Laura Saavedra Forero and Megan Murphy’s run to be co-presidents of the Campus Y began over a meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup in November.
It was Saavedra Forero’s first semester at UNC, while Murphy, a junior, was serving as the director of membership at the Campus Y.
“I threw an insane amount of events in a span of seven days,” Murphy said. “I think I had two or three things going on every day. And Laura was a first-year and showed up at all of them.”
The two became friends through shared events and the Campus Y, which led to their meal at Murphy’s house.
Saavedra Forero said she expected the Campus Y to be a strong presence at UNC after hearing about the events surrounding Silent Sam. She said she thought people would be more engaged in direct action, mutual aid and community work.
That wasn’t the case, she said.
Saavedra Forero said she and Megan had a conversation about how to best help the Campus Y's functions.
“When we started that initial conversation, I literally looked at Megan and was like: 'What if we ran? What if?'” she said.
Saavedra Forero and Murphy were elected as the incoming co-presidents of the Campus Y for the 2022-23 academic year last month. They are the first disabled co-presidents team to lead the Campus Y.
Reimagining the Campus Y
Saavedra Forero and Murphy’s platform emphasizes community building and collective healing.
Last semester, the UNC community grieved the loss of students on campus. Last year, the Campus Y was broken into and vandalized.
These and other events affect the Campus Y community’s ability to be present and to do the work asked of them, Murphy said.
“So, the question we’re kind of asking is: 'How can we slow down and address the fact that we’re not well right now?'" she said. "That people are really struggling, and try to meet people where they are at, and be a healing space rather than just being another demand on people’s time and energy."
Saavedra Forero said that community centeredness is one of her and Murphy's greatest priorities, especially while creating spaces that reflect a sense of collaboration and collectivism.
Part of the team's co-presidency platform includes reimagining the Campus Y's physical space to reflect this community-centered focus. This includes addressing inaccessible furniture and doorways, arranging furniture in a way that invites collaboration and having walls to share mutual aid requests and resources on.
"Right now, accessibility is a priority because it's impacting my daily life and basic safety," Saavedra Forero said. "So there's some really things like ensuring that students in wheelchairs get ground floor rooms."
She said their shared office would be turned into a wellness space for people to have therapy, meditate and have time to themselves — to build that sense of community.
Space, Saavedra Forero said, can be both physical and metaphorical.
"We want to make sure to listen first, because we're not the only people who are going to represent the space and who are dealing with some of the bigger issues too," she said.
Murphy said the executive board of the Campus Y is meant to be a support for spaces in the organization and to achieve an engaging community, they would be shifting away from hierarchical leadership to establish horizontality.
Horizontality puts the community first, and steers away from the idea that a title or student's performance should separate someone from the people they are engaging with, Murphy said.
Yalitza Ramos, director of the Campus Y, said Saavedra Forero and Murphy have a bold approach to restructuring the organization.
“Megan and Laura are super open and willing to have conversations, and really want the collective ‘Y’ community to be a part of that conversation,” Ramos said.
Some of the work for healing spaces was started by the outgoing Campus Y Co-presidents Patrice McGloin and Montia Daniels, Ramos said.
She added that Saavedra Forero and Murphy are continuing that work by centering the people and relationships in the organization, which is something strong to lead with.
To build a community
Murphy said social justice is about the people involved. To have direct action, there need to be established relationships in place, she said.
“You have to have a space that you feel like you can debrief and you can hold each other and really heal from that together,” she said, “or else you’re never, ever going to be able to support that kind of action.”
Saavedra Forero said the Campus Y has the bits and pieces of what it needs to heal and evolve.
"There really is no time to wait in terms of ensuring our community's OK," she said. "There's time to wait for everything else, but that prioritization of wellbeing is crucial."
Despite what both she and Murphy have been through, Saavedra Forero said it remains the place she’s relied on — a place where she’s found her most meaningful connections and relationships.
She doesn’t want to discredit the work done before their presidency, because the efforts of former leaders in the Campus Y laid the foundation for the next step being taken, Saavedra Forero said.
With the support of staff and peers, she knows she and Murphy can take it to the next level, she said.
“To recognize that caring for one another, even just on an interpersonal level is revolutionary, is radical, is direct action,” Murphy said. “Choosing to slow down, choosing to prioritize our well-being over our output, is radical.”
Editor's Note: The article text has been updated to include direct quotes from Saavedra Forero. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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