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Parents, campus community support students following lockdown

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Parents of UNC students served free pizza in The Pit to students affected by Monday's shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

When UNC mom Christine Senn received texts from her son about an armed and dangerous person on UNC's campus on Monday, she felt “helpless."

She lives an hour away, but she knew she wanted to do something to help. The next day, she was handing out pizza in front of the Undergraduate Library with her son. 

A number of other parents, alumni and on-campus organizations are supporting students following Monday’s events. 

“There’s never something that’s too little,” Senn said. 

A short distance from Senn, in front of Lenoir Dining Hall, Chapel Hill community member and father of four Sandy Alexander and his wife offered students comfort with snacks and pets of their dog, Fuller. 

Alexander, whose daughter attends UNC, wanted to do what he could for the mental health of students. 

“I think for a lot of students, it’s the first time away from home, certainly for the freshmen,” he said. “Maybe they just need a centering device or centering species like a dog that reminds them of home and something more comforting than being all independent living on a campus during a tragedy like that, that's pretty daunting.”

After yesterday, HAPPEE Hugs and Pups — an organization begun by moms that can often be found on campus offering hugs and dog pets to students — received about 40 new applications for student and parent volunteers, according to Cathy Emrick, one of the group’s co-founders. 

Emrick was on campus yesterday when the shelter-in-place order went into effect. Her daughter, a senior, was sheltering in the basement of South Building. 

“It was frustrating to know that my girl was right on the other side of those bricks and I couldn’t reach in there and snatch her by the collar and drag her off-campus with me like I wanted to,” she said. 

On Tuesday, Emrick and the Hugs and Pups team sent eight dogs and 22 volunteers to campus. They also offered candy, bubbles and chalk to students and passersby. 

“We just had so many people that were like ‘I know that this is a traumatic event. I want to be there,’” she said. “‘I want to make a difference. I want to hug some necks. I want to bring some peace to the students that we love so much.’”

Emrick said many students told her the only reason they got up and dressed was because they saw the dogs would be out on HAPPEE’s Instagram.

The North Carolina Study Center — a Christian hospitality house on campus — was open all day on Tuesday, with donations of food and money from parents and alumni pouring in. It was one of multiple organizations on campus offering similar support to students.

Students, parents and alumni socialized, played games and completed homework inside and on the building’s deck and lawn. 

The center’s executive director, Madison Perry, said he knew people were going to need a place where they could have some good food, see a dog and feel at home. 

“Our experience, even yesterday right after the lockdown was over, was students wanted to come here just to touch base because it feels kind of like home,” he said. “So the hope is just to help students kind of regain a sense of normalcy and then also make sense of what they just went through at the same time.”

Senn hopes that efforts to comfort students continue past this week. She would like for parents to organize monthly events and is planning to offer bracelet-making sessions for students soon. 

“It’s good to have an immediate response, but there needs to be consistent support, always,” Senn said. “I think sometimes something bad like this brings out good things, but I think those good things need to happen more.”

@emimaerz

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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Emi Maerz

Emi Maerz is a 2023-24 assistant lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously covered UNC for the university desk. Emi is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and dramatic art.

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