Equality has no boundaries, and it showed on Friday night.
Before the meet between the Carolina gymnastics team and N.C. State began, the iconic black and white Nike video “Equality has no boundaries” played across the screen in Carmichael Arena. Audience members of all ages stared at the screen. Some wore rainbow shirts while others held mu flags. Representatives from the UNC Black Student Movement, the UNC American Indian Center and the LGBTQ+ community were in attendance, scattered throughout the arena.
Friday night marked UNC’s Diversity and Inclusion meet — one of its most powerful meets of the year.
“Equality means any person, regardless of their gender, ethnic background, race or sexual orientation, any person should be respected and treated and valued in whatever they pursue,” head coach Derek Galvin said. “The message from Chancellor Folt during the time she’s been here within this community is that Carolina takes pride in the fact that this is a community where diversity is valued, and people are treated equally for the most part.”
The Tar Heels (4-2, 1-1 EAGL) won three out of the four events, but ultimately lost to the Wolfpack (5-1, 2-0 EAGL) 195.200-194.650. UNC posted 12 top-three finishes across all four events, but none of that mattered.
“We embrace the beauty of diversity,” Galvin said. “The more we talk about it, hopefully the more accepting people will be.”
The Tar Heel gymnasts ran out one-by-one during introductions, sporting black t-shirts with a simple phrase written in white, bold lettering — Equality. Their leotards had rainbow hearts on the back. That night, they competed in solidarity for the importance of diversity and inclusion, the importance of loving each other.
“We do it every year, and I think it’s the best meet of the year,” junior Khazia Hislop said. “The themes behind it and the fact that we’re doing it in North Carolina is really big to me because I’m from the North, so it’s very different. I really love that we have this big theme behind us that everybody is on board with.”
The widespread love and support for each other was visible in each routine. During floor, the Tar Heels lined up alongside the mat as each of their six competitors performed, dancing along to different parts of the routines. Various cheers echoed throughout the night, and the smiles and laughter were contagious.
“It’s sometimes hard, and you’ll get distracted by the other team and what’s going on around you,” Hislop said. “Now, when we go to every event, I feel like the whole team is there with you, and we’re together, really doing that event as one whether you’re actually doing the gymnastics or not.”
One routine in particular brought the fans in the arena to their feet, eliciting cheers from the students and dancing in the aisles from the children.
“This year, for my last year, I wanted something Carolina-y so the 'Jump Around' music is that aspect of it,” senior Madison Hargrave said. “I love getting the crowd involved, and my teammates love it.”
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter about the gymnastics. Although the team reflected on different moves that needed more practice and routines that needed tweaking, all that mattered was the message the gymnasts hoped the audience took away from the meet.
“People have many talents — writing, music, intellectual pursuits — and for someone to be disregarded or not valued simply because they don’t look the same as someone else is a message that we shouldn’t be teaching our children because if we do, we’re shortchanging everybody’s experience,” Galvin said. “There are so many talents and resources that we can all provide depending upon what we’ve been gifted or blessed with."
The Tar Heels aim to use each meet to convey a different message. Their first home meet was the Women’s Equality and Pink meet. Friday night was Diversity and Inclusion. UNC’s final two home meets will focus on mental health awareness and honoring first responders and campus security staff, along with the team’s seniors. It’s all part of the experience that Galvin wants his team to have.
“I don’t want them to look back on their experience here at Carolina and say ‘Yeah, I practiced really hard, and I did my sport and I went to my class,’” Galvin said. “They don’t have as much free time to be involved in the community, although they do a lot, but I want them when they look back on their experience to remember that they stood up when they wore those equality t-shirts and rainbow leotards, and they made a statement about what they value.”
“Maybe that’ll make it a little easier in their experience in their life after Carolina to stand up and not be afraid to do the right thing or say the right thing.”