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The Daily Tar Heel

2023 Year in Review: What fuels the fire

University Editor: Abby Pender

Abby Pender is the 2023-24 unversity editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

From the University cafeteria workers’ 1969 strike to the student-sparked Franklin Street march against Apartheid, University members have consistently used their voices and campus to address injustices.

2023 was no different.

UNC's chapter of March for our Lives rallied against gun violence following the campus shooting on Aug. 28, students demonstrated for improved accessibility and UNC's Students for Justice in Palestine held protests and sit-ins advocating for Palestinian freedom amid the war in Gaza.

The first controversy of the year was the acceleration of the School of Civic Life and Leadership, announced at a January UNC Board of Trustees meeting. The school's introduction sparked debate concerning what the Wall Street Journal called a “self-reinforcing culture of conformity” plaguing higher education. Many faculty members were outraged by the decision, and the school has continued to be a hot topic amid community concerns of legislative and conservative power grabs toward the University.

Following the initial discovery of lead contamination in some campus buildings in 2022, the campus continued to have detectable levels of lead in 125 drinking fixtures as of January.

The UNC Student Government campaign season was a tumultuous one and was interrupted when candidate Sam Robinson suspended his campaign and stepped down as undergraduate vice president. Then-Graduate and Professional Student Government President Theodore Nollert ran as a write-in for the race, but students ultimately voted for Christopher Everett to be the student body president in February.  

This year, Everett has prioritized improving campus accessibility, an issue students advocated for with a 32-hour sit-in on the steps of South Building in March

In the spring, faculty elected Beth Moracco as their new chair and UNC women’s tennis celebrated their first national title.

Outside the University, North Carolina politics shifted in April after then-Democrat N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg) switched her party affiliation to Republican, giving the party a supermajority in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly and the power to override any of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes.

The supermajority’s power proved itself in April when the assembly enacted Senate Bill 20a 12-week abortion ban bill vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper but overridden by the legislature.

When the Supreme Court ruled affirmative action unconstitutional on June 29, denying UNC and other public universities from considering race in admissions, the University responded with admissions changes.

In August, a week after the semester’s first day of class, Alert Carolina messages and emergency sirens announced an active shooter on campusStudents huddled in classrooms and libraries sending anxious messages to their loved ones for more than three hours.

Following the shooting that resulted in the death of Professor Zijie Yan, hundreds of students took to campus to honor and memorialize him. Days after the Aug. 28 lockdown, students organized anti-gun violence rallies, demanding action from the state legislature. 

Less than three weeks after Yan’s death, emergency sirens sounded a second lockdown and students frantically searched for shelter after an individual brandished a gun at Alpine Bagel Cafe.

Though the two lockdowns marked this year with an unforgettable attack on the University's safety, community members still found joy, celebration and unity on campus.

They commended the UNC field hockey team and student-turned-coach Erin Matson for achieving their fifth national title in six years

In Orange County, residents voted in the 2023 municipal elections for mayor, town council and board of education. Jess Anderson defeated Adam Searing in a mayoral election that may shape Chapel Hill housing for decades to come.

On Oct. 12, days after militant group Hamas attacked Israel, nearly 100 protestors stood on the steps of Wilson Library to advocate in solidarity with Palestinians. The event was the first of many demonstrations led by UNC’s Students for Justice in Palestine this semester.

Members of the group also occupied South Building in November, demanding that the University divest from companies monetarily supporting Israel. 

Throughout all the social, political and emotional strife that has struck campus and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area in 2023, students and residents have used their voices, their presence and their deep attention to the world to advocate for their communities.

These reactions aren't unprecedented. They are evidence of the UNC community's strength, which has persisted for generations and fuels its fire. 

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