D&I Welcomes Class of 2021

DMA student staffers greet a student at orientation

DMA student staff Justin Williford (left) and Brittany Grant greet a first-year student at 2017 orientation

At UNC-Chapel Hill’s Aquarium Lounge, first year students are as wide-eyed as the brightly hued fish in the giant tank behind them. Numerous departments and organizations are present during these summertime orientation days, offering a bounty of resources and swag for Carolina’s newest cohort. It can be hard to choose where to begin, but many students – and their parents – make a beeline for the Diversity & Multicultural Affairs table.

Often, they are unsure about whether DMA is a student organization or a department – and how it supports students. DMA student staffers Justin Williford and Brittany Grant, both rising juniors, happily clarify and launch into a list of the many programs under its purview. “People are surprised about the number of programs we offer,” notes Justin. “I’ve had some shocked looks when I tell them that we more or less have a program going on every day during Latinx Heritage Month or when I tell them all that we offer during January for our MLK festivities. Some of them are just happy to see a familiar organization, having participated in Project Uplift and now having committed to Carolina.”

Indeed, the amount of resources provided by DMA is impressive. “There isn’t a single definition of what our office is. DMA encompasses a multitude of values, ideas, events, people, etc. so we try our hardest to make sure that what we tell the students represents the office in the best way possible,” notes Brittany. “Although most students immediately recognize Carolina Latinx Collaborative, CHISPA and ACE, they’ll pick up our brochure (along with freebie pens and sanitizers) and many are surprised to find out how connected DMA is with other departments and organizations on campus. Even if they aren’t interested in working directly for the office, they express a great desire to get involved with the various organizations associated with DMA, like MLK celebrations, CLC, Decision Day, etc.”

Student reactions are a mixture of relief and intrigue. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here today,” said a student from Charlotte. “I was impressed by how many opportunities there are just from this one [department]. Everyone was really friendly and made me feel welcome.”

The first years connect particularly well with Brittany and Justin, who stood on the student side of the table just two years prior. “Orientation is two full grueling days, so most students are really tired,” says Justin. “I’ve spoken to a few of them about that – how after orientation, I wondered if Carolina was going to be for me because it all just felt like too much. Several of them noted that this resonated with them.”

Visitors on Orientation Day are escorted on a timed schedule, with new groups arriving every 15-20 minutes, so the pace doesn’t let up…but Brittany’s and Justin’s energy levels don’t flag for a moment. A student approaches, asking about the benefits of participating in ACE (Achieving Carolina Excellence), the first-year early move-in and networking opportunity for underrepresented students. Justin gives him a summary of the program, explaining that it’s a chance to get acclimated with Carolina before the hustle and bustle around first day of classes.

He then talks about how much fun he has being on campus two to three weeks early for RA training. “My absolute favorite time to be on this campus is when it’s not as busy,” he says. “You get all of Carolina’s beauty and legacy to yourself and a handful of others. Some of the best friendships I’ve made at Carolina came out of the intensive two week trainings we had, and the work together that came to follow. ACE will be a similar experience and, through the program, you’ll likely make friends to last your entire college career.”

Enthused and inspired, the student shakes Justin’s hand, ready to join the Carolina community as a full-fledged, participating member. As he moves on to the next table, brochure in hand, Justin smiles. “It’s so surreal to see someone get so engaged in these dialogues. It’s good to know I can make a positive impact. And you never know – that same kid can wind up working with me at DMA one day.”


– by Adrianne Gibilisco

Pioneers of Integration

Musicians performingForty-four African-American men made history on May 27, 1942, when they were sworn into service in a Raleigh recruiting station.

After training at Norfolk, they returned to North Carolina to make music as members of the U.S. Navy B-1 Band, which was attached to the Navy’s Preflight School on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus from July 1942 to April 1944.

At 10 a.m. May 27, on the 75th anniversary of their enlisting, their special place in history will be officially recognized with the dedication of a permanent historical marker at the intersection of West Franklin and South Roberson streets in Chapel Hill.

The establishment of the B-1 Band marked the first significant move toward integration of the U.S. Navy when they became the first African-Americans to serve at a general ranking, according to Alex Albright, author of The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy.

Before their enlistment, blacks in the Navy could serve only as cooks or porters.

The band members also broke a color barrier on the Carolina campus as the first African-Americans to work in university jobs that did not involve cooking, cleaning or laundry work.

As documented in “The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History,” black leaders from North Carolina “requested participation in the war effort and found a cooperative partner in UNC President Frank Porter Graham.”

“Thirty-one of the bandsmen came from the all-black Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro (now North Carolina A&T University) and they were already experienced, accomplished musicians,” the virtual museum story reported. “There were three other pre-flight training centers in the nation, but only Chapel Hill accepted an African-American band.”

Still, because segregationist laws prevented the bandsmen from living or even eating meals on campus, they were housed in a newly constructed community building on Roberson Street that is now the Hargraves Recreation Center.

The center is located in the heart of the Northside community, an historic African-American community of Chapel Hill where many black employees of the University lived.

During their service in Chapel Hill, the B-1 band marched to campus every morning to play for the raising of the colors for the white cadets outside of Alexander Hall. And every morning, residents of the Northside community watched with pride as they passed by.

But the relationship between the band and the people of the black community of Chapel Hill ran even deeper.

“The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History” documents how band members found ways to give back to the black community that embraced them in a way the campus community had not: “The military barred the band members from classrooms and other training sessions, but the musicians used their time to work with the local black community. They transformed their segregated living quarters into an outreach program by giving music lessons to local youth and providing athletic equipment for football games. They organized Christmas parties for the town’s black children, and one of the members dressed as Santa Claus.”

Because of race, the B-1 bandsmen often played music at venues they would not have been allowed to attend.

In 2007, then-Chancellor James Moeser apologized to them, and the bandsmen were made honorary members of the Marching Tar Heels during halftime of the Carolina-James Madison football game in Kenan Stadium on Sept. 1 of that year.

Only four of the original members are still living, and two of them – Simeon Holloway of Las Vegas and Calvin Morrow of Greensboro – are expected to attend the installation ceremony with their families.

The band’s marching route took them by the spot where the state’s historical marker will be installed.

After the installation, a reception will be held at the Hargraves Center. Both the dedication and reception are free and open to the public.

The state’s Department of Cultural Resources and the Department of Transportation administer the historical marker program. Since 1935, more than 1,500 highway markers have been erected across the state.

The marker will be the fourth to be installed in Chapel Hill. Other markers commemorate the founding of the University of North Carolina, the training of U.S. astronauts and the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation. A Carrboro marker commemorating Elizabeth Cotton is about five blocks from where the B-1 marker will be installed.

Published May 25, 2017

Campus Organizations Celebrate Graduates


Participants in the Exitos Commencement Ceremony, with VC Winston Crisp, Interim CDO Rumay Alexander and AD, Multicultural Programs & CLC Josmell Perez (Ramses cheering in the back row).

In the days leading up to the University’s Doctoral Hooding ceremony and main Commencement at Kenan Stadium, Chancellor Carol L. Folt and University leaders celebrated with the soon-to-be graduates at smaller graduations hosted by campus groups.

The graduation celebrations began May 5 with the Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS — a program for graduate students who are the first in their families to earn a master’s or doctoral degree.

“It is a milestone, and it’s really fun for us to get to celebrate that,” Folt said. “Let’s put an exclamation point on these wonderful accomplishments.”

Folt then joined more than a dozen Carolina student-athletes at the Blue Zone on May 7. The ceremony celebrated the graduating students who would be away from Chapel Hill for competition during the larger commencement. Folt told the student-athletes that the same set of traits they bring to their sports are also the same that help them excel in the classroom.

”I think part of your athletic performance has played a huge part in who you are in your academic performance,” she said.

Also on May 7, the LGBTQ Center held it’s 12th annual Lavender Graduation, which honored sexuality studies minors, graduating LGBTQ-identified students and their allies. During the event, Folt thanked the 35 graduates for their courage and effort in creating change at Carolina.

“I can’t feel anything but hope when I look out at all of you because you are the faces of the future,” she said. “You are the fresh ideas, you’re the personalities, you’re the humor, you’re inventions, you’re the discoveries, you’re the people that are going to change the way that we treat each other and the ones who are going to help push us forward in all fields of human endeavor.”

On May 10, Folt joined the American Indian Center in celebrating American Indian students and students graduating with a degree in American Indian and Indigenous studies. The 11 graduates were presented with pottery turtles during the ceremony.

Through sharing their culture with the campus community, Folt said, the graduates helped make the University more inclusive.

“You’ve made Carolina a home for everyone and that is a very special thing to be able to say,” she said. “Know that you’ve left your mark here.”

Carolina graduate and founder of imaginED Partners Priscilla Maynor delivered the commencement address, challenging the graduates to take set high goals and take the risks necessary to reach them.

Graduates who support and promote Latino communities on campus were recognized at Carolina Latina/o Collaborative’s Éxitos graduation on May 11. The 30 graduating seniors were presented with gold chords and a special stole to wear at commencement.

“This is a remarkable milestone in your lives,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp told the graduates. “This is not an easy path that you have chosen for yourself — not choosing the education route and certainty not going to this place. You’ve had to overcome many things to get here today.”

Antonio Serrato, a doctoral student in the biology department, was the event’s keynote speaker. A first-generation college student who immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a 15-year-old, Serrato shared his path that led to Carolina and encouraged the graduates to follow their passions.

Participants in the 2017 Red, White & Carolina Blue ceremony, honoring military students.

On May 12, Carolina’s graduating veterans, reservists, National Guard members and future commissioned officers were honored at the Red, White and Carolina Blue Graduation Ceremony. Air Force ROTC Cadet Alejandra Fontalvo and Army veteran Ian Wright served as the event’s student speakers.

Held at the Great Hall of the Student Union, the graduates were presented with a challenge coin and their Military Honor Cords either by Folt or their family members.

The graduating veterans and ROTC members, Folt said, have been crucial to creating more services and programs for veterans and service members on campus.

“You’ve left your mark here at UNC,” she said. “…We want to thank you for all that you’ve done. Congratulations on your achievements and your commissioning. We’re proud of you and we are proud of what you are doing for our nation.”

Published May 8, 2017. Updated May 12, 2017.
By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications

Student Spotlight: Jackie Cerón-Hernández

Jackie - White House cropped

Ask a student on campus when they first knew that Carolina was the place for them, and many would answer, “As early as four years old.” Indeed, for many, Carolina blue runs through their veins. For others, however, that dream doesn’t manifest itself until much later. Consider Jackie Cerón-Hernández, who hadn’t entertained a notion of attending Carolina until her senior year in high school, when she first heard about the University while applying for college.

Jackie’s story begins in Mexico, where she spent the first 12 years of her life. Like many children, her intended career path was constantly changing and her move to the United States changed the trajectory of her future plans. She knew she had to go to college if she wanted to follow one of her many career paths but that dream seemed out of reach due to the high cost of attending college. With the help of a merit scholarship awarded to Jackie by the University of North Carolina, her dreams of obtaining a degree were realized. In her time here at Carolina, Jackie has served as the MLK 5K Coordinator, a summer intern in D.C., and a mentor for other students. Just prior to her graduation from UNC-CH, Jackie described her journey from Mexico to Carolina and beyond:

Could you describe your childhood and family structure growing up?

I was born and raised in El Estado de Mexico and I lived there until I was 12 years old. I lived with both of my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad was not around during my childhood because he was going back and forth between the US and Mexico. So, for a long time, I did not have a father figure. I do remember every two weeks we would go to Tlaxcala, the state where my grandparents are from. That is where I spent most of my childhood.

Why did your family decide to move to the United States?

We moved here because my father had been coming back and forth from Mexico to the United States. He finally decided that it was time for all of us to come with him. He didn’t want us to be separated and he thought he could give us a better life in the United States. We moved to Durham, NC when I was 12 years old and have been there ever since.

Were there any defining moments or events growing up that led you to choose your current path?

Ever since I was little, I would mention all these different types of careers to my mom. I would tell people I wanted be a chef, model, a doctor — everything and anything. For the longest time, I said I was going to be an accountant like my uncle or get involved in business like my aunt, but that changed when I got to high school. My pediatrician inspired me to look into health careers. I shifted everything I had wanted to do to something in the health field. When I got to high school, I continued on the health path, but when I came to Carolina and started taking science classes, I learned that healthcare was not my passion. Then, someone in the Public Policy department, a professor, reached out to me at the perfect moment and told me about the department. I ended up liking public policy courses, so I switched my major.

Jackie, posing at the Old WellWhich aspects of Carolina aided in your decision to choose this school?

My whole high school career I had never heard of Carolina. I knew I had to go to college and get a degree, but as a first generation college student and an immigrant, I was not fully aware of the schools or my options. When it came to applying, I applied to a bunch of different schools in North Carolina. I ended up here because I was offered a merit scholarship that covered all costs. There was no way my parents could afford my education, which is why I chose to come here, because of my scholarship.

What did you find most rewarding about your work as the MLK Coordinator for the 5K?

I was never expecting this position. I had originally planned on working with the recruitment side of DMA. When I was offered this position, I took it because I was interested in what the office stood for. The 5K was a totally new initiative, which I began working on during my sophomore year. No one had any experience but we were all excited because we were raising money for a good cause. There is a lot of behind the scenes work, such as trying to reach out to sponsors and organizations that are receiving the funds. The most rewarding part is all the work you put into the program over the course of the semester finally comes together. You get to witness everything you planned. Then you hear people talk about how much they liked the event, the idea of getting people together for a cause, and raising awareness for the cause.

What other extracurricular activities have you been involved with at Carolina or in the Chapel Hill community?

Since my first year at Carolina, I’ve been involved with DMA. I started with MSRC (Minority Students Recruitment Committee), just being on panels for students and parents, helping out during registration and recruitment events. Then I decided to take on a leadership position within DMA and that’s how I came to be the 5K Coordinator. In addition, I’ve been a part of NCsli, a mentoring program for high-schoolers, where I served as an English instructor for sophomores. I was part of the Masters of Accounting mentoring program where they bring in different speakers, [and] put on workshops about how to be professional. I served on the Teaching Awards Committee to help select the Lifetime Mentor Award and then I served as a Scholarship Ambassador through the Office of Scholarship and Student Aid, [which is] made up of a group of students who are supposed to talk to university administrators and potential donors about why their money is making a difference at the University.

You spent some time interning in DC. Describe that experience.

I was in DC for a semester and the summer. During the semester, I was there through the Honors Public Policy program, where you get to intern at a place of your choice and you get to take two classes. I took a class on domestic policy as well as [one on] foreign policy. I applied to intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics out of the Department of Education. In my role with the Initiative, I was in charge of social media to share resources that the Initiative has created for people and to amplify that through social media or recognizing students that we heard about in the department. I also helped lead the Women of Color STEM conference at Arizona State University. I also helped create a guide for DACA students to help them know what to do post-graduation. Then I interned with [NC] Congressman G.K. Butterfield, just doing clerical work like answering phones, emails, White House tours, House Congress tours, greeting people who came into the office. Actually, for a week, our supervisor was out of the office on vacation and my co-intern and I had to run the office! Sometimes I would get to go to briefings either on the Hill or at universities. I would go, sit in, take notes, and write memos for the staff in charge of immigration or transportation.

Jackie, at the Department of Defense podium in the PentagonWhat are your plans post-graduation? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Plan A is to go to graduate school. I applied to the Masters of Accounting program [at Carolina] and I should hear back about that [soon]. I will go for a year and then I will practice accounting for a couple of years. If not, plan B is to work around the area within higher education, since that’s what I’ve spent my time as an undergrad doing. Regardless of where I end up or what I end up doing, I would like to be a role model or mentor for underrepresented students who have struggled like I have and provide [the kind of] moral support that I was offered throughout college. I want to show students that there are different people who look like them working in a variety of fields. Lastly, I would like to start a scholarship fund for students trying to get into graduate school because there are many funds available for undergraduates but not as many for graduate students.

What lessons have you learned in your time at Carolina that you hope to carry with you as you start a new chapter in your life?

To be flexible, open minded, and always keep your options open. Don’t have a set plan. Have an idea, but from my experience, you may encounter different opportunities that you have never heard of before and then you end up pursuing a different route. Be open to change.

What advice would you give to incoming Carolina students or students currently here at Carolina?

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re struggling. Use your resources and get to know your classmates, peers, work peers, boss, etc. Every person knows someone that you may need to know and they can get you connected to different opportunities.

By Brittany Grant

Diversity In STEM Conference promotes resilience and life balance

The second annual Diversity in STEM Conference brought together participants for developmental learning experiences, networking, and guest speakers, designed to better educate faculty and staff regarding diversity and inclusion of ethnic minorities and women in STEM.

The morning Welcome and Workshop featured Dr. Christine Grant, an Academic Resilience Strategist and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State. As one of fewer than 10 African-American women at that rank, she shared her experience as a minority in laboratories who had to learn to literally claim her space as a scientist.

Dr. Christine Grant at Diversity in STEM Conference workshop

Dr. Christine Grant shares the importance of resilience and balance in STEM

Grant’s upbeat and interactive session taught faculty, staff and graduate/post doc students about Leveraged Empowerment, encouraging participants to address critical issues to bolster their ability to network, mentor, manage time stress, sharpen their negotiating skills, become better leaders and develop mental toughness. She stressed the importance of identifying and cultivating one’s leveraging opportunities in order to achieve an optimal balance of resilience and contentment, and to follow one’s dreams.

Cheerful and encouraging, Grant also stressed the importance of finding something that makes you happy outside of your STEM field so that you can have life balance. In her case, it’s knitting and making jewelry, skills which were delightfully demonstrated at the session’s end, when she invited the audience to choose an item from a gift tree. Inside small, shimmery sacks were handmade earrings, bracelets and other items she’d created during her time outside of the lab and classroom…a reminder that balance can truly be found, even in the most demanding fields.

Following a networking lunch, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans under President Obama, was the keynote speaker. He spoke of the importance of involving the humanities as an aspect of STEM education so that we can ensure the development of humanist scientists. As an example, he paraphrased from Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le Pont Mirabeau (“La joie venait toujours après la peine”), translating it as “at the end of the pain, there is joy.” The poem’s message was a reminder that it takes hard work, grit and focused determination to achieve one’s goals…but the struggle and frustration is part of the learning process. The idea of continued learning, in particular is vital – one can never stop learning, whether in the STEM fields or elsewhere.

Dr. Cham shares a laugh with participant at 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference

Dr. Jorge Cham, founder and artist, PHd Comics, is a case study in Dr. Hrabowski’s concept of combining humanities with STEM: He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, became an instructor and researcher at Caltech and then created “Piled Higher and Deeper,” a nationally syndicated comic strip about life in academia. Dr. Cham discussed the importance of telling your story in a brief, accessible manner, with a maximum of 10 lines, having your “hook” to engage readers or listeners, and always ending in a punchline.

The conference was sponsored by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of Research Communications, Office of Graduate Education, and the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and was developed by the UNC Council on Scientific Enrichment.

by Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs



SWING Applications Open

The UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work is pleased to announce our 4th annual Social Work Introduction for the Next Generation (SWING) program. This three day on-campus event will be held at UNC-CH June 25-27, 2017. This event is co-sponsored by the School of Social Work and the Health Affairs Pipeline Partnership Initiative, a UNC collaboration aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students in health careers.

We believe it is essential to encourage students to plan early for careers and be exposed to various disciplines. Social work is a profession committed to the development of the full potential of individuals, groups and communities.  The aim of the SWING program is to stimulate students’ interest in social work by allowing them to meet and learn first-hand about the work of social workers and opportunities in the field. Students will have the opportunity to stay on campus, learn tips for applying to college, engage in hands-on experience volunteering in a local community non-profit, complete a Strengths Quest assessment to identify their 5 most prominent personality traits, and much more.

We invite you to share this with academically competitive high school juniors from historically underserved, low income, or first-generation backgrounds who are interested in learning more about social work. The application process is electronic and can be accessed here. The application deadline is April 28th. Space is limited, so applying early is recommended. Students must complete the application online and upload a recommendation letter from a principal, teacher, counselor, or adviser to be considered. Students selected to participate will be notified by May 12, 2017. Students must meet the following criteria to apply:

  • Interests that are congruent with the social work profession (ie: advocacy, counseling, service, leadership, desire to help others, etc.)
  • Current high school Junior
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA (4.0 scale)
  • Planning to attend college

The goal of SWING is to have students leave with a greater understanding of and interest in pursuing a career in social work.  Participants will receive on-campus lodging, all meals, a SAT study book, and a certificate of completion for attending. Parents/guardians are responsible for transportation to and from the program in Chapel Hill, NC.

For more information, please visit http://ssw.unc.edu/swing. If you have questions, please contact Ben Balderas, Assistant Director of Recruitment, Admissions & Financial Aid, at 919-843-6284 or ben_balderas@unc.edu.


The 2017 University Diversity Awards

2017 University Diversity Award Recipients w/senior leadership

Recipients of the 2017 University Diversity Awards

The Pleasants Family Room in the Wilson Library was filled to capacity for the 2017 University Diversity Awards, during which individuals or groups across eight categories were honored for their work in furthering diversity across the Carolina community and beyond. Just one day after Carolina became NCAA champions for the sixth time, a winning sense still permeated the air as winners in Diversity took to the lectern to share their thoughts on progress made (and yet to be made) in that arena.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James Dean set the tone fittingly in his opening remarks, as he likened us to a basketball team, made up of individuals who come together as a team with a common purpose that transcends their differences to achieve a greater good…and whose differences make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As Carolina fans, we are bound together by a shared identity – we’re all Tar Heels. “At Carolina, diversity is not a talking point or a statistic,” he said. “It’s a seat at the table, a voice in the room and a hand in the decision.”

The recipients of this year’s University Diversity Awards exemplify the superior efforts to ensure our school’s mission to continue to build a diverse and inclusive campus community and culture. This year, the Awards Committee employed a blind procedure in the review and selection process in an effort to reduce unintended bias. Each nomination was “de-identified,” allowing the committee to focus on giving consideration only to the contributions and achievements of the nominees.

“This year’s recipients combined caring, creativity and hard work to develop projects that helped people at Carolina, in our neighboring communities and across our state,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Their wide range of projects, focused on diversity and inclusion, shows how getting involved can make a difference in people’s lives. I am very proud of the example they set, demonstrating what it means to be a great public university.”

Interim Chief Diversity Office and Special Assistant to the Chancellor Rumay Alexander was particularly proud of the recipients this year. “When we take the time to better understand people, we put them in a better position to flourish,” she said. “This year’s winner’s personify how that can be done.”

Mark Katz at Lectern - Copy

Mark Katz

The first recipient, Mark Katz, received the Faculty Award. The Ruel W. Tyson Jr. Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, teaches in the Department of Music and is also the Director for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Presenter Jennifer Ho, Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Associate Director of the Institute, described Katz as “being absolutely inclusive in who belongs at IAH. As a campus leader, he has modeled for others what an administrator and faculty member can do by taking serious the charge to be always mindful that we want to not just create opportunities, but actively encourage the minoritized among us to have a voice and a seat at the table.”

Addressing the audience, Katz described himself as a “privileged white guy with tenure, employment and funding” and suggested, “others in positions of privilege should step up and listen to those who are suffering from injustice and help. You’ll realize how little you have to lose and how much we all have to gain.”

The Staff Award, presented by DeVetta Holman Nash, Assistant Director of Student Wellness, went to Dexter Robinson, Academic Advisor within the College of Arts and Sciences. Nash noted that Robinson, part of the first cohort of Carolina College Advising Corps and Co-Founder of Carolina United, believes in meeting students where they are, and empowering them to make decisions once they understand all of their options and resources.

Robinson humbly noted, “I’m quite quiet and didn’t prepare any remarks because, realistically, I’m doing my job. I’m an alumnus and this is just part of being a Tar Heel.”

Kenneth Ward, presented with the Alumni Award at the 2017 University Diversity Awards

Kenneth Ward and Rumay Alexander

Michael Dominguez, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, presented the Alumni Award to Kenneth Ward (class of 1984), who taught public school for 15 years and currently serves as the executive director of College Bound in Washington, DC. His work there has equipped inner city males and females with the skills they need to be successful in life and has given hope to many young people that are not only underserved, but also hopeless.

Ward, following so soon after Robinson’s understated delivery, boldly announced, “Like Dexter, this is my work and I feel like I shouldn’t say anything…but that’s just not my personality!” After much laughter from the audience, he gave thanks to the Committee and others, singling out his mother and grandmother, in particular, for encouraging self-pride and ensuring that he was well educated. “I became valedictorian and understood that this blackness was not why I was here, but my mind was why I’m here…and I’m brilliant!” he quipped. “I try to pass this on to people so they feel good about themselves, no matter their weight, their gender, whatever,” he added. “I’m of the first generation to go to college and complete it, so I know the challenges and that’s why I do this work. People still are made to feel that they don’t belong, so we work to change that. It’s what we do when no one’s looking.”

Monica Richard, Orange County Human Relations Commission Chair, presented two awards: the Community Member Award and the Community Organization Award. The Community Member Award recipient, Rev. Ryan Spurrier, of UNC Wesley, ensures that the origins of denominations founded by African Americans are presented and has facilitated open and frank conversations about LGBTQ issues in his church services. A nominator wrote, “UNC Wesley’s worship services have incorporated elements that speak to the lived experiences of homelessness and humanize the people students see each time they walk down Franklin. Ryan has crafted sermons that include homelessness as topics and has challenged students to reflect on their own privilege and consider what they can do to help neighbors in need.”

Upon receiving his award, Rev. Spurrier joked, “I hope you didn’t get hung up on the fact that I earned my degree at Duke!” As the laughter subsided, he noted, “Diversity begins in selfishness. Looking deeply inside ourselves to know what we have to offer…and to know what we lack and need to receive allows us to look at each relationship with equal sharing so that each person can thrive and life can be full. Students wrestle with questions of justice, so this is a reminder of the opportunity that we have every day to speak to the lives of students who are changing the world.”

The Black Alumni Reunion was lauded for its development from a modest group to a model reunion, consistently benchmarked by universities across the nation for its methods of engagement and fundraising, and its ability to provide funds for merit-based scholarships to Carolina’s first-year African-American students. Regina Newell Stephens, Chair for last year’s BAR, noted, “Last night, during the game, as the camera spanned celebrations around the country and we saw face after face of people who shared a passion for our school, we didn’t notice our differences – we saw a Tar Heel and loved them just for that.” As the audience nodded in agreement, she shared that BAR has grown so much since its earliest beer keg iteration in the 1980s. “Well over 1,000 alumni unite every year to celebrate culture and shared experiences, but it’s so much more than a weekend party. Every year, we celebrate support and lift up current students with scholarships and networking. Each one reaches as many as we can.”

The Graduate Student Award followed, with April D. Aviles, a Master’s student at the School of Public Health, presenting the award to Stephen Krueger, a Master’s student at the School of Information and Library Science, where he is the graduate representative on the Diversity Committee and leader of the school’s diversity group, Checked Out. Krueger has leveraged these positions to promote the Diversity Advocate Certificate and ensure a more welcoming space for LGBTQ+ students. He has also worked with faculty and administrators to develop a special topics course on Information Services in a Diverse Society, which was added to the curriculum.

Upon receiving his award, Krueger said, “Social justice work feels like shouting into a void…but visibility matters and this recognition goes a long way towards making us feel less alone in our work and identities.” Then Krueger, who is transgender, made it personal. “There are elements of state and national issues that drives us towards invisibility…this is a state whose laws do not respect my humanity.” It is the demonstration of UNC’s own faculty that gives him hope. “I’ve seen the Dean of my own program celebrate freedom of speech by reading a book aloud about transgender teenagers. I feel seen…and it means a lot. Visibility matters.”

Johnny Vang speaks at the 2017 University Diversity Awards

Johnny Vang

The Undergraduate Award was delivered by business administration major Thomas Shockley to Johnny Vang, a first-generation student, Carolina Covenant scholar, and son of refugees. Vang is community chair for the Health Careers Club, a member of the multicultural outreach and diversity executive committee for the Student Government Association, and works with the Health on the Block project, the Carolina Higher Education Opportunities Program and the North Carolina Health Careers Access Program to help low-income families, historically disadvantaged, and cultural minorities fight against health care disparities. Vang told the audience, “Today, we come together at a crossroads between war and peace, between disorder and integration, between fear and hope. The calling for unity on this campus, community, state and nation grows louder, but we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we do it together. We come from different places and speak with different tongues, but our hearts beat as one.”

Donna Dixon, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Electronic Resources Librarian at the Law Library, proudly presented the Department Award to her colleagues in the UNC Center for Civil Rights for their commitment to the advancement of civil rights and social justice, especially in the American South. The center focuses on education, housing and community development, economic justice, environmental justice, voting rights, and civic engagement. It also recognizes the importance of training a new generation of lawyers who believe in and understand the efficacy and centrality of law in eliminating racial inequality. Director Ted Shaw spoke for the group (Mark Dorosin, Elizabeth M. Haddix, Jennifer Watson Marsh, and Brent J. Ducharme) as they stood at the lectern. “I thank the Carolina community for the special place that the Center holds in the hearts of many Tar Heels.” He then pivoted to reference the fire the group has come under lately. “This is the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. America has come view him in a kind of reverence that makes it appear that everyone supported him. Everybody didn’t,” he pointed out. “I think about that as we go through what we’re going through now. Some people will demonize us and mischaracterize us as a result, but we’re on the right side of history and the right side of right.”

Finally, Roy Hawke, Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy presented the Special Recognition Award to Christopher Wallace, manager of the Communiversity Youth Program. Wallace overcame the adversity of growing up in one of the state’s poorest and most crime-ridden communities in Fayetteville, NC with his father. With the help of various community support systems, he overcame this adversity through academic excellence. This inspired him to dedicate his time to helping youth and young adults identify their gifts, bridge achievement gaps and become better versions of themselves. Through his work with Communiversity, the Spirit of Excellence Tutorial Program, the YMCA, the National Youth Sports Program, Upward Bound, Project Effort, Eastside Park Community Center, Project Life Academy and the “Real Men Read” project, he has touched the lives of countless individuals and inspired them to succeed.

Wallace humbly thanked all those who modeled what a commitment to service looked like as he was growing up. “The expectation for people who looked like me would not have me receiving this award for his service to others,” he said. “The award should serve as an inspirational model of hope and dedication for the work that we’re doing in the community and for the students…Life is about how you impact others and make them feel, so it’s important to encourage others to succeed and have the audacity to be great.”

To close out the presentational segment of the ceremony, Ada Wilson, director of Inclusive Student Excellence, announced and introduced the undergraduate recipients of the Harvey Beech Scholarship (named for the first African American student to graduate from UNC, in 1952) — Nicole Ward, Afi Bello and Marquise Drayton — for “giving in the classroom academically, and also to the community.”

Vice Chancellor Felicia A. Washington’s closing remarks had the audience pondering why we celebrate diversity and honor people who make our lives richer. Riffing off of the recipients’ speeches, she noted that we get motivated by people “just doing their jobs” and that “You have to be selfish to make the biggest difference [because] if we walk around aware of who we are – warts included – we are open to receiving.” She ended by reminding us all that “Diversity should be part of the fabric – a thread in all that we do” and that “Diversity is not just being invited to the party, but being equipped, enabled and encouraged to dance once you get there.”

Thanking interim Chief Diversity Officer Rumay Alexander for “tirelessly running toward every diversity concern and opportunity at the University,” Washington then invited the audience to enjoy the pitch perfect blend of voices provided by a cappella student group, Harmonyx. The audience was swept to tears with the group’s poignant delivery of “I Feel Like Going On,” inspired by “Rise Up,” charmed by “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” engaged in a singalong with “Killing Me Softly” and absolutely wowed by “Thank you.” It was a beautiful end to the Diversity Awards – audience members of every background and experience united by an appreciation of the performance, a dedication to diversity, and a passion for ensuring that Carolina continues its work toward equity and inclusion for ALL of its community.

  • Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs





2nd Annual Diversity in STEM Conference

The 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference, taking place on March 24, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, will tackle many of the same concepts as the inaugural event: examining ways to bolster diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The all-day experience will focus on topics related to the impact of diversity on STEM research, funding, and development; connections between STEM faculty recruitment, retention, development, and diversity; and Women of Color in STEM fields.

This year’s event will feature nationally recognized diversity in STEM leaders Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), who is the keynote speaker; Dr. Christine Grant, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Special Initiatives in the College of Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering (NC State University), and Dr. Jorge Cham, Author/Cartoonist of Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD Comics).

Diversity & Multicultural Affairs is sponsoring the morning faculty and staff workshop with Dr. Christine Grant. The workshop will provide strategies and tools for mentoring and coaching students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. Registration is free and open to all faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill. However, faculty who lead labs, interdisciplinary groups, research collaboratives, and/or have an interest in diversifying their teams are strongly encouraged to participate. Please click here to register.

For additional information, please click here.

The 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference is sponsored by Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of Research Communications, Office of Graduate Education, the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and the Department of Chemistry

Let’s talk about freedom of speech

Mark Merritt speaks with group during Carolina Conversations about First Amendment Rights

Mark Merritt speaks with group during Carolina Conversations about First Amendment Rights

Which of the following is considered speech protected by the First Amendment?

  1. Picketing a military funeral with the sign “Thank God for dead soldiers”
  2. Burning an American flag
  3. Wearing blackface at a fraternity fundraiser
  4. Marching in a parade in Nazi uniforms with swastikas
  5. None of the above
  6. All of the above

The answer is “all of the above.” And, distasteful as these examples are, this freedom of expression is at the heart of American democracy, explained Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt at Thursday evening’s Carolina Conversation on First Amendment protected speech.

Launched last year, Carolina Conversations is a University effort to engage students, faculty and staff in dialogue around issues of equity and inclusion related to race, intellectual diversity, religion, identity and culture. Merritt’s presentation was the most recent event in the series, designed to ensure that Carolina remains an inclusive and welcoming campus for all.

“The thought that you end bad speech by trying to restrict it is contrary to the fundamental premise of the First Amendment,” Merritt told the audience gathered in the Student Union Aquarium Lounge.

The First Amendment of the Constitution says that the federal government (and state and local governments, by extension through the 14th Amendment) will make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” The primary purpose of the amendment is to protect political speech from being punished or restricted by the government.

As a public university and a state agency, Carolina is part of the government and must be vigilant in protecting free speech. But not all speech is free speech.

“If you think of the First Amendment as a series of concentric circles, at the very core of what is protected is political speech,” Merritt said. “As you get farther from political speech – for example, in commercials – the protection changes, and the ability of the state to regulate speech gets stronger.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate when someone is talking policy versus politics. Merritt gave an example of a faculty member writing a letter to the editor saying how important some immigrants are for the economy versus ranting about the crazy people in Washington who oppose immigrants. “Those are the extremes. What’s harder is somewhere in the middle.”

The University has been recognized for its commitment to free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The group gave Carolina its best rating – the Green Light – making the University one of only two institutions in the state with that rating and the only public institution.

Protecting free speech doesn’t mean the University and its employees have to tolerate threats, racial epithets, cyberstalking or harassment. When “Bash the Fash” flyers – showing a figure beating a Trump supporter – were being posted on campus recently, Merritt said Chancellor Carol L. Folt’s response was the right one.

“The flyer and its message are the antithesis of the values that are the foundation of our University,” Folt wrote in the Feb. 16 campus email. “It is not designed to spark civil discourse or encourage thoughtful debate. Its intentions are to incite violence, and there is no place for that here or in our society.”

The same principle applies in the workplace. “We do have policies in place about harassment in the work environment,” Merritt said. If you find a co-worker’s speech offensive, “you are free to tell them you find it offensive and why.”

Interim Chief Diversity Officer Rumay Alexander reminded the audience that they can express their concerns with CUS, her acronym for telling someone that you are concerned, uncomfortable or don’t feel safe because of their speech.

When speech sounds hateful but is protected by the First Amendment, the wisest course is to develop a tough skin and keep talking, Merritt said.

“The theory under the First Amendment – and the courts have said this repeatedly – is the antidote to that kind of speech is more speech. It’s educating people. It’s understanding what motivates them to say that,” Merritt said. “It takes time and good speech to overcome the attitudes that are embedded in bad speech.”

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette

Published February 24, 2017

A Welcoming Place for Women

When your women’s center has only five employees to serve a campus that is 60 percent female, you quickly learn the power of collaboration, says Gloria Thomas, Carolina Women’s Center director for the past seven months.

“Ideally, I’d love to serve as the hub, to be sort of the clearinghouse, the place that brings it all together and disseminates the information,” she said. “We’re looking at the ways we have the capacity to serve, not only students but also faculty and staff, and we’re going to have to do a lot of that through collaborations.”

Currently, two of the center’s staff members are devoted full-time to addressing the needs of students who have experienced gender and/or sexual violence. They also offer drop-in hours for counseling at the LGBTQ Center and Koury Residence Hall. Supporting these students is one of the center’s greatest strengths, Thomas said, and that role won’t change. Neither will the programming that supports this role, such as HAVEN training, workshops for faculty, staff and students who want to become informed allies for survivors of sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence.

CWC plans to continue to host the Parenting@UNC.edu website, created for student, faculty and staff parents and parents-to-be as a collective web space to find family-friendly resources. The site also includes a list of lactation rooms across campus, a cause strongly supported by the center.

Thomas would also like to add more services and programming. She would like to make the center a welcoming place for women “in all their intersectionalities and gender identities.”

“We have not seen the variety of women, women-identified and non-conforming gender identities come through our doors, not to the extent we could,” she said. The center is exploring how to create a space for and “build a sense of community for those who feel marginalized on this campus.”

That’s why the Carolina Women’s Center was one of the sponsors of the March 4 Women of Worth Spring Conference, a day of information sessions to “provide tools and resources to help combat negative representations and trends, and create a collaborative sense of community.” The event was filled to capacity.

Supporting Empowerment

The center and its new leader are looking at its other programming and figuring out what fits best with a still-evolving vision statement that will be enacted in the fall. Programs to support empowerment and equity are high on the list. Recent examples include a workshop on gender, activism and leadership and a panel of past winners of the University Award for the Advancement of Women discussing how they advance gender equity in the workplace.

Other possibilities include workshops on how to negotiate an equitable salary and how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment in an environment where it has become “normalized to say and do things that for years we’ve been telling people you don’t do and say,” she said.

“We need to give folks the tools and the courage and the power to combat these instances. We need to make sure they know how to respond,” Thomas said.

Even on a campus dominated by women, “we still need to do a whole lot more empowering,” she said. “There is an imbalance of women to men, but if you look in leadership roles or who’s awarded the most prestigious scholarships, it’s not always women, and it’s certainly not marginalized women.”

Collaboration and mentorship

As for serving faculty and staff, Thomas said she has heard women faculty members express excitement about expanding mentoring models in place in the School of Medicine to all faculty members. On Wednesday (March 8), Thomas will participate in Finding the Mentorship You Need, an event for graduate students, junior faculty and early career staff. Thomas and three other women will share strategies to identify mentors and build mentoring relationships.

Thomas plans to work especially hard to support women of color and faculty in STEM fields. The center will also continue to collaborate with the Employee Forum to advocate for professional development for staff members. She wants to recruit volunteers from the community to help with other areas of gender equity and awareness.

These collaborations will continue, but Thomas is also tapping private donors for support of future programs. “We’re doing it now in bits and pieces, but we want to be doing it more comprehensively,” she said.

The Carolina Women’s Center has lined up several events to celebrate Women’s History Month in March. To participate, visit womenscenter.unc.edu.

Story by Susan Hudson of the University Gazette and photo by Jon Gardiner of University Communications.
Published March 8, 2017.