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Column: Hinton hears a hoot — the Class of 2026 vs. the HoJo Owl


First-years have a penchant for doing weird things, don’t they? Whether it’s being places they shouldn’t be, taking stuff they shouldn’t take or doing things they shouldn’t do, if you see someone being weird on a college campus, chances are that they're a first-year. The first-years of UNC, however, have been particularly particular as of late — thanks to the recent appearance of an owl at Hinton James Residence Hall.

In case you haven’t heard, the class of 2026 is collectively being harassed by an owl. You may have seen the videos circulating online of it sky-blitzing hapless South Campus residents, or of it staring serenely from some perch as everyone in the vicinity freaks out. Beyond being bullied by a big bird, our first-years have also come up with bizarre ways to try to befriend the owl, like when someone tried to offer it what looks like a cigarette. 

I, as a first-year, am a proponent of this winged menace, which might be because the owl seems to like me, but I wanted to find out what my fellow freshies thought about the HoJo Owl.

One thing that became apparent as I talked to people was that experiences with the owl were varied and wide-ranging. 

On one end, you have Jack Morrissett, who managed to get the owl to eat a crushed-up nut bar from his hand. “Apparently (owls) like nuts,” Morrissett told me with a hint of disbelief.

On the other end, you have Kaleigh Wilhite, who you may recognize from the video,originally posted onto the Instagram account @uncchicks, of the girl scrambling over metal barriers, frantically yelling for help while the owl gives chase. Kaleigh actually ended up hiding in a porta-potty outside of the Dean Dome to escape the owl. 

“F*ck the owl”, Wilhite said.

It seemed that the owl incited all sorts of emotions from those it encountered. 

Nicholas Byers, who delivered the line, "AHHHH! You know what, good night y'all, I'm out, BYE," as he captured the owl swooping down at him from the HoJo basketball court on video, had a rather dramatic response to the owl. “I felt like my life was in danger, I was gonna get a scar and never recover,” he said. “I was flabbergasted”.

A little more positive about the experience was Will Rucker, who took a video of the owl sitting on his suitemate's AC unit, expressing almost a sense of wonder at seeing the owl up close. “It was very cool,” Rucker said with a grin.

Guesses as to why the owl chooses to stay on campus were all over the place, with some claiming that the owl was domesticated and craved human interaction, pointing to a post on Instagram with a woman handling the owl. Others reckoned the HoJo owl was drawn by the rats also living in HoJo. I had even heard a rumor that this was not the first year the owl has been here and that it had terrorized the populace of Ram Village 4 last year.

Just about everyone I talked to had found a way to make friends through the owl, though. 

“It was like trauma bonding, in a way,” Byers said. 

Delaney Santre, who lives in Cobb Residence Hall and was swooped on by the owl on her way back from late-night dining at Chase Dining Hall, added that the owl “makes (North Campus first-years) feel connected to South Campus students in a way”. 

The value of this shared experience — of this dang bird making our lives a little more unpredictable and the friends we’ve found because of it — was not lost on anyone I talked to. They were all against removing the owl from campus. Even Wilhite, who was chased by the owl for thirty minutes, begrudgingly admitted her fondness towards it: “I think it should stay."

The title of this article is a reference to Dr. Seuss’ "Horton Hears a Who!," but I’d like to call on another one of Seuss’ works here. In "Oh, the Places You’ll Go!," he writes, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go." 

Learning about this owl has brought me a lot of places, to interview people who I found to be absolutely wonderful. Whether it was riffing about white people with Byers or gaslighting Wilhite with her boyfriend, talking about this owl has led me to conversations and people that I would’ve never had or met otherwise. 

So, for the places we’ll go, the whimsy of shared experience and the friends we’ve made, I would like to propose a name for the owl: Seuss. Besides, I just think the owl looks kinda like a Seuss, ya know?

And yeah, let’s keep the owl. For the culture. 


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