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Tours of UNC's campus and community shed light on University history, traditions

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A guide talks to a group touring UNC on the quad on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

Incoming students have the opportunity to go on several tours offered at UNC that highlight the campus’s history and culture.

For Sarah Carrier, a North Carolina research and instructional librarian at UNC, focusing on UNC's history from student and staff perspectives prioritizes voices that have received less attention at the University. 

Carrier is a co-creator of the Black and Carolina Blue Tour, which tells the story of Black life and history at UNC. The tour aims to make UNC's history of slavery, racism, memorialization and activism available to students and visitors.

Stops on the virtual tour include Carolina Hall, the former site of the Silent Sam Confederate monument and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

Part of the tour is devoted to labor activism on campus, according to Carrier. With recent protests by UNC housekeepers over higher wages and free parking, she said learning about labor activism is one example of where students can build context for current issues while building a community to improve the experiences of other people on campus. 

“That's why we collect archival material and why we collect about UNC-Chapel Hill," Carrier said. "It is not only our story as a community, but it's exciting to be able to see yourself, in many ways, in these stories."

She said that much of the campus’s history is inherently diverse, allowing people to see themselves in stories told through the tour. She said incoming students can resonate with a cause that they have experienced personally or have found important.

“We want for all students, especially students of color, to see themselves in this story and that students have made UNC what it is,” Carrier said. “All of the struggles and successes, and there are still struggles underway — things that need to be faced down and addressed. By seeing these successes and by seeing the long history of this, I think that it is helping us to have conversations that move us, that help us understand the present and move into the future.”

Admissions tours are also offered for prospective students interested in knowing more about UNC.

Annika Shi, an orientation leader and admissions ambassador at UNC, said learning about UNC’s culture and history is important for people to figure out whether the school is a right fit for them.

As an international student, Shi said she understands the feeling of leaving home and living independently and shares her own experiences in order to connect with her tour groups.

“A lot of people, we come to Carolina, whether it's for academics or the spirit, school spirit and sporting events — I can just connect to them from various aspects, talking about the sporting events I've been to and talking about research that I’ve done on campus, really anything,” Shi said.

The UNC Visitors Center’s in-person Sense of Place tour aims to allow a general audience to gain a better understanding of the University’s campus history and innovation. 

Tours last approximately 90 minutes, beginning at the UNC Visitors Center on East Franklin Street and ending at Kenan Stadium. Along the tour path, visitors get a chance to view different UNC landmarks such as the Davie Poplar tree, the Old Well and the Unsung Founders Memorial. 

The Visitors Center began operating in 1989 and is a separate department from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Unlike regular admissions tours, which are geared toward prospective students, Sense of Place tours are oriented toward a wider range of people. 

Rhonda Beatty, director of the UNC Visitors Center, said the tours were designed to have a balance between campus history and current UNC forward-reaching projects in research, service and innovation.

One of the stops along the tour route is the BeAM Makerspace located in Murray Hall. Beatty said the Makerspace gives the opportunity to "pepper in" stories while talking about new scientific developments. 

“We're not talking at people,” Beatty said. “We are kind of inviting them into our world to show them what it's like to be on campus, whether you're a student member, whether you're a faculty member, whether you're a staff member so that you can get a broader picture of what Carolina is about.” 

Beatty said she hopes that by sharing a broad swath of information, visitors will learn something about the University regardless of their interests. 

“Our job, our goal, our mission is to welcome these guests to campus,” Beatty said. "We want them to understand the great work and the wealth of work that happens every day from students, faculty, staff — how that work benefits the citizens of North Carolina and how it impacts our communities, whether it's locally in Chapel Hill, throughout North Carolina, the nation or even the world."

@dailytarheel | 

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