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The Daily Tar Heel

Carolina Pulse looks to increase participation

The final event of the semester focused on ways to improve.

UNC student Keelon Dixon discusses social media anonymity with other  students at the Carolina Conversations panel on Tuesday evening.
UNC student Keelon Dixon discusses social media anonymity with other students at the Carolina Conversations panel on Tuesday evening.

Freshman Morgan Howard, who has been to all three Carolina Conversations events, has seen fewer people come each time.

“Even though the conversations are great and people will say, ‘Oh, I loved it,’ they won’t come back,” Howard said. “The same people show up, and then you have people who just walk in for free food, but we aren’t getting people who wouldn’t otherwise come to something like this.”

The Carolina Pulse event invited students to reflect on previous discussions and broader campus climate at the last of the year Wednesday.

Students at the event said incorporating student leaders and prominent on-campus organizations would increase attendance.

Kyle Villemain, former student body vice president, said he hopes this event will spark next steps for Carolina Conversations. The program will continue next year, though the future structure will be determined by student feedback from Wednesday’s event.

Bobby Kunstman, senior associate director of student life and leadership at the Union, said he believes Carolina Conversations creates a legitimate, formal space for difficult discussions.

“People don’t feel they have permission to engage in difficult conversations,” he said. “Giving them a formal space like this gives people permission to open up in a safe space to share what they feel are some of the biggest problems on campus.”

Few students came out to the event. The event started later than planned as the hosts recruited students who were passing through the Union to participate and partake in the free food. In total, around two dozen students participated.

While students at Wednesday’s meeting said they appreciate the formal space, they said these conversations are already happening on campus in student-led spaces.

“It’s easier to have the understanding and empathy gap bridged when listening to stories from fellow students,” said sophomore Andrew McGee.

Villemain asked for input on how to get higher turnout. Students said making the events mandatory or providing extra credit for some classes would incentivize participation and carry the conversation into an academic setting.

“When something big happens, you spent the whole night watching the news and on Twitter and even crying to friends, and then you get to class and it’s the elephant in the room, and it’s like, ‘Oh well I guess it’s not that important to these people,’” sophomore Imani Brown said.

Villemain said he hopes student leaders will step up next year and take into account this feedback.

“We are always going to need these conversations,” said Villemain, who helped start the program. “We are a big, diverse university, and there will always be problems. Now we have a mechanism for addressing these issues regularly and as they come up.”

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