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Student Advisory Committee, Carol Folt discuss first Carolina Conversation event

Chancellor Carol Folt entered her meeting with the Student Advisory Committee on Friday feeling tired. 

"It's a mixed tired," Folt said. "It's a tired of real happiness because I think we've done some amazing things this week. But I think, as I've heard some people say at Carolina Conversation, I'm a little tired that I'm still having some of the same talks we've had at this school for 40 years."

The advisory committee spent the meeting discussing the new Carolina Conversations program, gauging the success of its first event, Carolina Pulse, held Monday.

Carolina Conversations, announced last week, is a way for students and the administration to engage with each other about issues such as race, identity, politics, religion, culture and intellectual diversity. 

Striking a tone

Student leaders said the Carolina Pulse event felt like an educational meeting rather than a space to share their concerns.

"It's like you go into this space expecting to talk about what it means to be a black student at UNC, and then you hear people trying to argue that racism doesn't exist," said Merrick Osborne, Carolina Union Activities Board president-elect.

Dinesh McCoy said he felt the event could use a balance between education and discussion.

"It’s an interesting dynamic to have this be an educational opportunity for these topics, but for some students it’s more trying to educate people on the pain they feel in the face of these issues," McCoy said. "We need to talk about the respect that must be given to this type of pain. How do we make sure it doesn’t feel like we are questioning those people’s experiences?”

Folt said she was still trying to find the proper moderation style for these conversations so they are safe spaces while still challenging students' perspectives.

Fostering activist culture 

Cecilia Polanco spoke about creating a school-sanctioned rally where student groups can voice their issues in mass, much like the Historic Thousands on Jones Street march that takes place in Raleigh annually. 

"We have these conversations and students aren’t yelling," Polanco said. "We need an open space, maybe on Hooker Field, where people can just be loud. When you feel the anger coming from someone, when it makes the heat rise to your face and your hair stand on end, it’s a big deal."

Folt recognized the need for students to have a space where they can express their anger before moving to a formal meeting with the administration. She said she was impressed with the passionate speakers at Wednesday's board meeting, but she also appreciates the public displays of frustration that occurred leading up to that meeting.

Taking action

"It's been a very turbulent semester for a lot of people," said Tafadzwa Matika. "This is the first time the board has really considered proposals about Saunders Hall and Silent Sam, and the first proposal on those issues was made in 2000. It creates an antagonistic relationship where people feel like they aren't being heard, or if they are heard, their sentiments are still being ignored."

To address this, Student leaders discussed ways to take action after events like Carolina Pulse. 

Matika suggested adding a feature to the program's website that would track the issues raised by students and the steps taken by the administration or students to address those issues.

Student body vice president Kyle Villemain said he hopes students will take advantage of the comments section on the board's website to use what they talk about in the Carolina Conversations events to shape policy. 

"We want students to use these mechanisms to take control of the conversation,” Villemain said.

Folt said the difficulty in having these intentional conversations is that change often comes slowly. She said it is important to solidify the progress made so far in order to keep momentum going into the fall semester. 

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"I'm wearing Carolina blue today to remind myself how much I love this place," Folt said. "All these things get tested for all of us. The more you care, the more you get tested. The more you take the risks, the more you take the heat. And that gets tiring, but it's ok to be tired."