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Wednesday February 1st

'Collective dreaming:' Campus Y leaders reflect on leadership and activism

UNC senior Megan Murphy and sophomore Laura Saavedra Forero, the co-presidents of the Campus Y, pose in front of the Campus Y building on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC senior Megan Murphy and sophomore Laura Saavedra Forero, the co-presidents of the Campus Y, pose in front of the Campus Y building on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.

Shortly after Megan Murphy and Laura Saavedra Forero began their role as Campus Y co-presidents, they gathered their executive team. With markers and oversized sheets of paper, the group wrote down ideas and goals for the year. 

It's a process Murphy called "collective dreaming."

Alongside their team, the pair have emphasized campus accessibility, support of local workers and student-led mutual aid.  

"And that's been the best thing about this role by far — having these collective dreams and seeing them come to be," Murphy said. "We've had a huge amount of success so far."

'A space for student organizing'

The Campus Y has been a home for student activists at UNC since the 1860s, a legacy that persists with current student activists and leaders. Today, approximately 30 student-run committees dedicated to various aspects of social justice operate out of the Y.

“It's always been a space for student organizing and activism," Murphy said of the organization’s history. "When people were organizing around desegregation, around allowing women to be enrolled in the University, that was happening in the Campus Y."

Previous to Murphy and Saavedra Forero’s co-presidency, the student organization had operated with specific executive roles that came with specific titles. However, those titles have since been replaced with the title “general executive member” in an effort to make the Campus Y’s organization more horizontal, Saavedra Forero said. 

"I think people feel more so like humans and individuals and friends before feeling like organizers and activists and all of that, which was definitely a goal of ours," Saavedra Forero said. 

Adjusting the Campus Y's leadership structure has given leaders more space to go through life, she said. The group feels more like a family.

“The approach to leadership that Laura and I have as disabled people and people who have really fluctuating capacities in terms of work is creating a space that is actually responsive to that and respects that,” Murphy said.

 'A lot of hopes and dreams for the Y'

Murphy said some of the Campus Y committees are more service-oriented while others focus more on advocacy.

“An example of a committee would be CompostMates who just joined as a campus-wide committee," Murphy said. "We've got the Refugee Community Partnership, Project Literacy, CJAA (Community Justice, Abolition & Antiracism)."

The organization is also involved in mutual aid, Saavedra Forero said, including the creation of the mutual aid pantry in the Campus Y building, harm reduction programming and reproductive health care, including the distribution of Plan B and condoms to the local community. 

But through the pandemic and other unprecedented campus events — like vandalism of the Campus Y building, collective burnout and community deaths — some of the goals of the organization have shifted.

“It was just a sign of the times and the growing pains, especially the 2021-2022 school year,” general executive member Imani Rankins said. “We were coming in at a very uncertain time with COVID very much still on the rise"

Rankins said the Campus Y has built on its foundation this year and leaders have hit their stride. 

This semester, the Campus Y has supported University housekeepers in advocating for free parking and higher wages, Murphy said. The organization had a presence outside of last week's Board of Trustees meeting while a delegation of housekeepers spoke inside

The Y has also been active in the fight for accessibility on campus. 

“There’s a bigger movement right now at the University for accessibility," Saavedra Forero said. "That was initially what united Megan and I because we're both disabled and had a lot of hopes and dreams for the Y, the space within the Y and also advocacy work for outside of the Y to be more accessible."

Murphy and Saavedra Forero said they have received confirmation from University officials that changes are being made to facilities on campus, including making residence hall first floors more accessible for people who use mobility aids.

This fall, the Campus Y has also hosted community events such as a Haunted Prom as well as a campus-wide block party that involved a mutual aid fundraiser for the Carolina Abortion Fund.

'We're really trying to value each other'

The two co-presidents have balanced their own identities with how that translates to their new positions as leaders. 

“We have been very aware of our whiteness," Saavedra Forero said. "But also, not relying on having black and brown people have to put the actual structures in place that are going to benefit them, because that tends to happen a lot."

The Campus Y will have its annual election next semester to determine future leadership, she said.

Murphy and Saavedra Forero both said the Y will continue to amplify its social justice initiatives.

“I'm just really proud of how much energy has been breathed back into this space and also just seeing a shift in our community where we're really trying to value each other, not just our output and not just what we work on,” Murphy said. “We're putting faces to names, we’re getting to know each other and that's a connection that's been missing because of the pandemic for a long time.”

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