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The Daily Tar Heel

Farewell column: UNC is full of secrets

University Desk Senior Writer Cynthia Dong. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Dong.

UNC is full of secrets. 

Some are small and insignificant, like the rituals of the Order of Gimghoul, which you might catch if you spend an inordinate amount of time crouching in the woods behind their eponymous castle — or simply perusing the stacks of the University archives. 

Some are useful, like the locations of the best study spots on campus, from the mossy roof of the FedEx Global Education Center to the beautiful, sunlight-filled lounge at the center of Wilson Library; or the cheapest place to buy (and toast!) a bagel after your 9 a.m. classes (Blue Ram Cafe; you’re welcome).

Others may be dangerous, but make for thrilling nighttime escapades — the grungy maintenance tunnels running below campus, or the sometimes-unlocked doors of the Kenan Center, beyond which lie unguarded child-sized bags of popcorn. And some are weird and borderline disturbing, like Chydaru, the youth-prison-turned-radioactive-waste-site, or the baying of hounds at the off-campus blood research lab.

But some secrets are serious.

These are the secrets hidden in the numbers and buried deep in file folders and internet archives: the racial and economic disparities in acceptances and scholarships or the months and months it can take for a sexual assault case to pass through the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. The exact breakdown of the University’s investment portfolio. Cyber attacks. The influence of the Board of Governors, and the influences guiding them. Quiet deals behind closed doors over Silent Sam and internal conflicts over departmental funding. 

In short, these are secrets that affect the well-being of every person at this University — students, faculty, staff and community members alike. Secrets shielded by money, power and privilege.

That’s where The Daily Tar Heel comes in.

Although it is by no means a perfect institution, the DTH, in its current iteration, tries its best to shed daylight on all these secrets and help hold the University responsible. In the tumultuous four years I’ve spent at UNC, we’ve been through it all — hurricanes, tornadoes, the snowpocalypse, basketball misery, armed pro-Confederate protesters on campus, mold, water crises, the frat drug ring and, of course, COVID-19. 

Student journalists have been there every step of the way, hunting down the truths buried in the secrets, armed with FOIA requests, internet sleuthing skills and the loving guidance of their editors.

And therein lies another secret: the DTH itself. 

I, for one, never thought I would join the DTH when I started at UNC. I was (and still am) a STEM major first and foremost, and after I graduate, I will be leaving the world of journalism behind. 

But applying to work for this publication has been one of the best decisions of my college career, even if it’s sent me out in the freezing rain to chase after a bunch of Confederate flag-waving protesters and forced me to ask professors if they’ve ever been questioned by the FBI. 

Reporting has taken me on a wild ride, helping me to discover the secrets of this University, good and bad. And for that, and for the camaraderie and support of my fellow staffers, photographers and editors, I will be forever grateful.

So with the last time my name will ever appear in a byline, I will share one final secret. It’s nothing scandalous, or even newsworthy. All it is, is this: working at the DTH is one of the coolest things you can do at UNC, even if it has nothing to do with your career path. 

Because hiding behind the locked doors of South Building and in the hearts and minds of students and faculty are so many secrets that deserve to be uncovered. And there’s no place better to uncover them than the DTH.


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