Last October, I was midway through my first semester of college. I was walking through the Pit when I saw a slew of students holding posters and flyers. One of them was a Black guy wearing a button-down shirt and holding a poster.
I had never seen him before, but he was Black so I signed his petition to be on the Mr. UNC ballot. I didn’t ask what his platform was, and I’m not sure if I even asked for his name. I only voted for him because he, like me, was a Black student at a predominately white institution.
Afterwards, I struggled with my decision. I thought about what “only” voting for him because he was Black meant.
With so many constant reminders of my race and its impact on my life, it can be difficult to navigate. I find that my race has had a pivotal role in how I developed my self-identity and has shaped how I view the world. While in many situations it is significant, race isn’t everything.
I’ve kept the assumption that other Black students also had a wired consciousness of the “Black vs. white” vote, however. In my mind, I thought students — especially Black candidates — may share the same mentality. I figured Black candidates might be reluctant to run or doubtful of their chances due to being minorities. So I asked.
Elton Rodgers, a communications major, is running for Mr. UNC because he knew he wanted to make a significant impact on the community. His passion for community service led him to create “HEEL” Your Mind — an initiative that strives to raise awareness for mental illness. He believes that the campus will choose whoever they see is best fit for the title, regardless of race.
Other candidates, like Megan Stanley, chose to address more specific communities. Stanley, a psychology major, was nervous about how her platform would be received. The basis of her initiative, Showcasing My Identities and Lived Experience, known as SMILE, is diversity and identities.
Although she worried about how people would read the word “race” in her platform, she has been overwhelmed by the support and receptiveness she has received.
Rachel McGirt, a student athlete and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Incorporated, is running for more than herself. McGirt, who transferred to UNC from UNC-Asheville, is running for those who don’t believe they can be successful as a student of color at a PWI, and to show that any student that enters Carolina can be successful.