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Campus Y celebrates 150-year anniversary of promoting social justice at UNC

Members celebrate social activism

Sophomore business major Jess Hetzel (left) and sophomore international studies major Mitali Dayal participate in Chalking Sidewalks.
Sophomore business major Jess Hetzel (left) and sophomore international studies major Mitali Dayal participate in Chalking Sidewalks.

The Oct. 15 weekend was an early homecoming for generations of Campus Y members young and old.

Through dinners, discussions and documentary screenings, more than 400 people converged on the Campus Y building to celebrate 150 years of promoting social justice.

“Learning our past helps us have a more collective identity,” said Elizabeth McCain, co-president of the Campus Y. “It helps us realize where we need to put ourselves in the future.”

Many of the alumni, who were at the forefront of causes such as desegregation, civil rights, women’s equality, environmental rights and Vietnam War protests, exchanged stories and advice for the future of the Campus Y’s agenda.

UNC alumnus and Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, who graduated in 1993, helped expand UNC’s recycling program through his involvement with the Campus Y.

“The Y opened my eyes to other environmental and social issues,” he said. “It turned me into a student activist.”

He said he was pleased to see that the organization’s direction as a social movement is still defined by students and that the environmental issues are still important today.

For other alumni, the event was an opportunity to reunite with old friends.

“Everything fell back in line the way things were 20 years ago,” said alumna Denise Young. “I met some of my best friends here at the Campus Y, and being together again brings me the sweetest memories.”

Young was part of the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education, which is associated with the Campus Y, and said her involvement molded her career as director of education programs at Morehead Planetarium.

One of the events gave attendees the chance to discuss social issues with community leaders.

“One of the most important conversations we can have are the ones that can guide us to do a better job in the community and get community support,” said Richard Harrill, director of the Campus Y.

Another discussion featured a panel of community leaders, including Michelle Cotton Laws, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.

Laws said student-led protests on behalf of civil rights influenced her decision to further pursue that cause in her post-collegiate career. Both she and Dear encouraged students to continue to take responsibility for the fight for social issues.

“We need activists, young people who want to change the world,” he said.

Freshman Paige Holmes said the conversations with alumni and community leaders encouraged her to become involved in community and campus issues.

“Their memories are meshing with ours, and we are linked with them in helping others,” she said. “They give us advice from their experiences and inspire us to stay active, but we can also inspire them with our own ways to tackle community and global issues.”

Virginia Carson, former director of the Campus Y, stressed the constant nature of the organization.

“The Y hasn’t changed,” she said. “Issues of the day come and go, but the heart and essence of the Y stays the same.”

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