And for LGBT students, that last fear can feel exacerbated.
High school senior Jason Gershgorn, who will attend UNC in the fall, said he’s gone on unofficial websites like College Confidential as well as official UNC Facebook groups, such as the Class of 2019 group, to peg the LGBT atmosphere.
Though he comes from New York, a fairly liberal state, Gershgorn said he wasn’t too concerned to move to the South.
The incoming freshman said Gershgorn took comfort in the knowledge that gay marriage is now legal in North Carolina after a judge ruled the practice constitutional in October.
“I knew going in that Chapel Hill was pretty liberally minded,” Gershgorn said.
Perhaps a bluer spot in a sea of red, Chapel Hill means something different for each individual.
Freshman Hannah Hodge, who prefers non-gender-specific pronouns, grew up in Chapel Hill. They thought the LGBT scene at UNC would be a little more progressive than they found it.
In the University’s 2011 campus climate survey of 416 people, only 51.4 percent identified as heterosexual. The survey also found that 41 percent of LGBT-identifying participants hid their sexual orientation from a peer or colleague.
“I came from Chapel Hill High and it is incredibly liberal, diversity is very celebrated,” said Hodge, who began dating their partner soon after starting UNC.
“It didn’t seem unfriendly here, but everything seemed so homogenous. You really have to look for the queer community; once you find it’s very inviting and accepting, but it’s not very visible.”
Senior Charlotte Parrott, who identifies as LGBT, came from a large public high school in Charlotte. For Parrott, the openness of LGBT students on campus took some adjusting to, but was also validating.
“To see that other people were doing these things and were not ashamed of it, and were actively pursuing people this way with the same confidence that heteronormative couples were doing, that was refreshing; that was useful for me,” she said.
Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) Co-President Mitchell McAllister said he doesn’t hear from incoming students too often before they start attending UNC, possibly because they don’t know where to look or don’t know SAGA’s name.
He said there is an LGBT-friendly event during Week of Welcome, and the first SAGA meeting tends to see a lot of first-years in attendance, McAllister said.
For Hodge, meeting other queer-identifying people in their dorm, and later joining St. Anthony Hall, a coed art and literary fraternity, helped expand their network of friends.
What can’t be found on-campus might be found online — Hodge acknowledged social media as a helpful dating tool for queer women in particular, naming OkCupid as a commonly used forum.
Hodge says the advice they would give incoming LGBT freshman is not very different from advice they would give anyone coming to school — meet as many people as you can, join clubs and be open to checking out different activities.
“Once you plug into that community, it grows bigger and bigger,” Hodge said.