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Student activists made an impact on campus in 2023

Protestors demand $20/hr and free parking for UNC housekeepers outside of South Building on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 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: 

Housekeepers' rally

In February, UNC housekeepers gathered in front of South Building to rally against a University contract that did not satisfy their two main working demands: increased wages and free parking. 

University housekeepers had been collaborating with The Workers Union to meet their list of demands since October 2022. Eric Elliott, a UNC housekeeper, said there are remaining issues to be addressed.

University housekeeping services, he said, are often understaffed and need more workers. 

Elliott said continued advocacy for higher wages is a “good thing,” especially as someone working from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, including during breaks. 

“That's going to always be a fight,” Elliott said

UNC students support Housekeepers movement for $20/hour at a protest outside of the South Building on Feb. 22, 2023.

No body or mind left behind” protest

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. 

Laura Saavedra Forero and Megan Murphy, co-presidents of the Campus Y, wrap their arms in chains at the front door of South Building at the start of the 32-hour protest for a more accessible campus on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

Mike Pence's speech

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. 

UNC Young Democrats’ secretary, Sloan Duvall, speaks during a protest against the visitation of former Vice President Mike Pence in the Pit on April 26, 2023, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

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.” 

Mike Pence, former vice president of the United States, speaks to a room of students and community members during a speech on UNC's campus on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. Pence was hosted by the UNC College Republicans in an event called "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.”

UNC gun control protest

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.

President of the UNC Young Democrats, T.J. White, speaks to attendees of a walkout in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. The event was hosted by March for Our Lives UNC, Students Demand Action, and the UNC Young Democrats.

Stop Cop City

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 Foday said 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.”

Stop Cop City members lined up to protest RICO charges at the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.

Israel-Palestine protests

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.

Organizers and speakers of the March for Palestine stand on the steps of Wilson Library on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

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