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LISTEN: UNC Law School Racist Incident & COVID-19 Vaccine Updates

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UNC Law School Racist Incident & COVID-19 Vaccine Updates

University Desk reporter Natalie Johnson talks to host Evely Forte about a racist incident that took place during a class at the UNC Law School. University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis shares updates regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution on campus.


Evely Forte: Hi, I'm Evely Forte from the Daily Tarheel, and this is Heel Talk. Today, I’m joined by University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis to discuss COVID-19 vaccine updates impacting University students. We talk about which members of our campus community are currently eligible and how the University plans to distribute such vaccines on campus.

Ef: Hello Maddie, welcome to Heel Talk! We are so happy to have you on the show with us here today, again.

Maddie Ellis: Hello, thank you so much for having me!

EF: So, Maddie, I wanted to bring you on here today to discuss COVID-19 vaccine updates and how those updates impact University students and campus community members. So first, who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine? 

ME: Yes, so right now we are well into group three, and it's actually at the beginning of group four. Group three included students who are frontline workers, students working in-person and in labs, and faculty working in-person. So that was all under the frontline workers vaccine eligibility requirements. I was group three, and actually, as a journalist working for the Daily Tarheel in-person, I was eligible to get vaccinated, so I have been vaccinated. Yeah, that's a personal update since the last time we spoke. 

But, as far as big changes coming from University, so North Carolina entered the beginning of groups for a vaccine distribution on March 17th, and so far the only people in group four who are eligible are people with high-risk medical conditions, and then people living in shelters or incarcerated individuals. That's where we're at with group four. But starting on April 7th, all of group four will open, and that includes students, faculty, employees, and anyone working with the University who are not in groups, one, two, or three. So that opens up to them. 

It also includes students in Carolina housing, so this is major. Students living on campus are eligible to get vaccinated under group four. So anyone living in Carolina housing and also students living in congregate living spaces, which includes fraternity houses and sorority houses. UNC announced and clarified in a campus email this week that that includes students living in off-campus apartment buildings.

EF: So you mentioned Maddie, that, you know, a lot of these students living in these large apartment buildings, off-campus Greek housing, and of course those on campus in the residence halls are now eligible or soon will be eligible to receive the vaccine. But does the university have a plan in place to distribute the vaccine to students on campus once their turn to receive the vaccine occurs? 

ME: So, what UNC is doing is they're opening a distribution site on campus. 

EF: Gotcha.

ME: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services actually approved them to administer the vaccine a while ago, but now that we're really close to that mass amount of students being eligible to do it, they finally announced their plan, so it's going to be at the Student Union in the Wendy's location, which prompted many a “ma’am, this is a Wendy’s” joke on Twitter, but in a fun way. I was shocked at how many people were like, “Wait, Wendy’s is closed?” like that was the news they got from the article. 

EF: That’s funny!

ME:  We don't know exactly what that will look like, but they said to keep an eye out for things like making appointments, and how the setup will look there, but that's pretty exciting for students. And April 7th- that's pretty close! 

EF: That is so soon and so exciting. Maddie, I definitely wanted to kind of touch on the University's response to the latest CDC updates: has the university sort of updated or reflected these CDC changes in its campus community guidelines for students? 

ME: Yeah, so those guidelines from the CDC, they specifically applied to people who have been fully vaccinated, which means two weeks after you receive either the Johnson and Johnson dose, or the last dose of Pfizer and Moderna, that's when you're fully vaccinated these guidelines apply, these are the new recommendations of the CDC it’s like “sure, you can do this.” 

Something to note about UNC though is that they're not requiring students, faculty, or staff to get the vaccine. I do think that's a consideration that they have when looking at where their policies stand now, it's because they're not requiring it, they have to consider that there could be some people in the classroom or on campus who haven't been vaccinated or haven't been fully vaccinated. What the CDC has now said is that when you're fully vaccinated, you are eligible to gather indoors without masks. So, we naturally ask like okay, “what does that mean for UNC?” and Provost Bob Blouin said that they are reviewing the existing COVID-19 community standards and are reconsidering the existing standards for students and staff in light of these new CDC recommendations. We talked with a professor of epidemiology, Audrey Pettifor, who has been on the Campus and Community Advisory Committee, she's been a great source we've been able to talk to. She mentioned how those guidelines really apply to smaller indoor gatherings, outside of an on-campus operation setting, which is more like, picture a lecture hall, that's not necessarily a gathering.

ME: So, that's that's a challenge. Also, Pettifor raised a great point in the interviews that our reporter did, which is that those CDC guidelines don't apply to students yet because they're not fully vaccinated because of the two-week period that it takes. So, all this to say, I think it's a transition period like the University is saying, “Yes CDC, we hear you.” and then they will announce or reconsider what those changes might look like, especially as we go into a fall semester that is aiming to be fully on campus and as back to normal as possible. I'm sure those guidelines will play a role, 

EF: Definitely. So much is constantly changing. I'm sure we will have you on the show again soon with new updates in this space. But yeah, so thank you Maddie for kind of updating us all on the COVID-19 vaccine. I'm sure again like I said, we'll have you on here soon with new updates in this space. But yeah, thank you!

ME: Thank you so much and thank you for having me. Always a pleasure!

EF: Next, University Desk reporter Natalie Johnson will join me to talk about a racist incident that took place during a class at the UNC law school. We also discuss the implications that the incident has regarding diversity and inclusion at the law school and university. But first, a word from our sponsor. 

EF: This podcast episode is sponsored by UNC summer school. UNC summer school is here to help you achieve your goals and reduce your stress along the way. With over 500 courses offered, you can finish required credits, build your GPA, and take classes to make space during the school year. So, if you're ever stressed about your schedule or future plans, remember, there is always UNC summer school. Go to to learn more.

EF: Hey Natalie, welcome to Heel Talk! I'm so excited to have you on the show with us today. 

Natalie Johnson: Thank you so much for having me! It's a pleasure.

EF: Yeah, no, awesome! I know you've done a lot of work for your latest story, which kind of looked at this racist incident that took place at the UNC law school, could you kind of fill us in about what that incident even was?

NJ: So, to begin the incident occurred on January 14th during a discussion between classmates during class. They were having a class discussion around the historical theories of property law, and the United States, and this was a classroom for 1L students at the law school. And Zachary Boyce, which is who the incident happened to told me that they were really discussing, you know, a case around how colonial settlers disenfranchise indigenous sovereignty over ancestral lands, just to give some context. 

Students were discussing back and forth over the chat box in Zoom, and a student had directed a comment towards Zachary Boyce, saying, and I quote, 

“You are an American attending an elite law school in the 21st century. If you are looking for a good cause, you can always travel to Cameroon and fight the colonizers there” Unquote

EF: Yeah, definitely Natalie, and I know you spoke to Zachary of course for this story. What did Zachary do after that incident as far as reporting, you know, this occurrence to the law school or to the University at large? I was just curious if that came up in your reporting process as well. 

NJ: Yes, so I did ask Zachary, how he felt after the incident and, you know what were his steps that he took immediately following, and he told me that, at first he was, you know, very upset and his feelings were hurt, and he did want consequences for the accused student, which is why he opened an investigation with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance office on campus. And so they started an investigation into the incident. 

However, Zachary did emphasize to me that after he spent some time thinking, he really realized that certain consequences for the student, like expulsion, for example, really wouldn't teach the student anything. And so he really turned the conversation more to, what can the university do for restorative justice, and what can the university do for students of color who experienced microaggressions and racism every day? And I also just want to mention that the EOC investigation for Zachary ended on March 1st, and they found that there were no policy violations. 

EF: Interesting. Did the law school respond in any way about this incident? Well, I guess I could even ask you if the law school responded in any way about this specific incident, or about this idea of restorative justice for the sort of community on campus and at their school?

NJ: So, there was really no immediate response following the incident from the law school administration, and this prompted several members of the Class of 2023 at the law school to pen a letter to the administration just really asking them to condemn the racist rhetoric that was included in the conversation and to just condemn white supremacy as a whole. This letter was written on February 18th, and, you know, keep in mind the incident occurred January 14th, so it's almost, you know, a little bit more than a month later. I also think it's important for me to note that I reached out for a comment to the law school administration on February 19th, and it wasn't until February 19th that the law school released a statement to the Daily Tar Heel, and then the law school also sent an email out to the student body of the law school for the first time acknowledging the situation. 

EF: Wow. 

NJ: So I definitely think that the letter that the students wrote on the 18th as well as just the injury from the daily Tar Heel is what finally caused the law school to speak up about the incident. And to go into what Dean Brinkley said, he addressed the law school community, particularly the student body as a whole in his message, where he said that the reason that he hadn't spoken up sooner is due to FERPA. He said that it limited the law school administration's ability to disclose any information. That was the reason that he claimed the law school administration had not yet spoken up about the incident. 

And then additionally, he just goes on to say that, you know, the law school is committed to diversity and inclusion efforts, and that, you know, they condemn white supremacy. 

EF: So Natalie, I know you mentioned this letter right that members of the law school’s Class of 2023 wrote in response to this racist incident that took place in this Zoom class. I did want to ask you, from your reporting did you kind of gather how students at the law school and or the campus community really sort of responded to this incident, and the role that this incident kind of plays in this ongoing narrative of restorative racial justice on campus here at UNC?

NJ: Yes, so I think it's important to note that in the letter penned by the members of the Class of 2023 to the law school, they wrote, you know, asking the administration to condemn this one particular incident, but they go into detail about how this is not a unique incident. And they also mentioned how they have sent a copy of the Black Law Student Association's expectations of administration and faculty since the summer of 2020, so they sent a copy of these expectations. on June 15th of 2020. And they referenced this in the letter just because they wanted to emphasize that the University’s administration has had these expectations since last summer. They've had the opportunity to look over these, and improve their actions for diversity and inclusion efforts. 

And really, I think the message and the letter just kind of echoes that students haven't seen the change, and they're upset about that. To go further into the actual expectations of the Black Law Student Association, they had written this set of expectations in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others back in 2020, and they just list a set of demands really that they want the University to take on for better diversity inclusion efforts. So, just to name a few, they asked for the university to recruit more Black law professors, and they also ask that the university creates a law office of diversity and inclusion, and they want that to house a dean of equity, specifically for the law school. 

Just to name one more, one of the demands is establishing a diversity scholarship for Black students in the law school. So these are just a couple of the demands listed from the Black Law Student Association that are mentioned in this letter, and again I just think that the letter really kind of echoed this idea that students haven't really seen any structural changes yet, and they're upset about that. 

EF: So those were all the questions I had for you, Natalie. I really appreciate your reporting and for being here today, and I just wanted to say thank you and the Daily Tarheel is so lucky to have you. 

NJ: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you reaching out and just us being able to have this conversation. 

EF: But before you go, here's a brief update on the UNC men's basketball team's performance in March Madness. The UNC men's basketball season came to an end this year during the first weekend of March Madness, causing the team to exit the NCAA tournament. The eighth-seeded Tar Heels suffered an 85-62 loss to nine-seed Wisconsin on Friday. It was the first time Head Coach Roy Williams lost in the opening round of the tournament after 29 wins. 

EF: That’s it for this week’s episode of Heel Talk, sponsored by Tar Heel Verses and the UNC English Department. Here’s Jonesy Wilbanks, a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia, reading her poem about motherhood.  

Jonesy Wilbanks: How To Cry

My mom talks about how she used to cry

When she took me to the pediatrician.

After handing me over to the nurse,

I would shriek in despair as the familiar

Comfort of her warm embrace

Upon my delicate newborn skin

Was replaced with an unfamiliar touch

Of the frigid metal baby scale.

She would sit on the maroon chair

Located in the left corner of the

Examination room that smelled

Strongly of sanitation spray,


After nurturing me for nine-months,

My life became her life,

My sadness became her sadness,

My tears became her tears.

Eighteen years later,

Sitting in the examination room

For my final pediatrician check-up,

The shrieking of newborn babies

Longing for the comfort of their mothers

Echoed through the door.

Staring at her little girl

Who was now grown up,

My mother sat one last time on

The maroon chair in the left corner,


EF: This podcast episode is hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi, and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.

So if you enjoyed today’s episode, please consider subscribing, rating, and reviewing the episode, and sharing it with someone that you think would enjoy it too. I’ll see you next time.

Episode hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.

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