On Monday evening, tables with festive coverings were set up in one of the Carolina Union rooms, with students chattering among themselves and enjoying food from Alpaca Chicken.
Hosted by Healthy Heels, an on-campus collaboration to promote health and wellness among students, the meet-up was a Friendsgiving gathering, their No More Lonely Tar Heels event for the semester. It aimed to connect students, offering food and dessert, pumpkin painting, card games and self-affirmation jars.
“These unstructured activities help ease pressure and break the ice,” Aisha Bynum, events and communications intern for Healthy Heels, said. “You're doing something and it's not like 'we're just here in a room and you want me to make friends and mingle.'”
Fellow intern Niyah Murphy said Healthy Heels works to provide wellness strategies to the student body. She added that the event was well-attended with a "line out the door" at the beginning.
No More Lonely Tar Heels is a Healthy Heels event series inspired by No More Lonely Friends, an organization founded post-COVID that hosts meet-up events in 30 cities across the world, encouraging a sense of community. The on-campus initiative started shortly after, in 2021.
Bynum said many individuals at UNC found it difficult to foster relationships and felt extremely isolated during COVID-19 and that No More Lonely Tar Heels was created to combat these feelings. She added that having spaces like the ones they provide allows students to break out of their comfort zones without feeling overwhelmed about meeting new people.
The first event in the series was a picnic in the quad on Nov. 10, 2021, where students were encouraged to bring snacks, blankets and pets.
“It was a community building gathering event, and everybody liked it so much we have decided to try to do one event each semester,” Sara Stahlman, special projects and marketing manager for health and wellbeing for Student Affairs, said.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the No More Lonely Tar Heels team thought Friendsgiving would be an appropriate theme for this semester’s event.
"People can bring their own friends, with their friend groups, people can come alone," Bynum said. "Introverted, extroverted, really whoever, any Tar Heels just to try to create relationships wherever they can be found."
Bynum said she spoke with a transfer student at the Friendsgiving who said they felt like a freshman in a new environment. She said when the student heard about Monday’s event, she thought it would be a perfect opportunity to meet new people.
“Being a junior, people have already settled into their friend groups, so she talked about how difficult making those relationships is,” Bynum said.
She added that the events are designed to be a comfortable space people can come to by themselves and connect with people, something that would feel uncomfortable in many other spaces.
“I don't think you could talk to a single person connected to Carolina who would say that they want people on campus to feel lonely,” Stahlman said. “Yet the vast majority of us at times do.”
For students who may find these events daunting or overwhelming, there are lots of alternative support spaces based on identity groups, academic department or student status. Stahlman said that on the Heels Care Network website, students can use filters to find resources that are best suited for them at the moment.