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Despite rivalry, UNC and Duke students work together to empower community

Only 8 miles of North Carolina roadway separates the UNC and Duke campuses, but the schools’ famous rivalry stretches across the country. It shows itself in Tar Heel spirit stores that sell Duke blue T-shirts with the word “Douche” emblazoned on the front and in Facebook groups with titles like “UNC Sucks – Go Duke” that boast over 13,000 members. 

Despite this rigid sense of competition, the Kenan Biddle Partnership proves that UNC and Duke are not incompatible. 

Founded in 2009, the Kenan Biddle Partnership strives to connect UNC and Duke by awarding $55,000 in grants each year to innovative initiatives led by teams with students from both universities. The UNC Campus Y manages the grant program and distributes funding provided by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

“The philosophy of the Kenan Biddle Partnership is to build collaborative relationships between the campuses through the students, and to do so in a way that has a social impact in those communities,” Campus Y Executive Director Richard Harrill said. “The rivalry aside, there’s something about public benefit, doing good for the community, that brings out a different kind of competition – how we can have a collective impact by partnering together.”

The Bridge, an online publication that aims to provide a safe and creative space for minority women at UNC, Duke and other college campuses across the country, received a $12,000 grant from the Kenan Biddle Partnership in January 2018. 

“By people knowing that we won the Kenan Biddle, we actually got a lot of new members because they knew we had resources to help further their careers and help them be creators,” said Nya Anthony, the UNC Bridge editor-in-chief. “I think that having access to these funds will kind of push the mission of The Bridge a little bit further so we can do more community outreach, more development of our content creators.” 

For Anthony, being selected not only means additional resources for The Bridge, but also the ability to foster a new sense of unity among women of color. 

“It's really interesting because we share a lot of the same experiences, being minority women at (primarily white institutions),” Anthony said. “Of course, there's a sports rivalry, but there's actually a lot of cross-collaboration when it comes to academic and cultural work. Although we are rivals, we are connected.” 

Senior Bronson Boucher is co-president of Dive In: Carolina, another 2017-2018 Kenan Biddle Partnership grantee. The organization provides free swim lessons to children in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“From a very basic standpoint, it’s life-saving skills that they can take to the pool, to the beach, to lakes and really experience those sorts of things in a way that they otherwise may not be able to,” Boucher said. 

Formerly known as Carolina Swim Clinic, Dive In: Carolina was founded as a UNC student organization in 2016. However, after learning about the Kenan Biddle Partnership, the club collaborated with students at Duke in 2018 to create a cohesive, inter-institutional organization. 

“It's improved the experience of the kids. The growth is a big experience, just physically and then the overall feeling of the club,” Boucher said. “We grew into Durham so we’re (in) a whole new location, sort of. They run that operation, but it's our name attached to it, which is very exciting.” 

Despite the newness of Duke’s branch of the organization, Dive In: Durham has still been able to provide its Chapel Hill counterpart with valuable ideas. 

“They’ve introduced new things to us like a walkie-talkie system,” Boucher said. “In Bowman Gray Pool, there's an upper level and there's a lower level, and it’s difficult to communicate sometimes with the people up top when we’re organizing the pool deck and they're checking people in. We've got those walkie-talkies now which were provided by their experience.” 

Although Boucher remains true to UNC – he pointed out that he wears Carolina Blue while his Duke partners wear a darker shade – he believes the Kenan Biddle Partnership is bigger than the UNC-Duke rivalry. 

“We’re really coming together to bring more opportunity to the area, and I think we’ve all had the privilege of having swim lessons and being mentored by somebody who knows how to swim,” Boucher said. “If we can join forces to give back that same sort of notion, I think we’ve done a really good thing that maybe transcends that rivalry.”

As for those considering applying for Kenan Biddle grants, Boucher said students have to be open to new experiences.

“They’re really not that bad over there," Boucher said. "I don't know what they think about us, but it's been a real pleasure working with them and coming together for something bigger than the rivalry.”

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