Long before Carolina Blue evoked thoughts of Kenan Memorial Stadium and the Smith Center at UNC, the school color originated with a campus debate society.
The Dialectic Society, now half of the Dialectic and Philathropic Societies better known as DiPhi, started the tradition when it decided to put light blue ribbons on its diplomas. Two centuries later, this color is trademarked and part of the campus landscape.
Senior Katrina Smith, joint senate president of DiPhi, said the society’s choice of ribbon color was largely due to the limited selection available to universities at the time. North Carolina State University chose pink and blue before opting for red and white years later.
Nicholas Graham, UNC’s archivist, said the colors did not become associated with University athletics until the 1880s and 1890s, when UNC began participating in intercollegiate athletics.
“They were following the lead of other schools, especially Ivy League schools, who had nicknames and had school colors,” Graham said. “So that was around the time that a lot of our traditions on campus emerged.”