The UNC Adams School of Dentistry held its 7th annual DEAH DAY on Wednesday to honor the legacies of the late Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, who were students at the school.
DEAH DAY stands for “Directing Efforts And Honoring Deah And Yusor.” Deah and Yusor, a young married couple, and Yusor's sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were murdered in 2015 by their neighbor in a crime that family members said stemmed from hatred. The shooter pleaded guilty to the murders, but was not charged with a hate crime. However, family members noted his aggressive behavior toward non-white neighbors, including showing the outline of a gun tucked into his clothing.
DEAH DAY honors Deah and Yusor's legacies and their commitment to volunteer work.
The event occurs during the first week of October each year, and students at the School of Dentistry organize service projects around the Triangle.
Rand Khasawneh and Deborah Liu, both fourth-year students in the dental school, co-chaired this year's DEAH DAY. A total of 353 volunteers — including dental students, faculty and community members — participated in service projects at 33 sites.
Khasawneh said she knew Deah, Yusor and Razan. She said the goal of the event is always to help as many people as possible through outreach projects.
“This is a way of continuing what they cared about and the things that they enjoyed,” Khasawneh said.
Ed Swift, executive vice dean for education and professor at the School of Dentistry, said each year DEAH DAY is almost entirely organized by students. He said no classes are held at the dental school on DEAH DAY to allow students and faculty to participate in volunteer opportunities if they wish.
Swift said he knew Deah as a student, but many current dental students did not know Deah or Yusor personally. DEAH DAY serves as a reminder to everyone, Swift said, of what happened to them and the legacies that they left.
“As time goes by, you start to lose perspective on what actually happened and why we’re doing DEAH DAY,” he said. “And so, I think it’s a real credit to our student body and the leaders of our student body that they’ve been able to, every year, get the new students involved.”
On DEAH DAY, Cheyenne Lewis, a second-year dental hygiene student, was a site leader at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Durham and Orange counties.
Lewis said she and 23 other volunteers helped clean the facility in the morning and taught dental hygiene to kids in the afternoon.
Lewis said she also spent time that day at the DYOR Clinic, a clinic in Raleigh which gives free dental care to refugees and low-income families. Established in partnership with the School of Dentistry, the DYOR clinic honors Deah and Yusor's memory, with its name paying tribute to the social media hashtag that was used for their wedding celebration.
Lewis serves as a dental hygiene representative for the clinic.
“I think it’s important that the dental school does continue carrying on DEAH DAY,” she said. “And I like DYOR particularly because I want to do public health, and DYOR allows me to be around like-minded people who have the same goal of serving those who don’t have the best access to care.”
Jasmine Nevil, another site leader on DEAH DAY, volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity project where she and several others put up the framework of a house.
“Service is a core of my fundamental beliefs,” Nevil said. “UNC is pretty special because I can see my classmates, my colleagues and just everyone at the school kind of has that same mentality of service.”
Liu said she wants more people in the community to know about this event and who Deah and Yusor were.
“As students graduate from the dental school, fewer and fewer people in the UNC community know them, and the dental school is going to continue this tradition for the foreseeable future," Liu said.
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