Today is my last day as a co-president of the Campus Y, and as such I’ve decided to write at least one column that fully embraces the conflict of interest my position might represent while I still have it. It’s garishly self-indulgent to write a newspaper column about the end of a one-year student leadership position. That anyone would be so brazen is shocking, and that I’m that anyone should be mortifying. Nonetheless I make no apologies for my litany of sins against taste, and I can only promise that if you read this column it will be as vulgarly self-important and overlong as you assume.
Self-congratulation from a high horse might seem obviously within the wheelhouse of any Campus Y co-president, but it’s a tricky maneuver to effusively praise an institution that even Anne Queen, perhaps the most beloved person to ever lead the Y in any capacity, damningly called “lily white.” That was true in the 1960s and 1970s and it would certainly not be an unfair criticism today. Despite stated commitments to social justice and an open community based in pluralism, the Campus Y as a student organization often fails to provide students of color a home on campus. This failure has only been exacerbated by an occasional tendency to co-opt broader student movements rather than support and enrich them, and like most historically white organizations over 150 years old, we rarely discuss the worst parts of our institutional past, probably to our detriment.
We have also, at times, failed our own membership. We are undeniably a hierarchical organization, and with so many members we rarely fulfill the kind of radical transparency to which we should aspire. As a co-president, I personally have almost certainly been dismissive, rude or generally snide to Campus Y members in a space, and position, that requires empathetic listening. It would also be fair to refer to me at various times during my co-presidential reign as unresponsive, underprepared, undercooked, too ridiculous, slovenly, a trash bag full of Jell-O and overconfident. There’s so much I’m leaving unfinished, and so little that I feel I affirmatively accomplished, that it feels a little unfair to leave it all behind to the incoming co-presidents Alli and Jessica. Luckily, I have complete confidence that they will do so much more than they ever thought possible, with the assistance of a department staff that I have come to deeply cherish as advisers, coworkers and friends.
Even with so much left to do, I can say without any doubt that working in the Y, both as a Bonner Leader and as a co-president, has been the single most significant part of my time at my UNC. Nowhere else have I felt as certain about the value of my work or the fundamental importance of the organization I’m working to support. In the face of my strongest tendencies toward sarcasm, I have a completely sincere belief that the Y must continue to be a central institution on UNC’s campus.
No other institution at UNC could have so formatively shaped how I understand community, responsibility and justice, but more importantly, there only a few other spaces as interested in doing the necessary work of service, activism, and critique as the Campus Y. This work has only grown more important under our University’s and State’s stagnant leadership, and the Campus Y faces active neglect from much of UNC’s administration, many of whom seem generally more interested in undermining student movements than supporting student service.