold and consumed, the cost of losing a diverse ecosystem, and extensive cleanup. The $700 million figure is the long-term cost; Lemly estimates that the costs of damages in the Dan River Basin are already up to $70 million. Unfortunately, the Wake Forest researchers who have been dedicating their time to analyzing the extent of the coal ash spill (using drones!) cannot do so indefinitely, said Max Messinger, a Wake Forest masters student who is researching the spill.

So far, Duke Energy has not responded to Wake’s research about the magnitude of the spill, and been slow to begin cleanup. This leaves regular citizens with the task of picking up the tab. A recent fundraiser at Wake Forest University raised $12,000 for clean up, an impressive number for a fundraiser, but ultimately a drop in the bucket.

2) Small towns are hurting. There are two North Carolinas: One centered around metropolitan centers like Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham that have enjoyed economic prosperity in recent decades, and rural North Carolina, which has seen company after company leave, taking thousands of jobs with them. Towns in the Dan River Basin were just starting to recover from the loss of North Carolina’s textile industry by developing a tourism industry of outdoor recreation on the Dan River. Emily Wilson, a Winston-Salem based activist and writer, has deep ties to the Dan River Basin. Her husband’s family has lived in Rockingham County for more than a century, and her son is raising his four children there today. Wilson said the attention to the spill from the national and international media is a mixed bag for residents along the river in North Carolina and Virginia. “They very much want to hold Duke Energy accountable,” Wilson says. “At the same time, they’re just withering under the bad publicity.”

3) It begs the question: How do we want to get our energy? Duke Energy merged with Progress last year, making it the nation’s largest regulated utility provider.

It is now essentially the only energy provider in North Carolina. North Carolina law forbids third-party energy generators to sell energy, so North Carolinians have no other option when it comes to purchasing energy — even if they don’t agree with the company’s business practices. Accordingly, Kathy Clark, a resident of Greensboro, began organizing “Ash Wednesdays” in March, in which concerned North Carolinians turn off their power breakers between 7 and 7:30 in an attempt to reduce Duke’s profits.

The regulatory committee that keeps Duke Energy in check was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, bringing me to my next point.

4) The coal ash spill might tell us a lot about how the state government of North Carolina works.

Gov. Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for nearly three decades prior to becoming governor of North Carolina. Duke Energy contributed large amounts of money to his campaign, and he still is a shareholder in the company. Following the coal ash spill, McCrory forcefully announced that his former employer should take responsibility for the clean up. On Feb. 17, he said,

“Yeah, that ongoing concern is, first of all, [Duke Energy leaders] have got to fix what’s broken. And they’ve got to have a long-term solution of moving the ash ponds so they don’t cause long-term issues with our water anywhere in North Carolina and, frankly, with our neighboring states. They’ve got to come up with a long-term solution quickly on how to deal with the ash ponds at several sites throughout North Carolina.”

But North Carolina’s Environmental Management Commission, more than half of who were appointed by McCrory, appealed a Superior Court that stipulated the company must begin cleanup immediately earlier this month. Duke Energy lawyers also appealed the court decision.

The relationship between the company and the state government are suspicious enough that they’ve spurred a federal grand jury investigation of state oversight of Duke Energy.


Police Brutality in Durham


On a recent Saturday evening, Campus BluePrint writer Troy Homesley joined a Durham police officer for a ride.

What brought Troy into a squad car wasn’t any criminal violations, but interest in the circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus Huerta, 17. Huerta died while in police custody in November, and his death has become a flashpoint for existing community concerns about police brutality and racism.

The Huerta family joins a growing list of residents accusing the Durham Police of misconduct.  Huerta was one of three police related deaths in 2013.  In January 2013, Cpl. Brian Schnee was forced to resign from the police force after assaulting Stephanie Nickerson, 25, who refused Schnee entry without a warrant.  A North Carolina Court of Appeals is currently evaluating the constitutionality of the Durham Police Department’s excessive use of force policy following the use of a taser on an unarmed citizen in 2009.

Irving Joyner, the chair of the North Carolina NAACP’s legal redress committee, has criticized Durham’s City Council for failing to hold the Police Department accountable for actions that have created “a mistrust gap between the Durham community and the Durham Police Department.”  This mistrust gap has led to greater public scrutiny of police actions and adherence to the department’s use of force policy.

The Ride-Along

Troy found the police officer he accompanied was unable to identify how she decides when to escalate to a new level of force, and more importantly, how she decides which point on the continuum to elevate to when certain levels must be skipped.

She provided the example of a suspect with a knife: “If you run across a suspect with a knife, you aren’t going to use hard hands to pursue them, you aren’t going to get into a fist fight with that person.”  Troy asked her what she would do in such a situation. “It’s all dependent on the circumstances — are there multiple suspects?” she said. “Has the suspect committed a violent crime prior to pursuit?”

Police officers face a range of situations, and so a protocol is only useful in a general manner.  Deciding how much force to use, and what type of force to use, is much more of an art than a science.  Like all forms of art, it is certainly subject to critical analysis.  Unlike most forms of art, however, it is a form whose principal media is human beings, innocent civilians and criminals alike. Increasingly, police departments have been under scrutiny for misapplying force.

A Child “At Risk”

When the Huerta family called the Durham police just after 2 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2013, they were desperate for help.  Jesus Huerta, 17, had run away after his mother found him using drugs.  By 2:48 a.m., police officers Duncan and Beck had found Huerta and his friend, Jaime Perez, taken them into custody, and were on en route to pick up an outstanding warrant for Huerta for second degree trespassing.  By 2:55 a.m. Jesus Huerta was dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

An internal investigation by Durham Police Department concluded that Huerta died “of a self inflicted gunshot wound” to the face.  The patrol car was inspected before Huerta was picked up, suggesting that Huerta had the .45 caliber handgun with him when he was arrested.  Gunshot residue was found on Huerta’s gloves.  The report notes “that this does not eliminate the possibility that the subject [Duncan] could have fired a gun,” although no residue was found on Duncan.  At the time of his death, Huerta’s hands were restrained by handcuffs behind his back.  Although the patrol car was equipped with a video recording system, the camera turned off after 1 a.m. when the patrol car was left idle, and never turned back on.

The Durham Police Department failed the Huerta family, who only wanted Jesus brought home safely.  The arresting officer “missed” the gun during Huerta’s patdown according to Deputy Police Chief Anthony Marsh in a statement to the press. According to the police report the responding officers were told that Huerta did not “have any medical or mental conditions” and should not be considered “at risk,” even though Huerta’s family had informed the 911 operator of a previous suicide attempt and drug use.  The mishandling of the case has provoked criticism and protest from the Huerta family and the wider Durham community.

A protest shortly after Huerta’s death, on Nov. 22, escalated when protesters damaged a police vehicle, broke windows, and threw flares and firecrackers.  A month later, a vigil to mark the one month anniversary of Huerta’s death was met with riot gear and tear gas by the Durham police.  An estimated 150 to 200 people gathered in CCB Plaza in downtown Durham and marched to the police station.  After crowds refused to disperse, riot police moved in, breaking up the crowd with batons and making arrests.  Community members, including City Councillor Eddie Davis, have criticized the use of tear gas as an extreme response.  Police Chief Jose Lopez stated that the arrests and use of tear gas were in response to rocks and bottles thrown by protesters.

A third vigil for Huerta on Jan. 19 also ended with a vandalized patrol car, broken substation windows, and arrests.  This protest came on the heels of a Jan. 10 decision by the Durham District Attorney’s Office not to file criminal charges in Huerta’s death.  The investigation has since been reopened following new evidence and remains open.  As of this writing, no charges have been filed.

Police Force on the Rise

2013 saw the Durham Police Department involved in the deaths of three young men of color.  Derek Deandre Walker, 26, was shot by police after a standoff in CCB plaza.  Friends of Walker suggest he had become suicidal after losing custody of his sons.  Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, was shot four times, including a fatal gunshot to the head, in July of 2013, when police responded to a non-fatal stabbing.  The DPD maintains that Ocampo ignored orders to put down a knife.  Attorney Scott Holmes, who is representing the Ocampo family, disputes this claim, stating that eyewitnesses saw Ocampo attempt to hand the officers the knife, handle first.  Originally from Honduras, Ocampo did not speak English and may not have understood the officer’s commands.

The negative press produced by these high profile deaths has overshadowed evidence that the Durham Police Department has reduced use of force by officers.  The department has seen a steady decrease of incidents involving the use of force since 2011, reaching a four year low in 2013, with 95 reported incidents.  Roughly half of these incidents involved the use an Electronic Impulse Device, or taser. The proportion of incidents involving tasers has decreased steadily since 2010, although the use of physical force appears to have increased.  The Durham police use high levels of force slightly less frequently than the Greensboro Police Department but more frequently than the Chapel Hill Police Department.  In 2013, 46 percent of use of force incidents in Durham involved taser use, compared to 60 percent in Greensboro and 12 percent in Chapel Hill.  Firearm discharges among DPD officers in 2013 were also at a four year low in 2013, with only two incidents, compared to nine in 2012, and fifteen in 2011.

As the high profile cases have kept the DPD under public scrutiny, adherence to the department’s use of force policy has become more important than ever.  Officers within the department follow a specific use-of-force continuum, which they use to decide when and how to employ force in order to maintain control over a range of situations.  The Durham Police Department and the City of Durham, have taken steps to ensure that police actions do not violate citizens legal rights.  The district attorney of Durham remains on call for all police officers, at any time of the day or night, so that he may advise on specific situations to ensure that the rights of suspects and regular citizens are not violated.  Putting these protocols in place is the first step in ensuring that police can successfully complete their principal duties: to protect and serve the citizens of the community.

But while a use of force continuum is a useful guideline,  it may be less practical in application.  Officers must decide for themselves when to escalate to a new level of force, which may be arbitrary or worse, influenced by adrenaline, fear, or prejudice.


This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2014 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!


ASA Academic Boycott


The American Studies Association, following precedent from the Association of Asian American Studies and and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, voted to pass a resolution last December in support of boycotting Israeli higher academic institutions.

Over winter break, UNC chancellor Carol Folt and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James Dean, Jr.  released a statement  against the academic boycott. The letter also called on other ASA member institutions to oppose the academic boycott and stated that the ASA resolution would reduce intellectual collaborations between scholars here and abroad. The letter stated: “Our position is very clear. For more than 220 years, UNC-Chapel Hill has nurture an promulgated the concept of open access to higher education. As a leading public research university, the faculty and students at Carolina have built long-term relationships around our nation and world, including a rich array of scholarly and academic collaborations with both Israeli and Palestinian faculty members and Universities.”

But despite the official statement, professors at UNC hardly take a unified stance on the boycott.  Neel Ahuja, a professor in postcolonial studies in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC, and an active member of the American Studies Association, is a vocal advocate of the boycott. Ahuja sees the boycott as necessary in the political context of the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli state and the unconditional support of the US in the Israeli occupation.

The United States has provided over 200 billion dollars in military aid to Israel in the past six decades, and Congress recently introduced a bill that would punish US universities in support of the academic boycott of Israel by decreasing funding to the university.

“Palestinian civic organizations have, in this context of not having any voice, where they live or internationally, have decided that the only way to get recognition for the abuses they are facing is to seek international solidarity through a boycott, which South Africans have done before them, which Indian anti-colonial activists did before them, which the activists at the Montgomery bus boycott and Greensboro, North Carolina have employed in other contexts,” Ahuja says. “So, a boycott happens because other political alternatives are exhausted, and the tactic then is used in a targeted way to get a restoration of a political process.”

What is BDS?

The academic boycott is part of the larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, launched in 2005 and endorsed by a majority of Palestinian civil society unions, organizations and political parties.  BDS calls for ending three main injustices Israel commits against the Palestinian people: Israel’s racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens, the 1967 military occupation of Gaza, the West bank, and East Jerusalem, and an end to Israel’s denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of all Palestinian refugees. Largely inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the BDS movement rejects all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Along with cultural and economic boycotts, the academic boycott is a main component of the BDS movement.

Individual faculty members of the American studies department at UNC varied on their stance concerning the boycott. Joy Kasson, a professor in UNC’s American Studies department, is opposed to the boycott. “I’m really concerned about the idea that an academic institution would close down discussion rather than opening it up,” Kasson said, “And to me boycotting any particular group of individuals who might have something to say is not a way forward and is contradictory to what a university or a scholarly society should be doing.”

“Just turn it around and imagine that some religiously oriented college or university refuses to hire or accept students of some other religion or some other ethnicity — African Americans or something — I could imagine some organization engaging in some true discriminatory practice where cutting off their funds would be an appropriate thing to do,” she said.

However, proponents of the the academic boycott of Israel say it is a direct response to the discrimination and lack of academic freedom faced by Palestinian students in the occupied territories and Israel. According to a 2001 Human Rights Watch report, “the hurdles Palestinian Arab students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of sieves with sequentially finer holes. At each  stage, the education system filters out a higher proportion of Palestinian Arab students.”

The Palestinian Education System

Nathan Swanson is a PhD candidate in the Geography Department at UNC-Chapel Hill recently returned from three semesters of dissertation fieldwork in Jerusalem. Swanson commented on what he observed in terms of academic freedom for Palestinians during his time in Jerusalem. “There is a major issue with disproportionate funding between Palestinian schools and Israeli schools, and this is a broader reflection of other social services in Jerusalem as well,” he said.

“In recent months, there have also been raids by Israeli soldiers on Al Quds University, which is a major Palestinian University in East Jerusalem. Just a couple of weeks ago it was raided by occupation forces who took up positions on the gates and started checking IDs, and then when a crowd gathered, they were eventually tear gassed out of the university.”

Proponents and opponents of the boycott agree that professional dynamics both within Israel and abroad are important to consider. Kasson says another reason she is against the boycott is because it hurts collaboration efforts between Israeli scholars and scholars in the US, some of whom could be at UNC. However, the ASA resolution explicitly states, “It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine.” The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel does not call for a boycott of individuals, but rather an institutional boycott of Israel culturally and academically, and of Israeli higher institutions like Haifa University which reportedly discriminate against Palestinian students.

An example of discrimination at Haifa occured in 2005, when the university hosted a conference entitled “The Demographic Problem and Demographic Unity in Israel,” featuring academics and political analysts known for advocating ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, including Arnon Sofer. A scholar in geostrategy at Haifa University in Israel, Sofer is known for openly taking credit for the route of the Israeli occupation wall which weaves into the West bank encapsulating Palestinian land, and which the International Court of Justice in the Hague declared illegal in July 2004.

Hebrew University, an institution UNC has a study abroad program with — although Palestinian students at UNC are prohibited from joining because of their denial from areas in Israel —  also built a large part of its campus on land in the West Bank confiscated from Palestinians in 1968. Palestinian families living on the land in East Jerusalem (recognized by several UN resolutions as part of the occupied Palestinian territories) were forced to evacuate their homes to allow Israeli staff and students to live on the land. This move violates the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which states that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Furthermore, during Israel’s bombing of Gaza in the 2012 ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’, Palestinian students at Haifa University were banned from any future protests after students gathered for a moment of silence after the bombing of Gaza. Proponents of the academic boycott of Israel cite these examples and others as the main reason for boycotting Israeli institutions of higher knowledge.

There are, however, scholars in Israel who are open about their support for the boycott. In a statement released by Israeli scholars from Tel-Aviv University, they called upon Israeli institutions and the government to halt practices that openly discriminate against Palestinians:

“We, past and present members of academic staff of Israeli universities, express great concern regarding the ongoing deterioration of the system of higher education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We protest against the policy of our government which is causing restrictions of freedom of movement, study and instruction, and we call upon the government to allow students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas. To leave the situation as it is will cause serious harm to freedom of movement, study and instruction – harm to the foundation of academic freedom, to which we are committed.”

In 1985, UNC-Chapel Hill students formed the Anti-Apartheid Support Group to pressure the University Endowment Board to end all economic and academic ties with South Africa.  Two years later, the University ended all ties with the apartheid state, and divested from South African companies. Today, students across the United States, from Columbia to UCLA have called on their Universities to boycott Israeli higher institutions that discriminate against Palestinian students.

“A boycott says, I have to disengage with certain types of activities which I would normally do…I have to stop doing that because there is a pressing ethical issue where if I accept the everyday status quo, then I’m implicated in the violence” Ahuja says.

“On a very basic level, the word boycott is important but the word solidarity is important too because you have to have this ethical orientation where you understand there is another person or group of people out in the world with whom I have shared interests, desires, needs, and I want to recognize those through my daily actions” Ahuja continued.

This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2014 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

Where Red Meets Blue


 It is difficult to succinctly define the South. In the 1860’s, the South decided to secede from the United States in order to create an independent country, and the South was known as a place of rebellion, recklessness, and slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, the South maintained its reputation as a hotbed of racism for decades. Now, we know the South as the land of deep-fried meals, country music, and sweet summertime. Perhaps the new definition of the South is “dynamic.” Conceptions of the South have changed many times throughout the region’s history. Republican politicians can no longer count on the South, as it undergoes demographic and cultural shifts.

An underlying characteristic of the South during all eras is political conservatism. After slavery was abolished, racism continued to run rampant in Southern politics for decades, all because of Southerners’ resistance to change. These Southerners wanted things to stay the way they were, and were perfectly content to let the Washington bigwigs stay in Washington. Thus, a special homegrown brand of conservatism took root in the South, and it thrives to this day.

One hundred and fifty-two Congressmen represent 13 Southern states, from West Virginia to Texas, and of those 152 representatives, 109 (72 percent) of them are Republican. Southern Republicans make up almost half of the total Republicans in the House of Representatives, no surprise since the southern brand of conservatism has existed for 100 years. Though the Republican Party is currently strong in the South, recent elections show that a problem looms on the horizon for the party.

A Change of the Guard

Ferrel Guillory, expert on Southern politics and professor of the practice of Journalism at UNC (and Campus BluePrint’s faculty advisor), sees a split developing in the South.  “I don’t think you can talk about Southern politics as one unit anymore,” Guillory says.  A division is growing between the “Outer South” and the “Inner South.” The Outer South, composed of the states along the eastern seaboard like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, has shown an increase in Democratic voter turnout in recent elections. Guillory attributes this shift to population growth and metropolitanization. From 2000-2010, the average percentage in population growth for the United States was almost ten percent. North Carolina’s population grew by 18.5 percent, Virginia’s grew by 13 percent, and Florida’s grew by 17.6 percent. Each one of these states grew more than the national average, and they all voted blue in the 2008 election, suggesting there was an influx of Democratic voters.

 Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008. The last time a Democratic candidate won North Carolina happened in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was on the ballot. Beyond Jimmy Carter is the period of the Solid South, when Southern Democrats were conservative and racist. Thus, only two liberal Democrats have won North Carolina since 1960. Fifty-four years; this is the legacy of Southern Conservatism.

“A Republican candidate can’t reach the White House without first going through the South,” Guillory says. That seems easy enough, given that North Carolina has elected only two liberal candidates since JFK, and that most of the Southern states have consistently supported the Republican candidate. The Inner South, which includes West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, has remained solidly conservative, even as its neighbors have become more liberal.  Still, the eventual Republican presidential nominee will have to campaign hard to win the region.

New Purple

Barack Obama carried three Southern states in 2008, and using North Carolina as an example, it is fairly easy to see how he was able to do so. Though McCain won much more surface area than Obama, Obama carried nine out of the ten most populous cities in the state, which allowed him to win the state. Florida and Virginia tell a similar story. In Florida, Obama won in very populous areas like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Orlando. Like in North Carolina, McCain won more surface area, but Obama won more populous areas. As in North Carolina and Florida, Obama won the more populous areas in Virginia, which included the area surrounding Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Richmond, and Norfolk. Metropolitanization works against the Republican Party, because people are willing to spend money on public projects in their city. Also, there tend to be a greater number of impoverished voters, who tend to vote Democratically. The South is changing, and if 2008 and 2012 were any indication, there may be much more purple in play come 2016.

North Carolina and Virginia, like Florida, are now swing states. Yes, Mitt Romney won North Carolina in 2012, but by less than 100,000 votes. Virginia and Florida were about as close as North Carolina, except that they swung to Barack Obama. Regardless, the important takeaway from recent elections is that presidential races in the South have never been closer than 100,000 votes. The metropolitan areas of the Outer South have begun to embrace new, innovative ideas for progress, and the population growth of these states favors those ideas. North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida have become active purple states because of Southern Republicans’ refusal to accept ideas that even their fellow party members accept. Republicans in other regions are more willing to adapt to the cultural norms of the next generation, while Southern Republicans refuse to budge on issues like gay rights and immigration. That could be their death knell.

When people live in larger cities like Charlotte or Raleigh, they tend to have more progressive values, and they want to have nice public facilities and parks for their children. They also want to have well-maintained roads in the suburbs. Facilities and roads cost money, money that Democrats are more likely to spend than Republicans. More people in certain areas means more voters, and more voters means that a candidate will win. Southern politics has now taken on the form of the larger national political sphere. In order to win, candidates of both parties have to focus on larger, electorally valuable population centers.

This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2014 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Campus BluePrint as a whole.


For many groups on campus, the past few days at UNC have been dedicated to promoting awareness of issues of sexual assault and interpersonal violence on campus.  Project Dinah launched another successful Alliance Against Violence Week, passing out shirts that express solidarity with survivors of rape and gendered violence.  An event called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, sponsored by members of the Greek system, was also launched this week, encouraging men to become allies in the fight against sexual violence.  Through all these wonderful causes, UNC students have been faithfully continuing discussions vital to the safety of our campus.  However, recent events unfolding within the nightlife of Chapel Hill have left many of us with concerns about the future of our community.

Last Saturday night, senior Liz Hawryluk asked the DJ at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub to stop playing the song “Blurred Lines.”  Since the song came out in 2013, critics have condemned the sexist and violent undertones of the song.  Hawryluk aimed to be an ally for those who might be affected, but was met with a belligerent response from the DJ.  She and three other friends were then promptly escorted out of the building.

Since the weekend, community members have flooded the Fitzgerald’s Facebook page, demanding an apology.  Sunday evening, the management responded that the DJ was a guest performer who would not be returning and that the song “Blurred Lines” would never be played again.  However, their apology appeared somewhat insincere to some (it can be viewed in its entirety under the comments section of Hawryluk’s review.)  A spokesperson for Fitzgerald explained that they were aware only of the “popularity of the song and the fact that it was nominated for various Grammys.”  Furthermore, manager Kyle Bartosiewicz also posted a vicious article on his personal Facebook from the website “BarStool Sports” that attacks Hawryluk as “an absolute psychopath” for speaking out.

Late this week, UNC Siren published an open letter to the manager of Fitzgerald’s, asking that the UNC community show solidarity with survivors by boycotting Fitzgerald’s until the manager has been held accountable for his actions.  The letter also asks that all staff of Fitzgerald’s be required “to participate in ‘Raise the Bar’ trainings to ensure that staff understand how to prevent sexual violence.”  Until these requests are met, many students have vowed that they will not be returning to Fitzgerald’s.

If we, as a community, are to learn anything from these recent events, perhaps it should simply be about how to apologize.  Most everyone has been in a position where they have offended someone due to an insensitivity or lack of awareness of someone else’s personal experiences.  This doesn’t happen because we are all terrible people but simply because we are all people.  People respond defensively when called out for insensitive behavior because few consciously set out to do harm to other people.  It’s important to understand that the responses of some of the staff at Fitzgerald’s have come from a human place.  However, to be good people, we must begin to behave differently.

On a more personal note, I know how it feels to be on the wrong side here.  Less than a year ago, I was listening to “Blurred Lines,” completely ignorant to the innuendos of rape within the song.  In retrospect, it should have been rather obvious due to the title which refers rather directly to non-consensual sex.  If that wasn’t a dead giveaway, perhaps I should have listened to the lyrics, repeating, “I know you want it,” over and over again.  Yet, instead I chose largely to dismiss any problems with the song because I wanted simply to dance and have fun with my friends.  I had the privilege not to be affected by these triggering lyrics.  Though I was never called out for my complicity in perpetuating rape culture, it’s important that I realize the pain I could have caused to those around me who were too embarrassed or afraid to speak up.

As I’ve grown within the feminist community, I’ve learned extremely valuable lessons regarding how to move on from my mistakes (which are still very frequent!)  I’ve outlined here a couple of simple steps that may be helpful to all of us in the future.

Step 1: Apologize sincerely.  In all honesty, sincerity can be a little tricky.  What may sound like a sincere apology to one person, may sound completely disingenuous to those receiving the apology.  In the case of Fitzgerald’s (disregarding the actions of management post-apology), the problem may have been their insistence on delivering the message that they had good intentions.  Of course they had no idea what kind of response playing the song “Blurred Lines” would receive that night.  Of course (hopefully) they would never wish that a survivor of sexual assault or rape would feel uncomfortable or violated within their establishment.  Let it just be known that these are assumed conditions to your apology!  Relying too heavily on your good intentions implies a lack of responsibility for the effects of your actions.  It’s not about what you meant but about what others experienced.

Step 2: That being said, attempt to understand and empathize with the experiences of others.  Everyone comes with a different set of sensitivities because we’ve all been socialized in different environments.  It is often difficult to understand why someone is offended by certain words or actions when we do not know their past.  Assume that their discomfort is legitimate.  This may be an instance where your identities have afforded you a certain advantage that excluded you from the painful experiences of the person you are apologizing to.  The phrase “check your privilege” may be an annoying social media joke to some, but to the rest of us, it’s just about being a decent human.  It’s also the foundation of movements for social activism.  If you’ve got this one down, you’re more than halfway there!

Step 3: Become an ally.  This is the best and most exciting part of your apology because you’ve learned something very valuable about your fellow human and now you’re ready to make the world a better place because of it!  This is exactly what UNC Siren has asked of Fitzgerald’s in recommending that they participate in “Raise the Bar.”  Having a staff trained in preventing sexual violence is a good policy for all employers.  Having completed this task, employees will feel secure within their work environments and ready to extend that safety and happiness to patrons.

Members of the UNC Chapel Hill community are also encouraged to stand up for the actions of Liz Hawryluk.  Most importantly, let’s continue to show our support of survivors of sexual assault!  Feel free to tweet @Fitzgeralds_CH using the hashtags #KeepUNCSafe and let them know what you think.  There will also be a protest tonight at 6:30 p.m. in front of Fitzgerald’s for all who can make it.

Correction: A group supporting #KeepUNCSafe posed for a picture outside of Fitgerald’s, but did not stage a protest.

A New Home for Hser Ku


Hser Ku leaned against a wall of tightly lashed bamboo, waiting. Her younger sister, Tay Nay, was awake, too, listening to the early morning rain. Both sisters wished they could go back to sleep, but they knew they’d regret missing the long walk to the well.

“If you didn’t get up early, you wouldn’t get any water because there so much people,” Hser said. “Everyone wants water.” They didn’t have an alternative—possibly “NGO water,” but it tasted strange, too much chlorine, they said.

By the time they reached the well, a long line had formed. They would wait, just like every morning.

Such is life in Mae La, a refugee camp in western Thailand, home to approximately 45,000 refugees from Burma, now officially Myanmar. In 1994, when Hser was only an infant, her parents fled Burma due to government-led genocide against the Karen people, a predominantly Christian ethnic minority.

“I was only four months old when my parents moved to the refugee camp,” Hser recalled. “They said the Burmese military take over their land.” During the dangerous journey to Thailand, her parents, Aung Oo and Mi Htoo, had to pretend to be Buddhist, Hser said, or else they might have been killed.

Danger did not subside once the family reached Mae La refugee camp.  Poor medical facilities, limited educational opportunities, scarce resources, and overcrowding significantly inhibited life and posed serious threats to health.

“So much mosquitoes,” Hser recalled, commenting on the persistent threat of malaria. But, perhaps even worse, the health clinics only offered limited care and sometimes exacerbated illnesses. Hser’s aunt was a victim of poor medical treatment. After contracting what was most likely dysentery, she was given outdated medication and died. “I was only five years old,” Hser said. “I still remember.”

Medical treatment outside of Mae La was out of reach. Military units surrounded the refugee camp and restricted movement, which limited much more than medical options for refugees. “People were sneaking out to try to find a job, to send their children to school, to buy food or clothes,” Hser said. “If the military catch them, they will be sent to Burma or put in jail or killed.”

As a result, the refugees had to survive on what they were given. For individuals age seven and older, international relief organizations provided 20 pounds of food per month—less than a pound of food per day per person. Some families were able to grow vegetables in small spaces between homes, but otherwise food was scarce.

“There are no jobs in the camp,” Hser said. “For me, there are no toys, no playground, no teddy bear, no games.”

For nearly 14 years, Mae La was Hser’s home. But in 2007, everything changed.

Through a refugee resettlement program, Hser’s family was able to immigrate to the United States, where a caseworker would help the family become accustomed to living in the new environment. After traveling more than 20 hours from Thailand to Japan to Chicago to Raleigh, Hser’s family arrived in Carrboro—their resettlement location and new home.

However, for most of the transition time, a caseworker was not available to support the family.

None of Hser’s family members could speak English. They didn’t know how to pay bills or read school forms. They couldn’t apply for a job or speak to a doctor in case of a medical problem. Overcome by culture shock, Hser’s family had to navigate a challenging, unfamiliar environment—nearly alone.

But with exceptional resiliency, determination, and two helpful UNC students, the transition process was a success.

“They were nice and always helpful,” Hser said, referring to the volunteers. “They did math teaching and taught me how to make brownies and spaghetti.”

Hser said that some of the most memorable experiences were trips to the park or to Franklin Street with the volunteers. Indeed, the relationship they built enabled her family to better acquaint themselves with American culture and feel comfortable in a new setting.

Ultimately, with the guidance of social workers, Hser’s parents were able to acquire jobs in Chapel Hill. Aung, her father, currently works as a custodian at the UNC School of Dentistry, and Mi Htoo, her mother, works at Rams Head Cafeteria. In addition, Hser currently attends Alamance Community College and all of her siblings are enrolled in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“I like living here better than the camp,” Hser said. “We have more opportunity. We have enough food, and my parents have a better job.”

One of the organizations that has supported Hser’s family is the Refugee Community Partnership (RCP), a nonprofit focused on providing refugee families with resources and care through connections to businesses, legal agencies, and UNC student organizations. Founded in 2011, the organization has already made a visible impact on the community but continues to seek greater volunteer involvement.

“There is always a need,” said Andrea Eisen, a member of the RCP Board of Directors. “There’s always another child who needs homework help. It’s just never-ending.”

In addition to RCP, Transplanting Traditions Community Farm plays a significant role in supporting refugees in the area. The nonprofit provides leadership development and agricultural workshops for local refugee families. Kelly Owensby, project director, also expresses the importance of volunteer involvement. “ESL teachers are extremely important,” she said. “I see many teachers who do much more than just teach their students English but go above and beyond to help students in other ways.”

Without a doubt, a strong support network of committed volunteers is exceptionally helpful for refugee families.

“It would be really hard if we didn’t have them,” Hser said. “Because of them, we gain strength and learn a lot. We feel homesick when we first come here, but we feel like they are family, and that gives us hope.”


This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2014 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

Studying, Sick, and Now — Safer

For UNC students covered by the school health insurance plan, Affordable Care Act provides unprecedented protection


Discussions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, have largely centered around the exchanges where people can buy new insurance plans. However, the ACA provides added protection to everyone with health insurance, including students who are on the UNC System’s Student Health Insurance Plan. Now, UNC students can rest assured that if they have a serious illness or injury, their insurance won’t refuse to cover the treatment they need due to arbitrary spending caps, lack of coverage for organ transplants, or pre-existing condition exclusions.

Since 2010, the UNC system has mandated that all students have health insurance. Most students decide to stay on their parents’ plan, but more than  5,000 students at UNC-Chapel Hill are enrolled in a plan organized by the UNC System. UNC-Chapel Hill used to offer their own optional plan that had comprehensive coverage, but the UNC system plan that launched in 2010 had several elements that posed problems for people who developed serious illnesses or injuries, or who had pre-existing conditions.

Previously, the UNC System plan would not pay more than $100,000 a year per student. While $100,000 probably sounds astronomical to most college students, a severe illness or injury could easily hit that cap. For example, the University of Alabama puts the average cost of a spinal cord injury causing paraplegia (leg paralysis) at $508,904 for the first year after injury— more than five times UNC’s cap. As of this year, the ACA has eliminated the cap.

New protection

What would have happened if a student experienced a catastrophic illness or injury? Dr. Mary Covington, the executive director of UNC’s Campus Health, says that in the past, students with extensive medical costs might have found themselves in dire straits. “I’m not sure what would have happened,” she says. “People could have bake sales, or some sort of community event to raise money.” Of course, raising $400,000 through bake sales to pay for rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury is probably near impossible. In addition, dealing with a serious illness or injury is difficult enough without the added stress of trying to raise tremendous sums of money.

Thankfully, in the past few years no student on the UNC System’s plan has hit the $100,000 dollar cap. However, not hitting the cap was essentially a gamble. Students are typically healthy, so the odds of needing a high amount of medical care were very low. But the point of insurance isn’t really to cover everyday issues healthy people encounter; those could be paid for out of pocket for less than the cost of insurance. Instead, insurance is designed to insure people against the risk of higher medical expenses than they can pay for on their own. When the cap was in effect, it was essentially voiding the insurance for those with catastrophic illnesses and injuries—the very people who needed their insurance most.

Compared to other schools, the $100,000 cap was actually fairly robust. “In the history of student insurance plans, there have been other plans that had much lower limits,” Dr. Covington said. “Ten thousand, twenty thousand, forty thousand dollars.” Caps that low would have been even easier to hit, potentially after just a few days in the hospital. The ACA will also be a huge help to students at those schools.

 Another previous limitation of the UNC System plan was that the policy stated there was “no organ transplant benefit.” Bone marrow transplants for blood diseases like leukemia were covered, but if a student needed something like a heart or a liver they were essentially out of luck. Even bake sales likely wouldn’t make a difference. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, organ transplant centers typically require insurance coverage to qualify for an organ transplant, even if the patient is willing to pay out of pocket. As the argument goes, organs for transplant are a scarce resource. Therefore, hospitals have the responsibility to allocate them to those who will definitely be able to pay for a lifetime of expensive immunosuppressant medications. The ACA considers organ transplants an essential health benefit, so insurance plans (including the UNC System plan) must cover them.

The UNC System plan also used to pose an enormous problem for some students with pre-existing conditions. If a student had more than a 63-day gap in insurance before enrolling in the UNC plan, for the first year the insurance would not pay for anything related to a pre-existing condition. UNC Insurance Associate Sharon Moseley says that some students had the UNC insurance refuse to cover care because of this policy, particularly “students that had diabetes, and some students that were on and off of Medicaid.” Those students had to pay for their care (which probably wasn’t cheap) out-of-pocket, or go without. But, “of course, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t get coverage for any non-related issues,” Moseley said. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, “all that went away on Jan. 1,” added UNC Insurance Associate Vicki Warwick.

Low costs for big results

Some people may worry that these additional protections pose an unsustainable financial burden on students. However, in the past year UNC System insurance premiums have actually gone down $42 a year, from $1,418 a year to $1,376 a year. In the same time period UNC switched insurance carriers from Pearce & Pearce to Blue Cross Blue Shield, so it is difficult to ascertain the exact effect of the plan changes on premiums, but it has clearly not caused premiums to skyrocket.

These changes are invisible to many. “I had no idea,” said Kescia Jo Hall, a sophomore who is on the student insurance plan. Most students are healthy, and probably don’t spend their time dwelling on what their insurance would pay for should something terrible happen. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, though, they are covered if disaster strikes.

This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2014 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

I Believe in Better for Campus—-Today’s Protest Shouldn’t Have Happened

This is a commentary post. These opinions do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints, opinions and beliefs of Campus BluePrint Magazine.


This morning as I walked down the quad to Dey Hall, I noticed some bright posters stood up in front of Wilson Library, almost as tall as the building itself. I couldn’t make out the images at first; I could vaguely see the word “genocide” proclaimed across one of them and something that might be a hand. However, as I got closer, I realized someone had decided to greet us students on our walks to class this morning with incredibly graphic images related to abortion.


As a Carolina student, I am proud and pleased to be able to have access to free birth control and condoms, so I can be near-100% sure I will never have to make the option to get an abortion. I also support the right of all women to choose what to do with their bodies. The abortion protestors today on the main quad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are a disgrace. They are using grisly, potentially triggering photos and the false analogy of abortion as “genocide” to support the anti-choice movement when abortion is an individual choice of a woman. So far as I can tell, these protestors have not attached the name of their group or leaders to their hateful display so as to not be identified by (or possibly deal with the responses of) people offended by their protest. I think Carolina should be ashamed to have allowed this display to take place on the center of campus. Freedom of speech is important, but so is the ability to receive factually correct information about abortion and the ability to walk through campus (a place where many of us live and all of us must spend time on order to attend class) while feeling safe and without finding yourself face-to-face with triggering photos, which could be especially shaking if you are a survivor of assault or sexual violence. If I were one of the many high school students touring campus today, this would weigh heavily on my decision about where I would pursue higher education.​


I urge you to look up the most common logical fallacies if you are not familiar with them. It will help you understand the horribleness in the logic of these kinds of arguments, and not just be faced with their horrible display. I sincerely hope nothing like this is allowed to happen again on our campus. Resources for emotional help or support include campus counseling and the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.


Edit: The protest was put on by a California group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. Intense trigger warnings if you decide to Google them.

Athletics. Academics. Ambiguity. Part 3


In January, UNC’s Mary Willingham ignited a nationwide scandal when she joined with CNN to expose low literacy rates among college athletes. She also jump started  a campus conversation on transparency and academic integrity. Campus BluePrint spoke with her, administrators, and athletes to explore the implications of Willingham’s report.

What are the implications?

According to Willingham, the results of her research, disputed as they may be, go beyond the 183 students she and Johnson studied between 2004 and 2012. And, more importantly, the implications of this research are by no means limited to the athletic program at the University of North Carolina; instead, this is a broader problem in the culture of high caliber athletics at the collegiate level. “We all have the same problem,” Willingham says. “We’re all recruiting from the same pool of athletes and the fact of the matter is that the NCAA is setting the bar so low and universities go right along with it so they can have winning teams…”

Jay Smith, in his evaluation of the athletic/academic relationship in major universities, points to a disconnect between the two: “Athletics seem to operate in a parallel world. They are, in effect, an autonomous component of the University.” This disconnect was certainly made obvious in the Martin report on the Nyang’oro scandal, with a fraudulent system of classes that goes back to 1994 and that, despite the large proportion of student-athletes in these anomalous courses, went undetected by the large team of academic tutors and counselors in the athletic department. It is the dominance of athletics in universities like UNC that Willingham believes allows for what she has claimed to be the acceptance of athletes unprepared to face the academic challenges of a college career.

But student-athletes have hit back. Junior Allen Champagne, who is both a Morehead-Cain scholar and who played on the Varsity Football team for three years, knows what it means to be a student-athlete. “Failure is unacceptable, on the field or in classes,” Champagne said. “When it comes down to the classroom, everyone takes the same classes and has the same expectations.”

Although Champagne is not playing on the team next year, he insisted that in his experience, he chose all of his classes. Additionally, Champagne noted that whether a student played football or fenced, everyone got the same tutors. “When I played, everything was very formal, very standardized,” Champagne said, “there is a level field, academically everybody is the same.”

When asked about Willingham’s research on student-athlete literacy, Champagne described the project as “weak,” attributing it to a publicity stunt. “Athletes create publicity,” Champagne said, “Bad publicity affects the academically and beyond.”

Despite ensuing controversies, Champagne argued that students, athletes, and the university as a whole need to “trust the system”. In terms of constructing a reliable and accountable system free of future controversies, Champagne looked to Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham as the “man to do it”.

And Bubba Cunningham, in an interview with Campus Blueprint, corroborated Champagne’s remarks, deeming the opportunity to participate in inter-collegiate athletics “an incredible privilege.” Cunningham, when asked about Willingham’s data, also seemed to dismiss it, explaining: “I’m not equipped to evaluate that but I can say that we only admit students to the University that can graduate.”

Call for Transparency

In an email to Willingham on Jan. 12, 2014, Provost Jim Dean asked Willingham for her identified spreadsheet, fully under his authority as the Chief Academic Officer. “As someone who has worked in an academic institution for many years,” Provost Dean said, “I know you understand that a hallmark of academic research is peer review and that sharing research data and methodology is key to that review.”

But neither Willingham nor the administration has allowed this research to be peer reviewed. Willingham claims she can no longer legally release the spreadsheet since it is under IRB review and the administration claims it has handed this data to a third party for review, though administrators have not made the identity of the third party public. It was Chancellor Folt who, at the beginning of her term, called for transparency, asking the student body, “How do we deal with issues that are troubling when we want to be transparent?”

The University has taken a step in the right direction. In an address to the UNC Board of Trustees, Folt accepted “a failure in academic oversight for years” that permitted the existence of the AFAM anomalous courses. But this is not enough. UNC has the opportunity to lead the very real national dialogue on the pressures placed by the NCAA on student-athletes, pressures that sometimes prioritize athletics and cheat athletes out of the college education promised to them. Willingham’s data must be released as de-identified, public information so that it may be peer reviewed in a transparent manner. If the data says what the University claims it says, then Carolina has nothing to lose in practicing transparency. And even if it doesn’t, then, at the very least, Carolina students have the right to know.

Check out Parts 1 and 2 here.

This content will be published in Campus BluePrint’s Spring 2014 issue, on campus soon!