The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 20th

Column: Shooting hurts decades later


Jenny Surane is the 2014-15 Editor-in-Chief. She is a senior business journalism major from Cornelius.

When my team and I first started looking into news coverage of the 1995 shooting on Henderson Street, we wondered if there was anything that today’s students could learn from coverage of a 20-year-old tragedy.

As it turns out, we learned quite a bit. And we’re hoping you will, too.

This week, you’ll hear the story of a student who struggled with a dark mental illness.

Before we kick off this series, I thought our readers should know that, for now, Wendell Williamson, the shooter, has not responded to requests for comment via mail. I hand-delivered another letter to the chief medical officer at Central Regional Hospital on Friday, and we still haven’t heard from him. You’ll know as soon as we do.

We’ll spend a lot of time talking about the day he brought a gun to Henderson Street — because his actions on that day ended lives, destroyed families and hurt dozens. That day is the reason Williamson has sat in a state-run mental health facility for two decades.

But there were a lot of days before Jan. 26, 1995. Days Williamson’s classmates, teachers and friends spent agonizing over how to properly treat Williamson and how to talk to him about his demons.

And those are the days we’ll spend the most time unpacking this week.

Twenty years ago, this campus learned the hard way that one of its own could suffer from mental illness, and that illness could turn deadly quickly.

And in many ways, the campus health system is more prepared to identify and treat mental health issues today.

This week, we’ll have experts talk about the progress the University has made and the work it’s still doing to protect students.

Earlier this year, we reported that during the 2013-14 academic year, Counseling and Psychological Services at UNC saw 243 more students for short-term therapy than it did in the previous year — a 4.7 percent increase.

The statistic is representative of a situation that is improving — but slowly.

There’s still a stigma surrounding mental health at UNC, as there is everywhere else. And the services provided by campus health can only work if people feel comfortable enough to use them.

On that front, this campus — and this state — still has a long way to go. Too often, we still brush off each other’s tears in the library as just another exam week meltdown and the regular skipping of class as laziness.

And sometimes that’s what it is. But sometimes it’s something more.

We’re hoping that by plastering this coverage in our pages this week — and you can follow our coverage with the news logo above — that we’ll confront some of that persistent stigma. We’re hoping this coverage will help this campus learn how to talk about stress and illness in productive ways.

We’re hoping we can do our part to make sure something like this never happens again.


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