The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Student role as agent of change

On Sept. 10th, 1992, hundreds of students marched to South Building to deliver a letter to then Chancellor Paul Hardin demanding that the University establish a freestanding Black Cultural Center on campus.

After months of organizing by students and community members, the University gave in and established a committee to find the space. In 2004, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History finally opened its doors.

Within this and other celebrated narratives of activism at UNC, we witness an essential role of students as effective political agents of change.

In the past few years in North Carolina, we’ve seen the rise of regressive political forces hostile to public education.

In response to this changing climate and recent painful budget cuts, students across the state are mobilizing a grassroots movement: N.C. Student Power Union.

It is inspired by global student movements, like the successful Quebec student protests that engaged thousands and won a yearlong battle against tuition increases.

Student Power advocates for increased transparency and public input in the Board of Governors’ decision-making process and affordable and accessible public education.

UNC’s Student Power branch is also organizing around demands for the University to establish gender nonspecific housing on campus and divest from coal.

These demands are urgent and tangible, but the pursuit of building a student movement is founded within timeless beliefs: Our education is not complete without its deliberate reinvestment in our communities. We owe something to one another and to those who will inherit the University after us.

We are not novel in this pursuit.

Every day we step in the footprints of ordinary students who sat in the street to stop basketball game traffic and faced arrest to demand Chapel Hill businesses to integrate.

At the edge of McCorkle Place, just touching Franklin Street, stands the monument erected to honor students who organized against the speaker ban to defend the freedom of a radical historian to speak on campus: “I hope history will record that the student body did not shy away from this challenge, but firmly and responsibly met it head on.”

UNC has always been imperfect. But the pursuit of betterment, the contending of our “ dark base ” that Paul Green warned against and impassioned calls for the University to act courageously in the moment — these legacies have defined the UNC we know and love.

Students today should know they too have the right and the responsibility to critically question what they would like to see change at UNC.

Students possess the immense power and liberty to enact the University we seek.

If history is any indication, we were never meant to be satisfied to solely sit quietly in classrooms. The role of the student has always been, and always will be, to rise.

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