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Finding community in UNC's on-campus dorms, a guide to moving in

Cheryl Autry helps her son Dylan, a sophomore at UNC, move in to his on-campus dorm on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.

Before moving into Hinton James Residence Hall her first year, sophomore Emma Jung wished she would have known that “less is more.” At the end of the 2022-23 year, Jung realized she never used a lot of the stuff she thought was crucial to life in a dorm.

“It was such a waste of space and time trying to move everything when I could have survived — well, with less stuff in general,” she said.

Transitioning from living at home to living in a residence hall, often with a stranger as a roommate, can be challenging and scary for new students.

Before moving on campus from Charlotte, Jung had only met her suitemates online. She said she recommends setting up clear communication with suitemates and roommates from the beginning, particularly about chores and noise levels, especially if they aren’t familiar, to avoid conflict in the future.

“If you’re not living with someone that you already know, making the time to just get along with them and meet them in the beginning couple of weeks helps a lot,” Jung said.

She said that storage boxes and moving carts are essentials, along with a step stool if a student decides to loft their bed. Jung also said that the typical overhead lighting in residence halls is not for everyone, and making the investment in mood lighting can help create a warmer atmosphere.

“I ended up getting a mood lamp,” she said. “That really helped me feel more at home and feel like my dorm was my space.”

Christina Ahn, the vice president of the Residence Hall Association, said incoming first-years can expect to meet people who are excited about meeting people. 

She also said that setting clear boundaries with roommates is important.

“We’re all trying to live with new people, and that’s scary for everyone,” Ahn said. “It’s an adjustment that everyone has to make, so really just try to be understanding of what other people’s living situations are like, but also make sure that they know what your living situation is like.”

Tahliyah Smalls, the 2023-24 president of the RHA, said incoming first-years can expect to have fun.

“First-years can definitely look forward to community bonding,” she said. “They can look forward to relationship building, and more importantly, just becoming more acquainted with your new home and feeling like you belong here.”

Smalls said the RHA’s goal is to foster a sense of community for all students at UNC, primarily through organized events from the RHA itself and from on-campus clubs and organizations.

Part of this community can be achieved by joining community government, Smalls said. Through a wide array of available positions — ranging from social justice advocates to marketing and treasury — students are responsible for advocating for their living space through organized events and student outreach. 

Smalls, who previously served as the Social Justice Advocate for Craige Residence Hall her first year at UNC, said that the experience left her with leadership and team-building skills. More importantly, it solidified her feeling of belonging somewhere on campus.

“I think the really great thing about joining a community government is that it gives you an opportunity to create your own ideas and see those come into fruition,” she said.

Residence halls can get packed very quickly during move-in, so one piece of advice Smalls gives to incoming first-years is to “plan early.” She said she also encourages students to utilize and connect with their resident advisors, a group of people that Carolina Housing has been working to diversify and make more inclusive.

“Practice that open communication,” Smalls said. “Practice creating those boundaries if you need them, and making sure that this is a place where you feel at home and you feel, not that you fit in, but that you belong.”

@ashnqm | @dailytarheel

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Ashley Quincin

Ashley Quincin is a 2023-24 assistant university desk editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a university staff writer. Ashley is a senior pursuing a degree in English and comparative literature, with a double minor in media and journalism and composition, rhetoric and digital literacy.