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'Something I never saw coming': Students celebrate representation-based projects at UNC

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Photo Courtesy of Bea Calwitan/BPLA.

During 2023, many students worked to highlight representation of their communities on campus. Here is a rundown of some of the most notable student projects that aim to bring more inclusivity to UNC:


Founding of the first Black Pre-Law Student Association


In September, UNC junior Jaleah Taylor — alongside Black Student Movement President Joann Obioma and UNC junior Taylah Smith — founded the first Black Pre-Law Student Association at UNC.

“I noticed that a lot of our white counterparts had a lot of networks and resources already when they came in, and a lot of Black students just didn’t have that,” Taylor said.

The organization aims to build community and networks for Black pre-law students through a variety of professional development and social events. Taylor said she felt there was a need for increased visibility of Black pre-law students, especially given the Supreme Court's striking of affirmative action.

"Black people are unique and they bring a different perspective, especially into law," she said. "I think that is the shared experience among all of it."


Hiring of Asian Americanists after student petition



Joanna Yeh, a junior at UNC, said there is a serious lack of educational resources for Asian American studies. 

UNC sophomore Christina Huang said the lack of an Asian American studies program at an institution where the incoming class of 2027 is 25% Asian or Asian American and the undergraduate class is 15% Asian or Asian American contributes to the invisibility that they already feel.

In the fall of 2022, Yeh, alongside members from Students for Asian American Studies at UNC, petitioned for the expansion of opportunities in the department.

As a result of the petition and the desires of Asian American students, the University moved forward with the decision to implement a cluster hire of three faculty members focused on this area of study in spring 2024.

Yeh said the hires were part of demands listed in an open letter advocating for the creation of an Asian American studies program. 

"But it doesn't end there — that's where it starts," Yeh said.


Founding of Crips in College Movement


UNC junior Laura Saavedra Forero, a wheelchair user, was trapped in Koury Residence Hall for 32 hours during her first year at UNC due to an elevator outage which rendered her unable to exit the building from her fourth floor room.

One year later, she sat on the steps of South Building, joined by various supporters and former Campus Y Co-president Megan Murphy, for 32 hours in a demonstration to ensure her demands for accessibility were heard.

This 32-hour action served as the hard launch for Crips in College — a community-based movement advocating for accessibility in higher education. Saavedra Forero emphasized the organization’s role in connecting students facing similar challenges, combating the isolation individuals who require accomodations often experience while advocating for change.

“Because of so many different barriers, disabled people are kept out of higher education — and that’s purposeful,” she said.

Saavedra Forero said the lack of collective power for people with disabilities in higher education increases the difficulty of fighting for basic rights. Crips in College serves as a way to harness the support from inside and outside of the disabled community into collective power and action.


Founding of AMEXCAN chapter at UNC


UNC senior Jonathan Cortez was interning with AMEXCAN, the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, Inc., when he said he realized it would be amazing to implement something similar at UNC. He said that at a predominately white institution, representation is very important, and that the need for representation is especially evident following the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision.

“It’s very important to ensure that people coming in, and the people that are currently here, feel that UNC is still a place they can come to and feel welcome,” Cortez said.

He founded UNC’s chapter of AMEXCAN in September with help from other UNC seniors Aislin Sanchez and Christian Rendon. The organization hosts casual social events that celebrate Mexican culture, as well as informational panels focusing on topics such as immigration and first-generation students.

"We believed that the organization was going to be successful to some aspect, but it blew out of proportion way beyond our expectations," he said. "We're an organization of 186 members now, which is something that I never saw coming, especially in our first year."

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