2021 wasn’t a return to normal.
The year began at a peak in the pandemic and continued to be surrounded by ongoing discussions about COVID-19 responses and the impact of vaccinations in the U.S.
Students and faculty returned in-person to the classroom after over a year of Zoom instruction, as the UNC System advised campuses that under state law, the only group that can mandate a vaccine is the North Carolina Commission for Public Health.
A UNC classroom sits empty on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. The University relied on hybrid and virtual instruction for the duration of its Spring semester.
Kyle McClintock, a junior chemical engineering major at NC State, poses for a portrait at a desk in a house in Chapel Hill on March 8, 2021. All of her classes had been online since lockdowns began a year prior in March of 2020.
Rocendo Rosas, an immigrant originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, laughs as he receives a COVID-19 vaccine at La Semilla's vaccination event, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.
Students celebrating UNC's basketball team triumphs over Duke prepare to rush Franklin Street on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, while an unhoused man sits under an awning to stay out of the rain.
UNC sophomore Luke Diasio, who helped plan an all-day protest on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, holds up a sign saying "Vax UNC Now," advocating for UNC to mandate the vaccine.
At UNC, the year was marked by power tensions between University leadership bodies and their decision-making, as those decisions impacted the campus community and highlighted system inequities at the University.
Community conversations focused on mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. Students and community members were vocal about issues they cared about most, advocating for change.
A person holds up a sign to traffic outside of the Carolina Inn to protest UNC's initial failure to vote on tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz looks away from protestors after the Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, that granted tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones.
The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church hosts voting polls in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro, which had recently implemented a vaccination requirement for all patrons.
After about an hour of stationary protest in the Justice Plaza, protesters of the military coup in Myanmar began to march down Franklin Street on Saturday, March 6, 2021. Orange County refugees and other community members demanded that local representatives speak up for Myanmar.
Laura Saavedra Forero, a freshman neuroscience major, poses for a portrait outside of UNC's Student Union on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. "My life shouldn't be put at greater risk due to the university's sheer disregard for its disabled students," said Saavedra.
UNC’s return to campus also sparked conversations about a campus mental health crisis, as students mourned the loss of their peers during the fall semester.
A makeshift memorial was set up in the Pit on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, as students and faculty mourned the losses of the prior weekend. Passersby left notes of encouragement and flowers.
Community need for mental health support isn’t new — but the fall semester brought increased student demand for Counseling and Psychological Services and other local and student-run mental health organizations .
Emily Midea, the mother of a first-year student, offers hugs to students behind the Old Well on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Parents and puppies filled the upper quad to offer hugs, baked goods and support as part of a parent rally organized by the Facebook group UNC-CH Parents Helping Parents.
Students walk across the quad on the evening of Thursday, Oct 14, 2021. Behind them, a banner offers support following the death of two UNC students by suicide that month.
This year was filled with both difficult and hopeful news — many stories that community members have waited years to hear.
Over the summer, students lost the opportunity to learn from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones after the Board of Trustees initially failed to offer her a tenured position .
In September, a suspect was charged in the murder of Faith Hedgepeth. In December, UNC officially renamed two of its buildings, a process that has been ongoing since the summer of 2020. The James Cates Remembrance Coalition worked to honor Cates’ legacy and took steps to add his namesake to the Student Stores Building.
UNC Police remove protestors at the Board of Trustees special meeting on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, as the board went into closed session for a vote on Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure.
Ronald Hedgepeth, the father of Faith Hedgepeth, returns to his family during a press conference Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. At the press conference, Chapel Hill police announced that an arrest has been made in the investigation of Faith Hedgepeth's murder in 2012.
Students share a moment of silence on Sunday, March 21, 2021, during a vigil in honor of the lives lost during a shooting in Atlanta the prior Tuesday.
A student walks by the former Residence Hall One on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. Once the Charles B. Aycock Residence Hall, Residence Hall One was recently renamed after Hortense McClinton, the first Black faculty member at the University, on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
The community has also felt joy.
Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Heidi Kim, director of the Asian American Center, cut the ribbon to officially open the UNC Asian American Center on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.
The Asian American Center opened its first physical space this fall . The Carolina Latinx Center welcomed student organizations to the theme of 'Pa'lante ' — a saying that means "moving forward."
And with the return of in person events, community members continue to come together and support one another.
Tiffany Melenzio, founder and owner of Cup of T, poses for a portrait with their signature handmade items on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Products range from tote bags to crocheted tops. "Now, that's my cup of t," smiled Melenzio.
Members of UNC's Class of 2020 toss their caps at the class's commencement on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Kenan Stadium. The ceremony came more than a year after it was originally scheduled due to the ongoing pandemic.
Julián Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development, serves as Carolina's Latinx Center's keynote speaker for Latinx Heritage Month on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Rabbi Zalman Bluming of UNC Chabad reads a prayer in preparation for the candle lighting in the Pit on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, as Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz watches from below.
"It's been that way since the very beginning," says Geeta Kapur of the systemic racism at UNC. Kapur poses for a portrait at the Old Well with her new book, “To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest University," on Tuesday, Sep 7., 2021.
Lucia Zhang, a junior neuroscience major, poses for a portrait in Merritt’s Pasture on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Zhang is a member of UNC’s Flying Silk, a traditional Chinese dance group that focuses on ribbon and fan dance. The team meets biweekly for virtual practice, which Zhang attends from her apartment’s living room in Chapel Hill, NC. “It was kind of hard for me at first,” says Zhang, who joined the team last semester and has learned every dance and technique. “But it’s a really good community. And a good workout.”
Caroline Jennings, a third-year dental student, dresses as the tooth fairy and makes balloon animals as she volunteers on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, for DEAH day.
UNC senior Olivia Sullivan portrays Dr. Frank-N-Furter during a technical rehearsal of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Varsity Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The production is an annual tradition of the UNC Pauper Players and returned to in-person performances this year.
UNC sports again welcomed fans to the stadium — with Hubert Davis succeeding Roy Williams as the men’s basketball head coach.
UNC senior defensive back Trey Morrison (4), sophomore defensive lineman Myles Murphy (8) and freshman wide receiver J.J. Jones (5) run onto the field before the Tar Heels' home matchup in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, against the Georgia State Panthers. The Tar Heels won 59-17.
Sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) enters the court at Carolina Basketball Late Night on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Dean E. Smith Center. With Kelly on the backcourt, UNC women's basketball has so far had an undefeated season.
UNC field hockey celebrates its third consecutive national championship on Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Tar Heels triumphed over the Michigan Wolverines 4-3.
Roy Williams watches Hubert Davis' introductory press conference on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Davis was instated as the head coach of UNC men's basketball a few days after Williams' retirement.
UNC cheerleaders excite fans for football's second home game of the season against Virginia. UNC defeated the Cavaliers, 59-39, marking their second win of the season.
UNC sophomore forward Armando Bacot (5) dunks in the Dean Dome during a basketball game against Duke on Saturday, March 6, 2021. The Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils 91-73.
Hubert Davis, head coach of the UNC men's basketball team, speaks to the media at the ACC Men's Basketball Tipoff in Charlotte, NC, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.
First-year defensive lineman Jahvaree Ritzie (5) rings the victory bell and celebrates with his teammates after defeating Duke 38-7 on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Kenan Stadium.
So 2021 wasn't "normal." It was a year of setbacks and progress, grief and joy.
This work was produced by The Daily Tar Heel’s staff, including Photo Editor Helen McGinnis, Assistant Photo Editor Ira Wilder, Assistant Photo Editor Maris Ava Cruz, staff photographers Caroline Bittenbender, Kayden Hunt, Cynthia Liu, Kate Lewin, Ashlyn Rhyne and Calli Westra, former staff photographer Abe Loven, Video Editor Chris Ocana, former Photo Editor Angelica Edwards, former Photo Editor Morgan Pirozzi and former Assistant Photo Editor Yates McConnell.
The text was written by University Editor Allie Kelly and was originally published in the DTH’s 2021 Year-in-Review print edition.
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