Editor's note: The Daily Tar Heel delayed publishing this story at the request of the Campus Y over fear of the safety of the organization and its members. This was not intended to downplay the seriousness of the incident, but to prioritize the safety of those involved.
Updated Jan. 29: The suspect in the vandalism of the Campus Y is currently undergoing medical evaluation, Media Relations Manager for UNC Police Kate Maroney said in an email to the DTH Friday.
The suspect will be released to law enforcement officials, and the two arrest warrants will be served at that time, Maroney said.
When baristas opened the Meantime Coffee Company, located on the ground floor of the Campus Y, around 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, all seemed quiet. A few belongings — papers, a saxophone — were scattered around the cafe, but the baristas didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until a member of the Campus Y went upstairs that they realized something was very wrong.
Upstairs, a vandal had draped banisters with white T-shirts emblazoned with a Confederate flag crossed out with a red X, which a member of the Campus Y said she had never seen before. The vandal had also taken down photographs of Black people lining the walls. A cardboard tombstone painted with “Tar Heel Born, now Tar Heel Dead” sat next to a canvas covered with dozens of names in the shape of a Confederate flag.
Inside the Campus Y co-presidents’ office, newspapers had been ripped from the walls, and cans of food had been opened and left on their desks. A shovel leaned against one wall.
After finding the damage upstairs, the baristas and Campus Y members went through the belongings scattered on the ground floor more carefully, finding an identification card, mail and other personal effects.
At first, one of the Meantime baristas said he didn’t think the break-in was a big deal — just typical vandalism. All baristas and Campus Y members interviewed asked for anonymity because the perpetrator is still at large.
“I just kind of blew it off,” he said. “I was like, there's some vandalization, and then it started getting freaky, when you saw a driver's license just put up there and then they discovered his mail right there. And that’s when we were like, there might be stuff downstairs. We went downstairs like an army. We had pepper spray, a pocket knife.”
When they went downstairs to check the basement, they found swastikas drawn on floor stickers used to direct people through the building, and a carefully arranged scene in the women’s bathroom: flowers, a UNC tumbler, a magazine and a paper towel with the message “Correct Any Woman.” The vandal had also written his name and the N-word on a whiteboard.
Upon further inspection, Meantime baristas discovered that 35 W-2 tax forms were stolen, which contain valuable personal information, including employees’ addresses and Social Security numbers.
“Generally, from my experience, the Campus Y is usually safe, so yeah, it came as a shock,” one Meantime barista said. “Especially when none of us noticed anything wrong in the first place.”
This semester, the Campus Y is closed to the public on weekends but is accessible with a valid OneCard from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Meantime is not open on weekends, but the baristas were there Sunday afternoon to train new employees. However, both baristas and Campus Y members pointed out that a door in the basement of the Campus Y doesn’t close all the way.
“Anybody, really, can get in if they know that it’s open,” a Campus Y member said. “We’ve been asking for it to be fixed for a while now.”
After alerting Campus Y staff, Campus Y members decided to call the police, who arrived on the scene. A report provided to The Daily Tar Heel by UNC Police lists incidents of breaking and entering, as well as vandalism and property damage.
Provost Bob Blouin said in a campuswide message Monday that UNC Police along with law enforcement partners have identified a suspect and issued two warrants for the person’s arrest.
“Hateful vandalism is not acceptable anywhere on our campus, but this breach of an established organization that promotes equality and justice is particularly egregious,” Blouin said in the statement.
In an email statement, UNC Media Relations declined to confirm the name of the suspect but stated that the suspect is not in custody at this time.
Police presence and motivation
The Campus Y is located at the heart of UNC’s campus, directly across from the Old Well. Though the Campus Y has existed in some form through YMCA and YWCA chapters, since the 1970s, the organization has served as a hub on campus for social justice and community service, as well as many student groups.
Just a few weeks ago, violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol as members of Congress debated the certification of the 2020 election results. Following the event, the Campus Y released a statement condemning the white supremacist violence displayed at the siege.
“When armed insurrectionists are welcomed into our Capitol while anti-racist Black Lives Matter demonstrators are brutalized, we are confronted with the clearest and most evident display of white privilege and power,” leaders of the Campus Y said in the statement.
A member of the Campus Y told the DTH that she suspects the break-in and vandalism could have been a response to the statement. Campus Y members have faced backlash and threats of harassment from white supremacists in the past, she said.
“This isn’t completely new to us, but it is definitely jarring,” the Campus Y member said.
A Meantime barista said he noticed a UNC Police officer patrolling campus grounds and the Campus Y on the day of the presidential inauguration. The officer informed him that UNC Police had increased staffing due to the potential for far-right groups to gather on UNC’s campus or the Campus Y.
“(The Campus Y) is obviously a prime suspect site for any far-right group, I mean, there’s literally a sign outside that says, ‘White silence is violence,’” the barista said.
Abigail Adams, a first-year student and education chairperson for UNC Hillel, said she wasn’t entirely surprised after hearing about the break-in, largely due to the rise in anti-Semitism she’s seen across college campuses.
“I think that Jewish students across the country, as well as students of color, always have this worry (about safety on campus),” she said.
Adams is working, along with a group of first-years, to potentially host an event for the communities and students targeted by the vandalism to discuss what happened. UNC Hillel is also happy to have conversations with students seeking support, she said.
Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chairperson of UNC’s Department of Psychiatry, said the disruption and stress of the pandemic, political unrest and issues of racism, anti-Semitism and hate groups have contributed to a climate of worsening mental health.
“Given recent events, it is very destabilizing for all of us to have the events at the Capitol. When you feel that something like that hits closer to home — it’s not that people were storming South Building, for example — but it still feels very unsettling, it still feels like an assault,” she said.
Meltzer-Brody emphasized that anyone feeling distressed should reach out to the Department of Psychiatry or other mental health services offered by the University.
Campus Y members said they’re not sure what the next steps might be currently, but their main priority is making sure everyone is safe. Moving forward, they plan to advise members not to come to the building alone, and ask for others to respect the privacy of members. The Meantime is also closed for the remainder of this week.
“Every object that was stolen or defaced can be replaced; but this vandalism goes deeper than property damage,” the Campus Y stated in a response on Tuesday. “It is a disturbing public display of division. While we are deeply saddened, we stand firmly in upholding the Y’s 161-year legacy as a space for students to unite, uplift, and act.”
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