In spring 2020, HIST 179H students at UNC were disrupted by the pandemic while creating an ambitious project aimed at recounting the stories of women at UNC. A year later, they've finished what they once started — an online exhibit, a campus tour and a podcast, “Climbing the Hill.”
Ash Curry, senior communications major and producer of the podcast, said “Climbing the Hill” is broken up into segments that explore certain themes — such as community, civil rights and gender equality — and how women contributed to them, while highlighting the struggles they experienced.
Curry said the students searched throughout the database of the Southern Oral History Program for a variety of interviews and anecdotes from women who shaped UNC.
“These students put together all of the ingredients to make this podcast happen and then the semester afterward, they sent it my way,” she said. “I downloaded onto my computer about 70 hours worth of interviews from the Southern Oral History Program.”
Katherine Turk, a history professor and the course instructor, said the main event was supposed to be an exhibit at Wilson Library, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed these plans.
“The students had pulled out all of their documents and photos and interview clips and everything was ready pretty much right when they left the spring break in 2020 and of course, nobody came back,” she said.
After students were sent home in the spring of 2020, Turk said the exhibit switched to an online format, but she hopes to still be able to put on an in-person exhibit.
Turk said one of the students suggested naming the podcast “Climbing the Hill” because it captured all the documents and the stories they traced. The name implies the tension between moving forward and making things fairer while acknowledging the continuing struggles.
Rising senior mathematics major Marlee Walls was a student in the podcast course. She said the class worked closely in Wilson with the librarians and researchers to come up with resources for the podcast.
"We dealt with a lot of newsletters and visuals, like some old dance cards,” she said. “Some pretty cool things from Wilson archives back from when a woman started to attend UNC.”
At the end of the semester, Walls said her class wrote the podcast scripts together, but they all recorded the podcast separately with Turk facilitating it.
“It was weird not to see the class end in the exhibit in Wilson and not to have the podcast created because that was what the entire class was building up to,” she said.
Walls said it was tough not to be able to physically see what they created at the end of the class, but she is grateful that she was able to still finish the podcast.
Curry said throughout the process of producing the podcast, she learned a lot about how women in UNC history developed and cultivated feminism, LGBTQ rights and rights of people of color — specifically for Black women and women of color.
“I hope that this brings to light the variety and the nuances that are told, in an oral sense,” she said. “When you talk to people who created this history who were there when it happened, you get so much more perspective and respect.”
Recent graduate and student in the course Skyler Singleton said she thinks the biggest takeaway that she got is just how related the information still is today. She said she’s seen the connections between women’s history and current events — citing Nikole Hannah-Jones’ non-tenure as an example.
"Somebody linked a part of our exhibit where we talked about Sonja Stone and how she was denied tenure as an overly qualified Black woman,” she said. “And they were sharing our exhibits as part of their evidence to show that this was an ongoing trend with UNC, unfortunately.”
You can listen to the podcast here and visit the course's Twitter for more information.
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