A Brief History of the Racist Landmarks at UNC


Often, the narratives we form about our history connect more to our beliefs about the current world than they do about what actually happened in the past.  With that in mind, the story of the University of North Carolina exists somewhat romantically in the minds of most students and alumni.  After all, as one of the first public universities in the United States, our school opened the door for a more universal education system.  For many it exists as the pinnacle of North Carolina’s achievements.  This particular narrative of school history is plagued by a blatant disregard for the history of minorities, particularly African Americans, at Chapel Hill.  Yet, generally, the more troubling aspects of our school’s history have receded away from public consciousness.

In no way is this a new conversation, but it is an important one.  It’s also one that the late historian, social activist, and UNC graduate, John K. Chapman, devoted a lot of his time exploring.  In his 2006 Phd dissertation, called “Black Freedom and the University of Chapel Hill,” Chapman began revising the idea that we are, as he called it, a “University of the People.”  Writing that “previous scholarship has contributed to a culture of denial and racial historical amnesia” he made the case that the university still has not come to terms with its past.  Everyday students walk past monuments of racism, often with little knowledge of their white supremacist connections.


Let’s take a tour of the some of the most familiar landmarks at UNC with questionable or overtly racist histories:

1. Dean Smith Center and Kenan Stadium



Stopping first at both the Dean Dome and Kenan Stadium, we must begin with the beloved Tar Heel nickname.  Yes, we students shout it in a reverberating echo at most sporting events, “TAR… HEEL… TAR… HEEL!”  Have you ever wondered why we picked a dirty appendage rather than a more sensible nickname like the Wildcats or the Demon Deacons? (Just kidding about Demon Deacons. That’s dumb. What were you thinking, Wake Forest?)  Well the etymology of the nickname “Tar Heel” is a bit convoluted.  It began as a pejorative commentary on North Carolina’s early colonial shipping industry, where tar and pitch were used to coat the bottom of ships.  It was obviously an indication of poverty and low class if you were constantly walking around with tar on the bottom of your heels.  However, “Tar Heel” quickly became a common term for North Carolina’s soldiers in both the Revolutionary and Civil War.  Especially during the Civil War, “Tar Heel” became a proud name for men fighting for their state.  Most famously, it was used by the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, who once remarked, “God bless the Tar Heel boys!”  The nickname made perfect sense to UNC students and they cemented its collegiate use with the founding of a newspaper in 1893, called The Tar Heel (later renamed The Daily Tar Heel).  So, in summary, this is a bit like naming your sports team the Rebels (Shout out to the University of Mississippi!).

If right now you’re tempted to tell me, “heritage not hate,” understand that the history of the Confederacy carries with it a complex baggage that means different things to people of different backgrounds.  Keep in mind that, according to the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, it was an institution openly founded “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”  I won’t waste much time trying to convince you that we need to change our name simply because it references Confederate soldiers.  That question is certainly still a matter of debate.  It’s more important that we as a school understand where our name and identity comes from.  With that thought in mind, let’s keep going…

2. Silent Sam, completed in 1913


Here we have Silent Sam, probably one of the most controversial features of our campus.  To some, he is merely a monument to the 321 UNC alumni that lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy.  Taken merely as a memorial to the great human costs of the Civil War, Sam reminds us that many who went off to fight and die were compelled by their government to do so.  However, this sentiment is muddied by the intentions of those who funded his construction.  Erected in 1913 with support from the Daughters of the Confederacy, the dedication of Silent Sam lacked the sorrowful tone and dignity of, say, a Ken Burn’s documentary.  It was more like your most racist elderly relatives getting together at Thanksgiving to discuss “the good old days,” i.e. when free forced labor was government sanctioned.

One of the speakers at the dedication was a wealthy industrialist, named Julian Shakespeare Carr.  Thirteen years earlier, Carr had run unsuccessfully for the US Senate on the platform of white supremacy.  His beliefs were evident throughout his speech, stating, “The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South.”  If it wasn’t clear to his audience at that point that he was a racist, the anecdote he told later in the same speech probably cleared that up.  Bragging about how he “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” because “she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady,” Carr obviously took great pride in having beaten a Black woman half to death.  (His entire speech can be found here, from UNC’s archives.)

3. The Carr Building, completed in 1900


So guess what? That guy from the story above… he got his own building at UNC.  Carr Building opened as a dormitory in 1900 and now functions as a faculty office building.  To be honest, getting this building was probably lower on his list of achievements than getting the whole town of Carrboro named in honor of him.  Ever eaten at Elmo’s diner at the Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro?  Carr Mill was the old cotton factory Carr owned, reopened as a shopping mall in 1974.  Julian Carr was also instrumental in turning Trinity College into Duke University.  While this one was probably a lesser lapse in moral judgement than many other things he’d done, it doesn’t make me like him anymore.  As it turns out, Duke also has a building dedicated to him.

4. Saunders Hall, completed in 1922


Next on our list of buildings dedicated to awful white dudes is Saunders Hall.  William L. Saunders graduated from UNC in 1854 and went on to serve as a colonel during the Civil War.  After the war, from his home in Chapel Hill, he became a chief organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.

Although many of you are probably familiar with the organization, allow me to offer a brief history of the KKK.  After the Civil War, many whites became very concerned with the shifts in power that allowed Black Republicans to hold political office (an idea I’ll return to in the next section).  The KKK was created under the guise of protection for white Southerners against yankee “carpetbaggers” and Blacks.  In reality, they committed acts of violence and murder against Black citizens, doing everything they could to intimidate Blacks from voting.  Though many defenders of Confederate heritage hold the KKK separate from Confederate soldiers, it is true that many Southerners joined the Klan after returning home from war.  The original organization was created by six veterans of the Confederate Army, and quickly joined by one of the most famous Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

William Saunders orchestrated the beatings and assassinations of Blacks in many of the Piedmont counties, including Orange County.  After Democrats brutally forced their way back into power, Saunders served as North Carolina’s Secretary of State and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the UNC Board of Trustees.

5. Spencer Dormitory, completed in 1924


Here’s a change of pace from all the hating on white dudes: Spencer dormitory, completed in 1924 as the first residence hall for women, was named after a lady, Cornelia Phillips Spencer.  Her story, like many stories constructed from the Reconstruction era, portrays the bravery of white Southern men and women following the devastation of the Civil War.  If you’ve seen Gone With the Wind then this type of romanticism towards the South should be familiar.  As the old story goes: yankees come and ruin everything (i.e. free forced labor is no longer a government sanctioned activity), yankees take everything but the grace and dignity of the Southern people, and now the beautiful and brave white Southerners must make the best of their new circumstances (i.e. turn previously free forced labor into very cheap labor).  Cornelia Spencer, the daughter of a UNC professor, was one of those beautiful and brave Southern women responsible for pulling the university back together under these new circumstances.  Credited with reopening UNC after its devastation during the Civil War, Spencer begged the legislature for the funds necessary.  In 1875, after finally receiving $125,000 from the state government, she climbed to the top of South Building and rang its bell, announcing to the entire town that the university would soon be reopened.  Known heroically as “the woman who rang the bell,” Spencer’s story remains untarnished by pertinent truths concerning her cause or beliefs.

The real story of Reconstruction is far more complicated than the one we see depicted in Gone With the Wind or Spencer’s story.  To put things briefly, Reconstruction was initially a very radical change in the political power structure of the South.  With the Republican party in charge, from 1870 to 1876, North Carolina had 30 Black state legislators and one Black U.S. Congressman, named John A. Hyman.  Men like Hyman, formerly enslaved, were now representing a constituency in North Carolina that had never before been heard.  Of course, this made most Southerners very angry.  So angry that they could not bear to see their university open under such a government.  A fact that often gets left out of the original story, Cornelia Spencer was instrumental in closing the university in 1870 to protect it from Reconstruction politics.  She fought alongside men like Col. William Saunders to defend white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan while dismantling North Carolina’s Reconstruction government and voting rights for Blacks.  While she is still hailed by some as a crusader for women’s equality, it is clear that she only wanted power in the hands of white men and women (side note: unfortunately, many of history’s greatest crusaders for women’s equality were also white supremacists).

6. Daniels Building/Student Stores, completed in 1968


Okay, back to the awful white dudes. There are just two more awful white dudes to suffer through (well on this list, anyway).  Daniels Student Stores is one of those buildings that all of us, regardless of our major, have been through too many times to count.  Completed in 1868, it was named after Josephus Daniels, a former editor of the Raleigh News and Observer and Secretary of the Navy during the Wilson administration.  As editor of the News and Observer, Daniels is credited with forming a new white supremacy campaign in North Carolina, leading to Democratic victories in 1898 and 1900.

Prior to these dates, during the 1890s, North Carolina had once again achieved a coalition of Black and white representatives within the state legislature. In an era of Fusion politics, Black Republicans and white populists formed a powerful alliance dedicated to things like education and voting reform.  It wasn’t until 1898, when the Democrats of the state essentially took their power back by force that Blacks would finally be kicked out of office.  The Wilmington Race Riot is one of the most famous and violent example of whites overturning the democratic process in favor of outright thuggery.  During the election of 1898, the Democrats of Wilmington stuffed the ballot boxes with candidates of the white supremacy campaign.  Despite their efforts, voters elected a biracial fusionist government to serve in the city government.  Two days after the election, 500 white men went on a rampage, killing an unknown number of Black citizens and forcing the fusionist politicians to resign.  Josephus Daniels was instrumental in creating this tension that erupted into mass violence, writing in the Raleigh News and Observer that Wilmington suffered from “Negro domination.”  His newspaper frequently published racist propaganda, meant to frighten white citizens away from electing Blacks to political office or even allowing them to vote.  After the riot, the white supremacists of Wilmington pointed to Daniels as their catalyst for violence.

7. Hamilton Hall, completed in 1972


Last awful white dude on this list is J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, a professor of history at the university from 1906 to 1948.  Hamilton Hall was built in 1972 as housing for the departments of History, Political Science, and Sociology.  The school chose the name in recognition of Hamilton’s historical contributions to the university, including the creation of the Southern Historical Collection.  However, it was his writings on Reconstruction that won him a job at UNC’s History Department.  Like the white supremacist historians who constructed the heroic narrative about Cornelia Spencer, Hamilton’s history sought to romanticize the efforts of white Southerners after Reconstruction.  In his 1914 book, Reconstruction in North Carolina, he praised the Ku Klux Klan for restoring “political power to the white race.”

8. Unsung Founders Memorial, completed in 2005


The Unsung Founders Memorial is located in MCcorkle Place, not far from the Silent Sam monument.  It contains the inscription, “The Class of 2002 honors the University’s unsung founders – the people of color bond and free – who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today.”  Yet, for many, this “memorial” exists as a rather sad representation of the university’s failure to come to terms with its racist past.  In 2009, a forum was conducted to discuss the race relations in Chapel Hill.  A local poet, C.J. Suitt addressed the issues with the memorial, saying that the university “has erected a 20-foot-tall monument to the Civil War, ‘Silent Sam,’ and less than a hundred yards away is a slave monument that’s … a table – a table that has these two-foot slaves holding it up,” He added, “The last time I walked past there was a lovely white family enjoying lunch.”
This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list of all of UNC’s racial problems.  The visible landmarks at our school are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the discussion of racial inequality.  However, they are a good place to start.  Often history is a good place to start when it comes to evaluating our present circumstances.  The University of North Carolina has been a historic defender of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy, and countless activists have worked to expose this truth on our campus.  In 1999, Students Seeking Historical Truth was founded by current and former members of UNC’s Black Student Movement.  They worked to encourage historical honesty from the university concerning the many buildings you read about above.  Today, The Real Silent Sam is a group that exists on campus, founded in 2011 to “create honest public dialogue and provoke critical thought surrounding the monuments and buildings in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.”  The conversation they have sparked demands that the university challenge both its past and present, and confront the fact that institutional racism persists as a problem at our university.  For example, last year, it was discovered that our newest class, the class of 2017, has just 98 African American males out of 4,000 students.  Black students continue to be a minority at a school that has historically championed their disenfranchisement.  It is hard to imagine that we could ever have been considered a “University of the People.”

Student Body President: Expectations and limitations


Pictures of former student body presidents line the walls of the executive branch of student government located in the Union here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Each picture represents a unique era of UNC, reflecting the cultural, political, and social climate of the time. However, while each administration is unique in its respective platform, team, or agenda, the position of student body president has also maintained a longevity that has lasted throughout the University’s history. While the position of student body president represents the fundamental outlet for students to express their desires on an administrative level, the actual position of student body president has its limitations.

You may not be aware of these limitations if you looked at platforms during some of the most recent campaigns. Many candidates have high hopes for policy initiatives that they can implement during their year in office.

Yet the experience of past student body presidents has exposed a different reality. Will Leimenstoll, student body president from 2011-2012, says he faced a plethora of institutional limitations. “When it comes to policy changes you’re limited by what the University Administration, Board of Trustees, and ultimately the Board of Governors want for the University,” he says. The University has four groups who “think the University exists to serve them,” Leimonstoll says: students, staff, faculty and alumni. “More times than I could count, the leadership of these bodies at UNC came together for common goals to support one another, but there were definitely some issues where all involved did not see eye to eye,” he says.

Not only must the student body president and his administration appeal to various factions, as the the president and the administration attempt to represent the student body population, they are also limited by representative limitations.

The student body president has negligible voting power when it comes to the North Carolina General Assembly, the Board of Governors, and the larger policy decisions of the university. In an interview with Christy Lambden, the outgoing Student Body President, Lambden says his power was limited — although he doesn’t see a problem with this. “The student body president has no real power over policy, as they probably shouldn’t, given that they’re students,” he says. Given the priorities of the university, granting the student body president power over large scale administrative decisions would be against the interests of the university not only because the position is filled by a student, but also because of the time limitations of the role.

While the student body president may not have the power to affect significant change in certain policy areas, a disparity exists between the student perception of what the president can accomplish and what the president can actually achieve. Lambden stated that “there are a lot of unrealistic expectations [placed on the position of student body president].” When commenting on what expectations are placed on the student body president, Lambden stated “I received a couple of emails indicating that it was actually me who increased tuition rates. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t the university. It wasn’t even the university system; it was the state legislature, and I’m quite a few steps away from the state legislature.”

Part of this discrepancy may arise from how the student body president elections function. Each candidate runs his or her platform based on what he or she wants to see or achieve for the Carolina community. The 2014 student body president candidates have platform proposals that range from completely changing the online student system at Carolina, to reversing how classrooms function, to resorting to social networking platforms which emphasize student participation in affecting change here at Carolina. Nonetheless, as Lambden noted, candidates may not “take into account the practicality of trying to get those things enacted when [one] gets into office.” It is in the best interests of the candidates to advocate for their platform and vision of change even if the actual implementation is impossible – an agenda emphasizing the inability of student government to affect change would not garner support from the student population looking to have its voice heard.

This begs the question of what the student body president can genuinely accomplish and practically achieve. While the answers may vary, at the core, the duty of the student body president is to represent the student body, express its concerns, and advocate for the possibility of change, even if that change comes up against institutional barriers. Lambden noted how issues that the student body president face “generally transcend each administration” referring to the sexual assault policies passed on from the Leimenstoll administration. Thus, the student body president must tackle the challenges that the Carolina community faces while still attempting to implement his or her platform.

In one sense, the most necessary function of the student body president happens behind closed doors, occurring behind the scenes of the Carolina community. When asked what accomplishment the Lambden administration is most proud of, Christy responded with “the relationships [they’ve] built” noting how “student government has stronger relationships with the administration, the board of trustees, the board of governors, with general administration than [Carolina] has ever had before.” In this light, it is essential for the student body president to not only advocate for the position of students, but to also emphasize the positive changes that are happening at the Carolina community.

The position of the student body president is a complex one where expectations are high and the ability to affect change is low. Nonetheless, even if important policy changes can not occur, the student body president must create important relationships with the higher decision making bodies advocating for the student interest. To rule out the ability of the student body president to carry out his or her agenda or create institutional change on campus would be unfair to not only the candidates running but also to future ones as well. While the potential for change is minimal, the student body president serves a role of significant importance, maybe now more than ever – that is creating strong relationships with our legislative assembly, speaking for the student’s  desires and fears, and most importantly, advocating for a stronger future for all of the Carolina community.


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!

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!

“We Just Can’t Have You Here”


This post was originally published in the Yale Daily News on Jan. 24, 2014. Although it is about a student’s experience at Yale, the themes are relevant for our campus community, as well. For other reporting on dealing with depression at Carolina, check out Claire McNeill’s story in Synapse.

“I’m Rachel,” I say to the man who is here to evaluate me, extending my hand, trying to put on my best sane face. Problem is, no one ever told me what that looks like.

He eyes me for a moment, then takes my hand.

I run him through the story, trying to emphasize my efforts to be honest and to get help.

I say, “So as soon as I cut, I texted my FroCo for support.”

“But you admit that you willfully harmed yourself?” he says, like he’s just won something.

“Well … yes.” Because obviously I admit it. I’m not a liar. If I were a liar, I would never have gotten myself into this mess. Fuck me for not being a liar.

And so, when I say “yes” to the ‘I admit cutting myself’ part, he nods his head and closes his eyes like someone has just given him a bonbon.

I tell him when I come back to Yale, I will get a therapist on campus and keep working with the one I have at home. I will stop cutting.

“Well the question may not be what will you do at Yale, but if you are returning to Yale. It may well be safer for you to go home. We’re not so concerned about your studies as we are your safety,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “What makes you think I will be safer away from school, away from my support system?” School was my stimulation, my passion and my reason for getting up in the morning.

“Well the truth is,” he says, “we don’t necessarily think you’ll be safer at home. But we just can’t have you here.”

* * *

On the night of Jan. 27, 2013, I slashed open my right thigh six times with a Swiss Army knife. I then spent four hours thinking about how good it would feel to jump off the fifth floor of Vanderbilt Hall. On Jan. 28, I put on a pretty dress and went to class. Before lunch, my cuts had stained it brown.

That night I texted my Freshman Counselor to tell her what had happened, just as I had done all the other times I felt suicidal and had cut myself. When I went to her suite, I showed her the gashes.

We went to Yale Health Urgent Care, at around 11:00 p.m., where a doctor bandaged my leg. A psychiatrist appeared. I told her that I had experienced suicidal thoughts the night before, but that the cuts had not been a suicide attempt. I told them that I was no longer suicidal.

At midnight, I was strapped to a stretcher under the ashen ceiling of an ambulance, on my way to Yale-New Haven Hospital. There I was taken to the locked ward of the ER — guarded by officers with guns — stripped of all my belongings, including my pants (they had a drawstring), and shunted into a cubicle containing nothing but a bed. I was here for my own good, they told me.

For 24 hours I had nothing to do but listen to the rattling gasping sound coming from the person two beds down, and to a schizophrenic person declare, every hour or so, that he had soiled himself. I was asked to recite the presidents of the United States, in reverse order, as part of a psychiatric evaluation. For more than a day I was not permitted to make a phone call. For more than a day no one had any idea where I was — not even my parents.

When a bed opened up in the actual Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, I was transported, again in an ambulance, and introduced to the place I would spend the next week of my life. Upon arrival, I was taken into a small room with two female staff members, forced to take off my underwear, spread my legs, then hop up and down to make sure nothing was hidden “up there.”

My Freshman Counselor had brought me some extra clothes and a course packet for my travel writing class, so that I would have something to read. The course packet was confiscated. Why? Because I might cut myself with the plastic binding — you know — the kind you get from Tyco. I might commit suicide with that, they said. “You’re a cutter,” they told me.

For a week, I was not allowed to set foot outside. I was not allowed to stretch my hamstrings or calves or any other body part. I was not allowed to pace my confines. I was not allowed to drink caffeine. I was not permitted to take ibuprofen for my caffeine withdrawal headache. I did not get to take a shower until my third day. Phone usage was restricted and phone calls were closely monitored. I was threatened, by a nurse, with the possibility of having my wrists and ankles tied to my bed, and witnessed this threat be carried out on others. Whoever built the hospital had termed this ward, “Liberty Village.”

There was little “treatment” in the hospital. Mostly, we watched television, played Pictionary and Connect Four and sat. I was interviewed by various clinicians a few times a day; I saw my assigned psychiatrist only three times, for half an hour or so, over the course of seven days. This limited treatment was fairly standard for all patients, but it soon became clear that it would have little effect on my situation.

The milieu counselors, nurses and doctors in Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital have absolutely no input when it comes to deciding who gets to stay at Yale and who is forced to leave. In talking to the nurses, doctors and fellow Yale students I encountered in the hospital, I understood that job to belong to Dr. Eric Millman and to chief of Yale Psychiatry, Dr. Lorraine Siggins — two people who work for the University, rather than the hospital.

I have shared with you my memorable exchange with a senior psychiatrist at Yale Mental Health who came to evaluate me. It was this exchange that led me to keep an extensive and thorough journal during my time in the hospital.

But Dr. Siggins is the one who makes a ruling: Does Johnny stay at Yale or does he go? And in my talks, a consensus emerged: Dr. Siggins does not always — and by some accounts, rarely — make contact with the student in question. (A Yale senior who was in the hospital with me was not granted a meeting with Dr. Siggins but was still forced to leave Yale.) Neither the staff members I spoke with nor a fellow Yalie who had prior experience in the hospital knew of any Yale student admitted to the hospital who had been allowed to stay at Yale.

My interview left me terrified of the possibility of leaving school. I called my parents, and they promptly put themselves on Dr. Siggins’ radar, meeting with her twice and securing me a personal interview. All I remember was that my mind was totally blank when I spoke to her, because I was so focused on making her believe that I was “okay.” This, of course, is totally futile when you’re sitting on a cot in a mental hospital.

She called me three days later to tell me that I would have to go home. That meant that I was forced to formally withdraw from the college, with no guarantee of return. As soon as her decision came down, I was eligible for release into my parents’ custody. Upon my release from the hospital (also not a function of my recovery — but as a result of my expulsion from the College I was even more depressed when I left than when I was admitted, my Yale ID was confiscated, as was my room key. I was given one evening to pack up my entire life.

My college dean told me I was not even allowed to spend the night in my room in Vanderbilt Hall. I fell asleep on the futon in my suite’s common room at four a.m., breaking the rules, but exhausted and unable to continue putting my things in boxes, dismantling the reality of my college life. I had a chance to say goodbye to a few friends — most of whom I would not hear from during my time away. 18 hours after I walked out of the hospital doors, I was on a plane, headed back to North Carolina in a storm of tears.

I did what they said was necessary to be a candidate for readmission: therapy, more therapy, two college courses, more therapy. And I healed. Mostly.

I filled out the paper application for readmission: the usual demographic crap, a three-page personal statement, a transcript of my summer classes, two letters of recommendation, a profile from a therapist and a check for $50. I flew to New Haven for my three interviews — with the dean of my residential college, Dean Pamela George (chair of readmission) and Dr. Siggins.

As a side note, I might mention that Dr. Siggins was 45 minutes late to my interview. Dean George called me an hour before the scheduled time to cancel, forcing me to interview the following day, two hours before my return flight took off. I answered every question with as much positivity as I could sell. I said: I do not cut, I do not think of killing myself. I am great. Two weeks later, I was readmitted.

Every morning of my year away from Yale, I woke to the sight of the “Yale” pennant on my bedroom wall — the one they send to accepted freshmen in the big, glorious “Welcome to Yale” packet. “You’re in!” it says. “You’re a treasured asset to our University!” it says. “Come to Bulldog Days and feel the love because we love you and we care about you and we don’t want you to go to any other school because you’re the shit!” it says.

Thinking back to that welcome packet, there is a conspicuous omission: *We love you and want you and will provide for you and protect you, as long as you don’t get sick.*

* * *

I return to a different Yale, though it is I who have changed. After a year spent focusing solely on my health and well-being, I find myself, though not perfectly balanced, resting closer to my ideal center. And, after a year of watching and analyzing every one of my inner ticks, I see external things that were invisible to me before.

I see that Yale is a fundamentally unhealthy place in one important way. The problem is, everyone is “okay.” I have known friends who have suffered the deaths of siblings, who have been victims of sexual assault or who have fought life-threatening illness, all while navigating their sexuality, while taking five-and-a-half credits, while chairing more organizations and running to more meetings than they can keep track of. I have known friends to do all of this and still profess, at every opportunity, to be “okay,” “fine,” “great.”

To say something else, to be — in our own minds and in the minds of others — something else, is for some reason not acceptable at Yale. None of us are completely okay. But the pressure to conform to being perfectly functional and happy is a burden that we should neither want nor bear.

Where does it come from? For most students at Yale, I think the pressure is subconscious, upheld through day-to-day conversation: My classes are amazing. My extracurriculars are dope. My internship this summer is baller. Life is awesome. Are you awesome? No one wants to deviate.

But I think the source is not, in fact, the students. Those of us who have admitted, at some point or another, that we are legitimately not okay, have learned that there are real and devastating consequences of telling the truth. Because Yale does not want people who are not okay. Yale does not want people who are struggling, who are fighting. Yale, out of concern for its own image, wants them to leave. And Yale makes them.

With this, I refuse to be okay.


Chancellor Folt’s Inaugural Open House


On Wednesday February 5th from 4:30-5:30 on the second floor of the Student Union, The Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor (SACC) will host Chancellor Folt in her inaugural open house.  Vice Chancellor Crisp and Provost Dean will also be in attendance.

The event is designed so students will be in small group discussions for about 25 minutes.  After the discussion period ends, a microphone will be passed around to each table of students in order for them to engage in a Q&A with the panel of administrators.  The goal of this set-up is not only to encourage more in depth questions for the Chancellor, but also to encourage more in depth discussions between members of the student body.

The agenda for the open house includes many of the hot topics on campus right now like the athletic literacy reports, sexual assault policies on campus, undocumented tuition, and academics.

Before going to the event, here is a refresher on where the chancellor stands on many of the issues likely to be discussed at the open house:

Student Athletes

First, she stands by our student athletes’ hard work in the classroom, in the community, and in the athletic arena.  In her letter to students regarding the claims that have been made against UNC athletes she stated that,

“I take these claims very seriously, but we have been unable to reconcile these claims with either our own facts or with those data currently being cited as the source for the claims. Moreover, the data presented in the media do not match up with those data gathered by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.”

Sexual Assault

Second, on the topic of sexual assault, Howard Kallem has been appointed as the university’s new Title IX Compliance Coordinator as of January 2nd 2014.  Kallem is responsible for keeping UNC compliant with the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.  According to a message sent to students from Brenda Malone, Vice Chancellor of Human Resources:

“This important area has Chancellor Folt’s full support. She has made a commitment to further expand the resources available to support Title IX compliance by creating a new position that will focus on direct student engagement and programming, as well as an additional Title IX investigations position. These positions will be open for recruitment in the very near future.  Howard Kallem’s appointment, along with the addition of these new positions, will ensure that the University is well situated to provide a safe and responsive environment for our students and employees, and also play a leadership role in the ongoing conversation about Title IX compliance in higher education.”


Lastly, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper rejected the One State One Rate campaign that lobbied for instate tuition for undocumented students.  On a different but similar subject, Chancellor Folt has worked to expand access to higher education to low income and first generation students.   While attending a summit on affordability in higher education at the White House, Chancellor Folt announced three new pledges to making education at Carolina affordable.  First, she has committed $4 million to double the size of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program at UNC. Second, she has announced another $4 million investment to improve graduation rates for undergraduates specifically for low income and first generation students.  Third, Folt announced an expansion of the Carolina College Advising Corps, a service that provides college advising to high

Wake Up and Smell The Privilege: It’s time for UNC Students to Step Up Political Activism


I’ve heard from a sparse few conservative Christian friends at UNC that they feel uncomfortable expressing their views of same-sex marriage at UNC because of the criticisms they often face for such views.

Hearing that should give you the idea that the majority of UNC students are beacons of hope for progressive change! So if there was some hypothetical march against a ban on a housing option that would protect LGBT students, or a different hypothetical weekly multi-thousand person protest against discriminatory conservative politics in the neighboring state capital, surely UNC students would be turning out in droves, right?

So then why do I keep seeing the same familiar faces, hearing the same familiar voices, talking with the same familiar people? Where are my Tar Heel comrades when people’s rights are on the line?

 I don’t really care for politics.

What will my friends think if I get involved?

Well I’d go but there’s a new episode of Gossip Girl tonight.

I don’t know anyone going anyway…

I just don’t want to look silly chanting across the quad.

I don’t know enough about it to really get involved so I’ll sit this one out.

 Let’s face it – the dirty truth, the ugly buzzword that makes so many people groan when they hear it: UNC students are, on average, incredibly privileged. We are mostly white, from affluent, middle to upper class backgrounds. We had the resources to score in the top percentiles on the SAT, and 97 percent of us graduated in the top 25 percent of our graduating high school classes. We either have families that can pay for our rising tuition costs, or we had the opportunity to engage in as many superfluous extracurricular activities we could to grasp that coveted scholarship.

We have a reputation for being one of the most well known progressive, left-leaning universities in the South, yet the majority of UNC students will not engage in any form of public political activism.

Why? Because they don’t have to. So many of us are by-and-large unaffected by much of the discriminatory legislation coming out of Raleigh this year. For the many who – whether they want to or not – benefit from this kind of inequality, it can actually be felt as a burden to become actively involved.

And I’m sympathetic. It can be difficult to become actively involved, especially when you aren’t exposed to the problems being addressed or don’t much about the clubs that work to address those problems. But we need active involvement. Because the wonderful part of having privilege is also having the ability to bring change. The people making decisions for our nation, state, city and university will not always listen to the disenfranchised because they often benefit from disenfranchisement. But they will listen to the privileged.

UNC students, your privilege is not a bad thing. It is not something that must be apologized for because nobody can control what privilege they’re born with any more than they can control what privilege they are born without.

But it’s time to recognize that our privilege is making us apathetic. Facebook slacktivism and Daily Tar Heel reposts help with awareness but they aren’t the public activism we need to foster real change. Step outside the cushioned privileged comfort zone. You could learn a lot from it!

 (Updated) This article is an editorial based in part of reporting done by Ina Kosova about student activism at UNC. Both were originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s Winter 2013 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

Big guns on campus


Have a concealed carry permit? As of Oct. 1 you can now have a gun on campus — but only in a very specific location.

House Resolution 937, passed on July 29 by the North Carolina state legislature, allows permit holders who own handguns to store their weapons in closed compartments of locked vehicles on campus. The National Rifle Association called HR 937 “the most comprehensive pro-gun reform bill…since 1995.” Firearms will now be allowed in previously prohibited locations including concerts, movies, sporting events, bars, restaurants, public parks, and during parades, protests, and funerals. The law passed in the face of significant opposition from UNC system officials and campus police. Eleven of 17 UNC student governments signed a petition opposing the law in July and the Lambden Administration is vocally opposed to the bill, arguing that it jeopardizes student safety.

While HR 937 expands the limits of concealed carry, it is supposedly designed to be specific enough to avoid threatening campus safety. Unlike other public North Carolina universities, as a dry campus, UNC does not allow open containers or alcohol consumption while tailgating, preventing a large tailgating atmosphere that could threaten campus safety under the new law. State Senator Dan Blue was reportedly “incredulous” that the bill would allow firearms at “hotly contested athletic events,” which could include tailgating before a game.  UNC Department of Public Safety’s Randy Young agrees that UNC’s dry tailgating restrictions might mitigate a potentially dangerous situation, but stated “We don’t see how the introduction of firearms into any alcoholic environment is a good idea.”

Local bars and restaurants can prohibit firearms on their premises and the use of a firearm while under the influence is still illegal in North Carolina. DPS plans to introduce signage on campus to remind students that concealed handguns become illegal as soon as they are removed from locked vehicles. While UNC has not yet updated their website to reflect the new law, DPS sent out an Alert Carolina message and conducted interviews with local publications to raise student awareness about the implications of the new law.

According to Young, HR 937 makes it difficult for campus police, who are trained in less lethal defense techniques, such as the use of nightsticks, to act in a shooter situation. In a statement released in April, Chief Jeff B. McCracken, Director of Public Safety argued that the law could increase the frequency of break-ins and “would actually make colleges and universities less safe.” Shelby Hudspeth, UNC Student Body Executive Director of State and External Affairs said that student government feels that the law is not in the interests of the greater student body despite the fact that some students on campus safely and responsibly register for permits.

“I don’t think it will have a significant impact on the student body at UNC — I just can’t imagine many students here being permit holders,” said Stephanie Milam, Vice President of the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club. Milam maintains that the law makes life easier for those students who have permits by allowing them to cross University property while legally carrying a gun. She argues that there are misconceptions about those who exercise their 2nd amendment rights and that going through the permit process is not easy (see box).

Though significant attention has been drawn to the law’s expansion of concealed carry, HR 937 also streamlines the permit process and limits the ability of the state to deny permits to potential applicants. In June, pro-gun legislators failed in their attempt to revoke the requirement of any permit to purchase a handgun, but passed revisions making the permit process easier for applicants.  The new law, as outlined by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, demands stringent revocation requirements for permit holders who are later prohibited from purchasing a firearm, a new reporting process for records of those denied permits to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System, and confidentiality for permit applicants. Applicants may now apply for an unlimited number of permits, each only for a $5 fee. “I personally feel that it is an individual’s personal prerogative to decide whether or not they try to obtain a concealed carry permit,” Hudspeth said. “However, in light of recent events, I think that easing the [obtainment process] of concealed carry permits, though it will increase the number of people legally carrying guns, is a risky move.”

The law reduces the penalty on permit holders carrying firearms on posted property or while under the influence from a Class 2 to a Class 1 misdemeanor. The law also changes the standards of mental health assessment for people previously denied permits on the grounds of mental incapacity or illness who attempt to re apply and improves the report of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System from 90 days to within 48 hours. However, anti-gun advocates will be happy to note that the law does establish a new method to revoke carry permits for those who fail to meet permit requirements.

 “I generally feel safe on UNC’s campus, but I’m sure students at Virginia Tech felt safe as well,” Milam said. “[Permit holders] never want to need their guns or face the possibility of shooting another human being to protect oneself or a loved one, but it’s a responsibility they accept when they decide to own a firearm.”

Whether HR 937 will have an impact on student safety is unclear, and DPS reports that so far there have been no enforcement problems. Across the nation, the concept of concealed carry carries strong emotional responses to the idea of personal protection, especially in a decade of too-numerous school shootings. While many argue that laws like HR 937 could prevent such tragedies, a 2012 Mother Jones study showed that only 1.6 percent of mass shootings were ended by armed civilians, and the few that did involved off duty police officers. “I don’t believe if a shooter were to come on campus [students and faculty] having guns in their cars is going to deter them,” said Young.

  This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s Winter 2013 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

photo by Hannah Nemer

Anti-Apartheid, Activism, Apathy: The Evolution of Student Activism on Campus


On Apr. 4, 1968, Mary Ellen Lane and Joe Shedd, co-chairs of the Campus Y, expressed the following in a memorandum to their members: “Many people are disturbed, but they are disturbed by the same basic problem. Individual energies are spent on individual issues. The search must begin to find common ground for common action.”

 The sentiment expressed by Lane and Shedd in 1968 is just as applicable to 2013. In 1968, “the same basic problem” centered on the unilateral, often arbitrary decisions made by the administration on issues affecting student life. These included the speaker ban, a board created by the administration to handle drug violations that violated due process, and the unequal enforcement of liquor regulations where women were concerned.

 Today, with campus installments like the Pit Preacher, there is no speaker ban. A student run Honor System now exists to protect a student’s basic rights. And, for the most part, alcohol regulation no longer discriminates based upon sex.

 But campus today does face other issues. These include tuition hikes, abominably low rates of minority male retention and the underfunding of liberal arts, among others.

 Nor have campus organizations historically dealt exclusively with campus issues. Student groups have dealt with local, state, federal, and global concerns, tackling the issue of segregation, the Vietnam War, and the draft. Today, student groups have focused their energies on Voter ID laws, contraception, gun laws, income inequality, and the environment.

But while the availability of issues on which to focus is exhaustive, there seems to have been a perceptible shift in the effectiveness of student activism. As the number of student organizations on campus has increased, the effectiveness of activism seems to have diminished. Historically, there exist two case studies for student activism: the Campus Y and the Anti-Apartheid Support Group.

 Campus Y

 The Campus Y began as both the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Young Men’s Christian Association, two organizations that existed independently of each other. However, in 1953, the University administration called for the consolidation of the YM-YWCA in order to ensure that it was “broad and wide enough for all students.” Within a decade, the newly consolidated Campus Y was well on its way to a reputation for radical action.

 On Aug. 29, 1966, Campus Y presidents Jonathan Gibson and Peggy Paul posed the following question to their members: “How shall we deal with the problems and questions of poverty, war and peace, civil rights, the secularization of religion, urbanization and automation, domestic and local politics, higher education…?” The Y felt it its role, if not to find solutions to these problems, then to support and provide students with the necessary tools to actively search for solutions.

 From 1968 to 1969, new committees were formed within the Y that included those working with refugees from Resurrection City, a promotion of NSA Time-Out Day, organization of a debate between a DOW chemical recruiter and a political science professor, and lectures on Saigon political prisoners. These new committees were created to complement the main focus areas of the Y: race relations and traditional service.

 The Y took an especially active role in the area of race relations in the 60’s and 70’s. The Y helped found and then supported the Scholarship Information Center, a student group that focused on making scholarship information more widely available to minorities. It also supported Upward Bound and the Carolina Talent Search. The Y’s involvement in the Carolina Talent Search was an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the university administration in encouraging African American enrollment in the University. The Carolina Talent Search sought to recruit black students to Carolina given that “less than one percent of the student body at a state University is Negro is illustrative of the need to make ‘equal opportunity’ a reality.” The Y then established a Racial Dialogue Committee in an effort to bring white and African American students together for the discussion of race relations. In May 1968, it hosted Reverend Gladstone Ntlabati to speak on “The Black Revolution in South Africa,” at a time when apartheid was still the norm and University investments in South African companies had reached six million dollars.

 Tide Change

 The Campus Y today is no longer the flagship, umbrella organization for minority issues on campus and seems to have reverted back to its traditional purpose: service. Had other organizations picked up where the Y left off, this would not pose a problem. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

 On Sep. 17, 2013, the UNC Office of Institutional Research and Assessment published a report that included a disturbing statistic: in the class of 2017, 1,054 white males are enrolled as compared to the 98 black males enrolled. This reinforced the alarm raised by a 2010 study that placed UNC’s four-year graduation rate of black males at 49.2 percent. It is clear that action is needed. The question is, who is responsible for the activism?

 Tafadzwa Matika, a UNC student researching male minority retention, explains that the University reaches minority students in two ways: “touch points” and “direct contact points.” Touch points are broad-based and not specifically targeted at minority students; the University cannot keep track of the ways in which these touch points interact with minority students. Direct contact points, on other hand, are specifically targeted at minority students and monitored by the University. These include programs like the Carolina Millennial Scholars Program, which seeks to create a network of support for minority students.

 While research and activism in minority retention does not appear to be lacking, Matika does recognize “the need for central coordination” in order to “avoid redundancy and to bring clarity to different organizations.”

 Anti-Apartheid Support Group

 In 1983, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) formed on campus in an attempt to unite UNC students around the issue of divestment. PIRG demanded that the University divest the endowment from U.S. companies operating in South Africa.

 In Feb. 1983, PIRG organized a campus-wide referendum, with students voting 3,313 to 1,891 for divestment. At the time the referendum was held, the University held investments in 12 U.S. corporations operating in South Africa, from Colgate-Palmolive Co. to General Motors Corp.

 The Board of Trustees, pressured to put the issue up for a vote, voted against divestment on Apr.25, 1983 and John A. Tate, chairman of the Board of Trustees stated to the media: “the primary charge of the Endowment Trustees is to maximize risk-adjusted investment returns for the charitable purposes of the university community, and we do not think divestiture is consistent with that responsibility.”

 The issue persisted and in 1985, divestiture activism was united under the Anti-Apartheid Support Group (AASG), which became a University-recognized student organization. The efforts of AASG peaked in 1986, after the Endowment Board rejected another proposal in April to divest. Immediately following this vote, members of AASG and other Carolina students staged a two-hour sit in in South building. Six shacks were also built on the main quad, between Wilson library and South Building, and remained up for three weeks. The shacks were meant to mimic a shantytown and included the sign: “Oppose Apartheid, Welcome to Soweto, N.C.”

 After a series of rallies, sit-ins, and speeches, the AASG disbanded in 1987, having completed its mission once the Board of Trustees voted in Oct. 1987 to divest all of its holdings from companies operating in South Africa.


It is difficult to point to campus organizations today that have mobilized enough students to prompt action by the administration.

 However, while this certainly does pose a concern, perhaps the relative ineffectiveness of recent activism has more to do with the context in which it is taking place. AASG’s divestment movement fed into a movement that was already taking place on campuses across the United States, such as at UPenn and Yale. It fed into a sentiment that had already been expressed, often strongly, by students and activists around the country.

The most relevant parallel to be drawn to the Divest from Apartheid movement is the Divest from Coal movement on UNC’s campus, led by the Beyond Coal Campaign. On Sept. 25, 2013, members of the Beyond Coal campaign presented to UNC’s Board of Trustees Finance and Infrastructure Committee, urging the university to divest its holdings from coal. The Committee rejected Beyond Coal’s recommendation for an exploratory working committee whose role would be to develop divestment strategies.

It took the University four years, prompted by the Anti-Apartheid Support Group, to divest from apartheid; the rejection by the Board of Trustees of the proposal to divest from coal is simply the beginning of this campaign.

This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s Winter 2013 issue.  For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!

Board of Trustees Committee Considers Moving ‘Beyond Coal’


In the rise of “slacktivism” via passive link-sharing and status-posting, true campaigning has become somewhat scarcer. At Carolina, however, this image is not completely accurate. UNC Beyond Coal, an active group on campus, seeks to ensure UNC stops investing any of its endowment in the coal industry. Created two years ago, its methods of activism and themes of social justice harken back to direct action in the age before Buzzfeed articles. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a new member of this campaign.

UNC Beyond Coal is not the first divestment campaign to exist on campus. In the 1980s, a group called for divestment from companies operating in South Africa during the apartheid regime. After several years of speeches, sit-ins, and collaboration with the Board of Trustees, this movement led to successful divestiture in 1987. Five years ago in 2008, UNC divested from companies compliantly operating in Sudan during its period of genocide.

Members of the UNC Beyond Coal campaign recognize this similarity and look to the members of this previous movement for inspiration. During the presentation to the Board of Trustees committee, junior Tait Chandler declared, “We have stood up against injustice before and we have an opportunity to do it again,” in reference to these events.

The current movement, like the South African divestment initiative, includes themes of pressing social issues and human rights. In addition, both campaigns are student-developed, student-led, and fueled by student support. Even the timelines look similar in the sense that both campaigns drummed up support for several years before achieving an audience with the Board of Trustees to discuss the endowment.

Nonetheless, the path to divestment is now much more complicated than it was in years past due to complexities in its supervision from co-mingled funds to inclusion of other universities to increased division of its management.

The strategies used by the two initiatives also differ in image. The campaign from the 80s engaged in far more nonviolent direct action tactics such as fasts, arrests, and the construction of shantytowns. The UNC Beyond Coal movement forgoes radical or unprofessional action, instead pursuing avenues through UNC Chapel Hill’s administration. By comparing to the South Africa campaign, members of UNC Beyond Coal have decided which actions to take and which ones to avoid.

Furthermore, UNC-Chapel Hill was far from the first university to disinvest in South Africa. Other higher educational institutions divested in South African-affiliated companies beginning in 1978. Beyond Coal is, however, a leader in the push for coal divestment. In the fall of 2012, it was one of five initiatives in the country. Now, there are 308 nationwide campaigns. Although only six other American universities have disinvested their endowment funds from coal to date, UNC Beyond Coal members hope that this is a chance for UNC to continue in a tradition of leadership.

The endowment, made up mostly by donations, and its managers currently operate with little transparency, investing in various stocks that comprise a portfolio. There is, however, good reason to assume money goes towards “the filthy fifteen,” a group of coal mining and burning companies with whom we have relations. Duke Energy, which employed Governor Pat McCrory for 29 years and which supplies energy to most of North Carolina, is listed among these.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, sophomore Anurag Angara, junior Tait Chandler, and junior Jasmine Ruddy presented the case for coal divestment to the Board of Trustees Finance and Infrastructure Committee. Chandler called divestment an “opportunity for Carolina to continue to be a leader in sustainability among universities across the country.”  The group spoke for fifteen minutes, proposing a working group of various university constituencies to further research the feasibility of coal divestment before presenting its findings to the full Board of Trustees in March.

The committee’s Chair Steve Lerner supported the students’ proposal, but he expressed hesitance in assuming the working group would definitely lead to divestment, saying, “It’s really a complex issue.” The committee, which included Student Body President Christy Lambden, was receptive to the proposal in general, but wanted a clear definition of what it would entail. Chancellor Folt, who also attended, noted, “Before you start a working group, you have to have clarity on the charge.”

The committee also expressed uncertainty about a presentation to the Board of Trustees in the spring in case research was still incomplete. Lambden, who supported the movement during his campaign, pushed back when a member proposed holding off on any definitive action. He stated to the rest of the committee, “Certainly, we are in a position today where we can recommend a working group.” In the end, the committee decided to support formation of a working group to research the viability of divestiture without any strings or deadlines attached.

UNC Beyond Coal members, who have worked for their cause for two years, are considering this pivotal moment a victory. As the presenters explained to the Board of Trustees committee, the cause for coal divestment has both economic and moral justifications. Angara explains, “The most compelling reason to divest from coal as a public university is that the true cost of coal is 170 percent its retail value, which is shouldered by tax payers and detracts from the affordability and academic value of UNC.” Additionally, the Aperio Group found that the added risk to a portfolio would be one half of a thousandth of a percent by divesting from coal.

Additionally, UNC Beyond Coal members contend that coal investment is becoming increasingly risky due to more and more stringent environmental regulations that limit its production. In the past two years, 120 of the former 520 operating American coal plants were shut down because they did not meet these new standards. Ruddy acknowledges that those managing the endowment are professionals with regard to investment, but adds, “We’re concerned that we’re not going to get out before it’s too late.”

From a medical standpoint, the group argues, coal causes various health issues over its lifespan, from the mining process to burning to disposal. Because it is the most carbon-intensive of fossil fuels, coal burning also produces the most carbon dioxide, which fuels climate change. This leads into a moral issue, UNC Beyond Coal members argue; by investing in coal, the university is financially supporting these negative health consequences.

By making claims about the morality and justifiability of coal investment versus scientific observations only, the UNC Beyond Coal campaign has made this a social issue versus simply an environmental one. Sophomore Jack Largess states, “For me, coal is a social justice issue in addition to being an environmental issue. It’s not only about environmental degradation and it’s not about pretending that divestment is going to make them mine or burn less coal. It’s about standing in solidarity with the people whose lives are hurt by these companies.”

To show student support of this dual issue, the group has already collected over 4,000 student signatures for its petition in support of coal divestment. In a referendum last year, 77 percent of the student body voted in favor of divestment. Ruddy, as the Grassroots Coordinator for the group, spends a lot of time developing new ways to involve diverse members of the UNC student body. “Sometimes I like to think of this campaign as a second major,” she quips.


Anita Simha is a new member of the Beyond Coal campaign. She has been wary of coal since regretfully receiving it for Christmas during early childhood.