The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Student leaders, historians discuss accessibility of UNC's history

DTH Design

Advocacy from UNC students and faculty in recent years have meant major changes for the way students interact with campus and its facilities. In April of 2021, the University Commission on History, Race, and a Way Forward submitted its recommendation letter for renaming 10 buildings.

To help generations of Tar Heels better understand the University's history, community leaders have taken steps to make this information more accessible.

Former University historian Cecelia Moore said there were not many up-to-date resources available for students who were curious about the traditions and history at the University. 

Moore said she collaborated with University archivist Nicholas Graham to write the book “UNC A to Z,” a reference designed to be a short and affordable encyclopedia about UNC published in 2020.

“The history of UNC and that phrase ‘first state university’ really embodies a lot of things,” she said. “Not only being first or oldest, but the idea of public higher education was a relatively new idea for a new country. But North Carolina has really remained vested in that idea that the public university exists to serve the people of the state and to serve the state.”

The University is currently in the process of renaming several buildings whose namesakes have ties to white supremacy. 

Although Moore said incoming students should get acquainted with original campus landmarks, including the Old Well and McCorkle Place. She also said there is a difference between knowing history and commemorating ideas from the past.

“We now think of buildings having names because a donor contributed money toward that effort, and most of the buildings built from the mid-20th century on were like that,” Moore said. “But before that, they weren't tied to a donor’s name. They were tied to ideas about the state history and who should be emulated and admired.”

Moore added that areas like the Pit and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center better represent efforts by the students and alumni to be more diverse and inclusive of others. 

For Andrew Spratley, president of the Order of the Bell Tower, being able to preserve the past, engage with the present and look toward the future is an important principle for the organization.

The Order of the Bell Tower is a student group serving as the official student ambassadors and tradition keepers to the University. 

Spratley said the group provides students with the chance to participate in activities like the University Day event, Biscuits at the Bell Tower and the formerly held Waffles at Wilson.

In 2009, the Order of the Bell Tower published "True Blue", a guide to historic landmarks around UNC, such as Sutton’s Drug Store and the Varsity Theater. While Spratley said the organization helps students notice bigger sites and events around campus, he said it also clues people into smaller, lesser-known annual events.

Spratley said the Order of the Bell Tower will be setting up booths at FallFest to recruit and better engage with students.

Ananya Jain, a member of the Undergraduate Student Senate and an orientation leader, said she attempts to integrate culture and history into her orientation sessions regarding sites like the Old Well and the Bell Tower. 

She said orientation leaders need to help students learn a shared history of the University through student advocacy.

“As we move forward into an institution that is now a top five public school and an institution that prides on being the first university built in the United States, we also need to uphold those values and make sure that we’re bringing a safe and inclusive environment on campus,” Jain said. “That means instead of trying to hold onto our past views that we start moving on to a more progressive area.”

Ultimately, orientation leader Ayush Pai said despite UNC's complex past, current students need to spread awareness about that history to better understand it with each other.  

“It's important for students to see that nothing was built overnight,” Pai said. “They themselves, you know, their own sort of journeys aren't built overnight too."

@dailytarheel |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.