Student activists made an impact on campus in 2023
Discourse over national issues ranging from gun control to labor wages found a major home among UNC students in 2023. Hot topics included raising University housekeeper wages, improving campus safety and accessibility, and political activism regarding both domestic and international events.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most memorable moments of activism and advocacy on campus this year:
Also in February, students sat in front of the South Building for 32 hours to protest issues regarding University accessibility.
The protest was led by Laura Saavedra Forero and Megan Murphy, then the co-presidents of the Campus Y. Saavedra Forero and Murphy were tied to each other on the steps of South Building using a chain, chicken wire, duct tape and a PVC pipe.
Saavedra Forero, a wheelchair user, was evacuated from Koury Residence Hall in 2022 after the dorm elevator malfunctioned. The duration of the protest was the same amount of time Saavedra Forero was stuck in her dorm.
In the months following the protest, the University added accessibility improvements across campus, including a renovation to the Old Well that finalized an integrated wheelchair ramp.
UNC Young Democrats organized a rally with over 15 campus and community organizations in the Pit as a response to Mike Pence’s visit to UNC in April. Conversations during the rally included gun safety advocacy and LGBTQ+ rights.
Pence’s visit, sponsored by Young America’s Foundation and UNC College Republicans, was part of an event titled “Saving America from the Woke Left.”
Sloan Duvall, the current president of UNC Young Democrats, said UNC has an administration which stresses the importance of free speech on campus.
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“We think anyone can come to our campus and speak,” Duvall said. “However, when we have this divisive right-wing speech on our campus, we're gonna meet that with more speech and we're gonna have productive conversations about the issues that matter to us.”
In August, a coalition of student and local organizations held a protest in Polk Place to voice frustrations over gun violence two days after the campus shooting of UNC professor Zijie Yan in Caudill Laboratories.
With approximately 600 participants attending the rally, the coalition included groups such as March For Our Lives, Students Demand Action and UNC Young Democrats.
T.J. White,the president of UNC Young Democrats at the time of the event, said there were major problems made apparent during the shooting, including a lack of appropriate locks on doors and inconsistent communication through Alert Carolina. He said he thinks the protest brought heightened attention to gun control issues on campus.
“No one's immune to gun violence, and because it hits so close to home, I think people are aware of how serious the issue is now,” White said.
Community members and UNC students congregated in September to rally against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a proposed police and fire services instruction center in Georgia that has raised concerns over militarizing police forces.
Sophomore Jess Fodaysaid they think there has been more awareness regarding the “Stop Cop City” movement on campus.
Foday said while the movement has been escalating in Georgia, advocacy regarding the movement’s history and development has helped students get involved.
“All of our liberation is intertwined with one another,” Foday said. “Any liberatory action that you take is helping the emancipation of people everywhere.”
On Oct. 12, UNC’s Students for Justice in Palestine rallied in support of Palestinians in front of Wilson Library amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant organization Hamas.
Tensions later escalated as the demonstration was met with a counter-protest from pro-Israeli supporters. An associate professor from the Department of Religious Studies was escorted from the event for verbally harassing students.
SJP organized a second protest during November on the steps of South Building, where students and community members called for UNC to divest its resources and contracts away from Israel.
The November protest was part of an international movement called “Shut It Down for Palestine" — a demonstration with its members standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.