There is a new library in the making on UNC’s campus, but it is far more than a place to read or a starting point for a research paper — it is encouraging activism among students and community members.
The Campus Y social justice library is a project in memory of Owen Conley, a UNC alum best remembered by his friends for his love of books, social justice and compassion.
Sarah Smith, a friend of Conley’s and the assistant director of civic engagement at the Campus Y, said the goal is to open the library on the second floor of the Campus Y in January 2024, two years after Conley’s unexpected death.
“When he passed, his family very kindly donated his collection back to us,” she said. “So it kind of became this primer for a collection.”
Smith added that Conley was a very active member of the Campus Y and served on the executive board during his first year at UNC.
As a transgender man, Conley involved himself in activism and social justice, particularly in relation to the LGBTQ+ community, Smith said. She added that many of the topics they plan to include in the library will be personal to Conley.
“He loved the Campus Y,” Caroline Brogden, UNC alumna and friend to Conley, said. “He practiced a lot of deep and I think pretty radical kindness and curiosity, so it just made so much sense that there would be a place in his honor, in a place that he loved for people to go and read and chat and think about their lives.”
Brogden said she met Conley as a part of UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship, which Conley participated in between his sophomore and junior years of college.
Conley was a Bridge Year Fellow and spent that time doing international service in Cambodia before returning to Chapel Hill to finish his undergraduate education.