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.

Five decades of striving for progress

When Preston Dobbins arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 1967, he was adamant about stepping away from the civil rights activism that he had devoted years to while living Chicago.

“By the time I started here, I really had absolutely no interest in any kind of political things,” Dobbins said in a 1974 interview at Carolina. “As a matter of a fact, I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t get involved in anything here. … Just pretty much settle down and enjoy doing nothing but being a student.”

The plan lasted a month.

By the end of the fall semester, Dobbins found himself establishing the Black Student Movement — an organization that has played a role in nearly every significant advances for minorities at Carolina, including the founding of the department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies and the creation of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

“We’re very fond of talking about this as the people’s University,” said James Leloudis, professor of history, associate dean for Honors Carolina and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History. “Perhaps the greatest service that the Black Student Movement has brought to this campus is demanding that we fulfill the promise of those words and holding us accountable. I think what they’ve done for the last half-century has fundamentally changed Carolina and made this a far more inclusive institution. They’ve been on the front line every step along the way.”

Now, as the Black Student Movement enters its 50th year, student members continue to push the University forward and provide a voice for black issues to make Carolina inclusive for everybody.

“You come to college to get an education, but Carolina is a place a lot of people call home,” said Tre Shockley, the current president of the Black Student Movement. “You want everybody to feel at home at Carolina. I think the BSM has a large role in making Carolina an inclusive institution.”

It’s a role that began a half-century ago with a vote at a UNC-Chapel Hill NAACP meeting.

‘Center of every major black piece of Carolina’

In 1967, Dobbins was unimpressed by the campus chapter of the NAACP, questioning the group’s function and lack of action.

Black students at colleges and universities throughout the country were standing up for their rights and a place on predominately white campuses. Carolina— where less than one-half of 1 percent of the student body was black — was falling behind in the movement, Dobbins thought.

Many black students felt the same dissatisfaction as Dobbins. It was an issue he was determined to resolve.

“I took it upon myself to talk to the people that I knew about what I perceived the situation to be with the NAACP and that is that there was really nothing going on and it did not represent the interests of black students on campus,” said Dobbins, who become the group’s first chairman. “We resolved it by actually voting to abolish the NAACP. The discussion proceeded to what group should we form and it was the BSM.”

It wasn’t long before the Black Student Movement took its first action.

In December 1968, the group delivered 23 demands to then Chancellor Carlyle Sitterson. The demands included the creation of an African-American studies department; an office responsive to black students’ needs; and changes to the admissions process to allow the entry of more minority students.

When the administration initially dismissed the demands, protests and sit-ins followed. Faculty members and Carolina student-athletes Bill Chamberlain and Charles Scott offered their support for the Black Student Movement.

Within the year, the Faculty Council endorsed a proposal for a curriculum dedicated to African-American studies. By 1970, UNC-Chapel Hill offered a bachelor of arts in both Afro-American Studies and African studies.

“There was some resistance to having a black studies department,” said Will Mebane, the chairman of the Black Student Movement from 1973 to 1974. “It hadn’t been identified as a full-fledged department and we were back and forth on that. That was a contentious issue. It wasn’t enough to have black studies courses, but we needed to have a full-fledged department.”
It wasn’t until 1975 that faculty members issued the first proposal to create a department dedicated to those studies. Twenty-two years later, the department was created and is now called African, African American, and Diaspora Studies.

While the Black Student Movement backed the faculty in the pursuit of a department, students also turned their attention to raising awareness for the creation of the Black Cultural Center.
In 1988, a temporary Black Cultural Center was opened in a cramped room in the Student Union. But the lack of a freestanding center was a point of contention for the Black Student Movement and the campus community.

After four years in the temporary center, the organization requested the construction of a new building, leading to protests and marches — including one led by Carolina football players during which 800 students marched to South Building.
After years of support from groups inside the University and public figures, including director Spike Lee, the privately funded Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History opened its doors in 2004.

“BSM was really at the center of every major black piece of Carolina from the beginnings,” said Chris Faison, president of the Black Student Movement from 1999 to 2000, and currently the coordinator of male mentoring and engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. “Had it not been for the BSM, a lot of the things that exist would have never been there.”

‘On the front lines’

But the group’s activism wasn’t just working for the benefit of black students, but rather the black community as a whole.

“I don’t know of another group in the history of Carolina that has had more influence on the life at Carolina in every aspect from food service workers to the trustees,” Mebane said.

In the late 1960s, Carolina’s food workers didn’t receive overtime, full-time status, promotions — or even name tags. Carolina students, including many members of the Black Student Movement, came to their aid in 1969 by staging picket lines and raising money for the workers to support a strike.

After nearly a month, North Carolina Governor Robert W. Scott sent the highway patrol to reopen Lenoir Dining Hall and the strike was ended. The strike resulted in the University paying the workers nearly $200,000 in back pay and raising the workers’ hourly wages from $1.60 to $1.80.

The Black Student Movement also aimed to influence change for faculty members, including Sonja Haynes Stone, who headed the University’s African and Afro-American Studies curriculum.

When Stone was denied tenure, those tensions — mixed with tensions over a lack of an office for minority affairs — led to 200 students marching to South Building and holding a sit-in.

The protests helped lead to the tenure of Stone in 1980 and the founding of the Office of Minority Affairs, which would eventually become the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

“If [the Black Student Movement] had not done that, then we would not be considered one of the preeminent schools with diversity particularly with black students, black tenured faculty,” Faison said. “A lot of the things we hang our hat on are a direct relation to the Black Student Movement and its leaders advocating for those issues.”

That history is a point of pride — and driving motivation — for today’s Black Student Movement members who continue to inspire change on campus. Today, their efforts have contributed toward the University taking a comprehensive approach to examining campus history and renaming Saunders Hall in May 2015.

“Our mission is the same thing it’s been in the past: it’s drawing attention to the issues within the black community at UNC and making UNC more inclusive and a better place for the minority community,” Shockley said. “I see the role of the Black Student Movement as being vital in the success and well-being of the black community at UNC. That’s students and faculty.

“I’m extremely proud of what the BSM has accomplished in the last 50 years. We have been successful to this point, but there’s still work to do.”

By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications
Published February 17, 2017.

Black History Month lecture examines American quest for justice

13th Annual African American History Month Lecture with keynote scholar and lecturer, Brenda Stevenson. Wednesday February 8, 2017

Seeking justice has been at the core of the American experience from the very beginning.

It led to freedom from English tyranny in 1776, and today it leads the charge for racial equality.

For Brenda Stevenson, that constant challenge has become as American as apple pie.

“The powerful rally cry of ‘No justice, no peace’ isn’t so different from ‘No taxation without representation’ or ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ – popularized refrains that led a generation of patriots to the founding of this great nation,” she said.

Stevenson, the Nickoll Family Distinguished Professor of History at UCLA and a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, discussed the violence against black women and the struggle for justice for all races in her talk “When Do Black Female Lives Matter? Contested Assaults, Murders and American Race Riots.”

Her presentation was the keynote address of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s 13th annual African-American History Month Lecture at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt introduced Stevenson and shared that the two-hour lecture was a chance to learn from history and understand how it can be used to shape the future.

“There are times in history where we turn to stories and the telling of those stories to learn, to teach and to inspire,” she said. “Those are the times that we use our learning from the past to affect the changes that we want to see today. The telling and the sharing of history are vital to advancing diversity and inclusion.”

Held Feb. 8, the event was hosted by the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost; the College of Arts and Sciences and its departments of communications, music, history and African and African American diaspora studies; the Carolina Women’s Center; the Center for the Study of the American South; Diversity and Multicultural Affairs; Delta Sigma Theta; and the Stone Center.

The lecture was just one of Carolina’s many Black History Month events. Throughout February, University organizations are hosting lectures, panels and other events to celebrate the observance.

Stevenson, an author and frequent commentator on National Public Radio, is an expert on African-American history, black women and families and race relations.

She is also the recipient of the Ida B. Wells Award for Courage in Journalism and the Southern Historical Association’s John W. Blassingame Award, given for distinguished scholarship and mentorship in African-American history.

Lecturing on the case of Latasha Harlins – a 15-year-old black girl who was killed by Korean-American female storeowner Soon Ja Du in 1991 – Stevenson discussed how the lenient sentencing of Du ignited the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The shooting was devastating but was also profoundly different from the usual violent scenario across racial lines that typically garners public exposure,” she said. “The people involved, Soon Ja Du and Latasha Harlins, were female, not male. Du was Korean, not white. She was a mother, wife and shopkeeper. Not a policeman, deputy sheriff, security guard or homegrown terrorists with a white sheet over her head.”

When the judge sentenced Du to five years probation, 400 hours of community service and paying for funeral expenses, the community took to the streets to protest the injustice.

The media’s attention to the case, Stevenson said, further exposed the vulnerability of the most defenseless group in the United States – the women and children of racially, culturally and politically marginalized communities.

But that vulnerability had been a trend for decades prior, with injustices toward black women and children sparking tensions. It’s a vicious cycle, Stevenson said, that falls on all of society to break.

“It’s something that we have to continue to voice, continue to write about, continue to march and protest about and sing about and write poems about,” she said. “These are things that we really have to do. It’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s not just black women’s responsibilities. It’s not just black people’s responsibilities. It’s everybody’s responsibility to do that — everyone who lives on Earth to do that.”

Story by Brandon Bieltz and photos by Jon Gardiner, University Communications
Published February 10, 2017

Carolina celebrates Black History Month

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will celebrate Black History Month with a variety of events including historical tours, speakers and panels.

Observed each February, Black History Month commemorates the people and movements that have advanced civil rights and social equality for African Americans.

“At Carolina, we continue to examine our history and make inroads to provide inclusive excellence for our students, faculty and staff,” said Rumay Alexander, the interim chief diversity officer at Carolina’s Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office. “The many panel discussions, tours, lectures, Carolina Hall, named scholarships and other events that will be held at UNC-Chapel Hill during Black History Month will provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and introspection.”

The 13th annual African American History Month Lecture will headline Carolina’s events. Brenda Stevenson, professor of history and African American studies at UCLA, will serve as the keynote speaker. Held at the Sonja Haynes Stone for Black Culture and History on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m., a question-and-answer session will follow Stevenson’s lecture.

Additional campus events include:

  • Speaker Brittany Packenett on Feb. 2 at the Stone Center
  • Black and Blue historical tours on Feb. 3, 10 and 17 at the Visitors’ Center
  • Black History Month meal on Feb. 15 at Ram’s Head Dining Hall
  • Black business roundtable on Feb. 22 at Hyde Hall

Explore a detailed schedule of events and learn more about the University’s celebration of Black History Month by visiting diversity.unc.edu.

Published February 1, 2017

“Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey” Explores Muslim Culture

In elegant Memorial Hall, we are only moments away from the highly anticipated performance. As the chatter of the audience fades into silence, the curtains rise, giving way to five individuals illuminated by a single stage light. For the next hour, the auditorium is filled with stories centered on coming-of-age experiences for Muslims in America, pre- and post-9/11. These shared tales succeed in moving the audience to laughter, tears, and speechlessness.

This performance is just one of many in the series Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey. Organized by Carolina Performing Arts, the series is dedicated to exploring Muslim culture and identity as well as generating important dialogue regarding Islamophobia. As part of the new Carolina Performing Arts Student Ambassador program, students attend multiple performances and lectures within the series. [Disclosure: author is a student ambassador] Discussions amongst the ambassadors concerning the significance of the performance to Muslim culture and identity follow each program.

The series is the product of Charlotte native and UNC alumna, Aisha Anwar. Graduating in early 2016 with a degree in English, she now works as Engagement Coordinator of Special Projects. Like many Carolina students, Anwar was drawn to UNC because of the “deep sense of community” she experienced while being on campus.

“I helped start Student Ambassadors because, as a student, I wanted people to attend plays and performances as well as [have] someone to talk to afterwards about what I’d just seen,” she says. The program is about “highlighting the plurality of Muslim experiences and identities [in which] students can bond over the performances they attend together [and] come to value the various roles art may play in exploring the human condition.”

Additional performances include Topeng Losari, a dance starring Indonesian performer, Nani. Topeng Losari is a mask dance originating in indigenous Javanese culture and featuring elements of mysticism and magic. Dancers sometimes perform with their eyes closed as a way to pray to God, the Earth, and the body. On February 16th, Playmakers will host a staged reading of The Who and the What, a play which demonstrates Muslim characters struggling to remain true to their cultural and religious heritage while also dealing with the reality of a dynamic cultural landscape that brings demands of modernization and assimilation.

Anwar hopes that, as the student ambassadors delve deeper into analysis of each performance, they go beyond simply enjoying theatre and actually learn something of value. “Performing arts can foster empathy and compassionate dialogue around difficult subjects,” she notes. “I hope these performances will “guide the student ambassadors to not only be more aware but to feel empowered to speak up and be involved.”

However, she wants the influence of the performances and the program to reach beyond the student ambassadors. Anwar suggests that people “engage with literature, art, and films that center the voices of Muslim or other marginalized individuals” in order to become informed on important issues surrounding discrimination of Muslims and other marginalized groups. ”Share the experience with someone and reflect,” she says, “but don’t stop there. Continue the conversation and community building by finding local groups that are dedicated to organizing against racism.”

In providing creative performances, Aisha hopes to use the arts to build bridges between communities.  “We, as human beings, can be advocates for one another,” she says.  Sometimes unity begins in the darkness of a theater.

By Brittany Grant




Carolina’s women in science

When she was 9 years old, Hendrée Jones saw a television show about teenage runaway girls that sparked an idea. She came up with a concept for a two-story building with living space upstairs and a restaurant with an arcade downstairs where the teens could work during the day. Today, she is the executive director of UNC Horizons, a substance abuse treatment program for pregnant women and mothers. “I knew I always wanted to help women,” she said.

Nancy Rodriguez-Bunn wanted to be bank teller so that her grandparents would no longer have to stand in line to wait for service. “Interestingly enough, my first job was as a bank teller, so you can say that I achieved my goal when I was 16 years old,” she laughed. Today, the mathematics professor uses modeling and analysis to shed light on topics like urban crime, segregation, cell movement and ecology.

Sarah Schmitt dreamed of becoming Sylvia Earle, the beloved underwater explorer, after her aunt gave her Earle’s signed autobiography when she was 11. After that, she spent her summers on Chesapeake Bay, learning to sail and crab with her grandfather. Today, she studies the strong connection between hydrology and ecology in tropical islands including the Galápagos.

In 2016, the Women in Science Wednesday series featured a different UNC-Chapel Hill researcher each week whose focus fell within the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. These features have been an immense success, highlighting the work of various female researchers at all levels of their careers, from a variety of departments across campus. The series will continue to honor UNC’s prestigious women in science in 2017.

Read more here.

By Alyssa Lafaro, Office of Research Communications
Published January 9, 2017

Soledad O’Brien Discusses Service at MLK Lecture

Soledad O’Brien delivers the Keynote at the MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards Ceremony at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. January 17, 2017. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular man who decided he would do great things, Soledad O’Brien said Tuesday (Jan. 17) at the 36th annual MLK Celebration Keynote Lecture and Award Ceremony.

“That means for the rest of us that we have that same opportunity,’’ said O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, documentarian, news anchor and producer. “Because if it’s magic then it’s out of our hands — but if actually he’s a regular person who made the decision that he would do great things, then I think that is an opportunity for all of us.”

O’Brien gave the keynote address in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill to a packed crowd that included Chancellor Carol L. Folt and other University leaders, plus students, faculty and staff.

The event, co-hosted by The Carolina Union Activities Board and Diversity and Multicultural Affairs with support from other organizations, was part of Carolina’s week-long observance of King, which included the MLK “The Time is Now” 5K on Monday as part of the 14th annual MLK Day of Service and other events throughout the week.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, awards and recognitions were presented to faculty, staff, students and members of the community — individuals who already have taken advantage of their opportunities to stimulate change.

MLK Scholarship finalists Trinity Johnson, Rubi Quiroz and Andre Ciccotti react as Quiroz is named the winner of the scholarship.

Carolina students Rubi Franco Quiroz, Andre Bicalho Ceccotti and Trinity Johnson received MLK Scholarships, given annually to juniors who best exemplify King’s commitment to society.

Benjamin Frey, assistant professor of American studies, and Franklin Seymore, zone manager of Carolina’s housekeeping services, won Unsung Hero Awards, presented to faculty, staff or community members who embody King’s legacy and spirit.

Also recognized was Roland Hedgepeth, father of Faith Hedgepeth, a Carolina student who was killed in 2012. She served as inspiration for this year’s theme, Keeping the Faith: A Call to Press On.

In 2013, O’Brien launched Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production and distribution company dedicated to uncovering and producing stories that challenge the issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity through personal narratives. She originated the documentary series, In America, which included Black in America and Latino in America and is still produced by her production company.

She showed clips of some of her documentaries during the lecture, which focused on the opportunity each and every individual has to spark social change.

“Every step forward toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle,” she said.

O’Brien said her role in sparking social change is to continue to tell other people’s compelling stories, elevating their narratives. Telling — and most importantly listening to — people’s stories, she said, is the best solution we have to move forward as a society.

“What will be my service?” she asked. “To tell the stories of all Americans — whether they look like me or not, whether they agree with me or not — and seek to understand them and accurately reflect their stories.”

People can choose to fight for social justice, O’Brien said, by fighting against their own biases. They can look for more people and listen to their stories. They can try to understand. The choice, however, belongs to each individual. O’Brien ended her lecture challenging the audience.

“What are you going to do?”

Story by Will Rimer and photos by Jon Gardiner, Office of University Communications
Published January 18, 2017


2017 University Diversity Awards Nominations Open

The University Diversity Awards recognize people and groups who have given their time and effort to further diversity and inclusion at Carolina and in our surrounding community.  The University Diversity Awards committee will be accepting nominations beginning Monday, January 9. The deadline for submission is on Monday, January 30.

The awards will be given in the following eight categories:

  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Undergraduate Student
  • Graduate/Professional Student
  • Department/Unit/Faculty and Staff Group
  • Student Organization
  • Alumni
  • Community Member/Organization

Criteria for the awards:

  • Advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion of underrepresented groups and/or social justice
  • Demonstrated a sustained commitment to the advancement of cultural diversity and inclusion at UNC and/or in the community
  • Demonstrated respect or inclusive treatment when interacting with others
  • Implemented or sponsored an event which cultivates diversity and inclusion

Nominations can be submitted electronically at UNC 2017 Diversity Awards Nomination

Further details about the award and the nomination process are available at http://diversity.unc.edu/diversityawards. For further information, please contact Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at diversity@unc.edu.

Soledad O’Brien to deliver UNC’s MLK 2017 Celebration Lecture

Journalist and producer Soledad O’Brien and state Senator Valerie Foushee will be featured speakers during UNC-Chapel Hill’s 2017 MLK Celebration Week, beginning on January 15. This year’s theme is “Keeping the Faith: A Call to Press On” and will include events dedicated to the intersectionality of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. 

UNC-Chapel Hill has a long history of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Since 1983, Carolina’s celebrations of his legacy have been part of a campus-wide initiative that extends well beyond the boundaries of Franklin Street and into the Chapel Hill/Carrboro community. The University proudly honors Dr. King’s bridge-building efforts through several long-standing traditions: The University/Community Annual MLK Banquet, the MLK Day of Service 5K and the MLK Lecture and Awards Ceremony. In addition, numerous performances, discussions, and screenings addressing intersectionality and encouraging social justice and activism are scheduled to take place Jan. 15 through 20 – the week of what would have been Dr. King’s 88th birthday.

“It is such an honor to have North Carolina Senator Valerie Foushee and esteemed journalist Soledad O’Brien speaking at our MLK events,” said Dr. G. Rumay Alexander, Interim Chief Diversity Officer for UNC’s Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Special Assistant to the Chancellor. “Their contribution to Dr. King’s legacy of service and advocacy resonates especially now.”

The 32nd annual University/Community Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet and Award Presentation

Kicking off the week’s events is the Annual University/Community Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet and Award Presentation, hosted by the MLK Planning Corporation, in partnership with UNC’s Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, held at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education on Sunday, Jan. 15. The event begins with a 5 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 6 p.m., and features musical selections, a spiritual litany, and the Citizenship Awards, which recognize those in the community who have demonstrated “enduring service to humanity by word and by deed.”

It is a special honor to have UNC alumna Valerie Foushee delivering the Memorial address. The state Senator received her BA in Political Science and African and Afro-American Studies in 1978 and went on to serve 21 years in the Chapel Hill Police Department. Foushee has been heavily involved in local education – elected to the Board of Education for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in 1997 and re-elected in 2001, during which time she also served as Chair. In 2004, she became the first African American female on the Orange County Board of Commissioners, to which she was re-elected in 2008 and served as Chair from 2008-2010. Foushee was elected to the NC House in 2012, representing rural Orange and Durham counties.

Tickets are $30. To purchase, please contact Diversity Celebrations Co-Coordinator Cameron Congleton at cconglet@live.unc.edu.

The MLK The Time is Now 5K Day of Service

On the following morning (Monday, Jan. 16), runners will be lacing up their sneakers and gathering at the Campus Y before sunrise for a light breakfast prior to participating in the MLK The Time is Now 5K. Runners will wind their way around the campus and neighboring streets before passing through the victory balloon arch. For those participants seeking a less challenging route, a one-mile fun walk will also take place.  Prizes will be awarded to runners in many categories.

The Day of Service event is sponsored by student organization ROCTS (Rejuvenating Our Community Through Service), co-sponsored by Fleet Feet Sports, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, and the Department of Housing & Residential Education, and generously supported by the Parents Council Grant Program.

This year, the fundraiser will benefit the Faith Danielle Hedgepeth Award, named in memory of the beloved UNC student who had dedicated herself to service. The award, given by UNC-Chapel Hill’s American Indian Center and the Carolina Indian Circle, supports a sophomore student with books, supplies and basic living expenses while pursuing a career in a helping or health profession and serving American Indian populations.

Registration is $25 and includes breakfast, a t-shirt and an armband (discounts for groups). To register, please visit rocts.web.unc.edu.

The MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards Ceremony

On Tuesday night (Jan. 17) at 7:30 p.m., renowned journalist, documentarian, news anchor and producer Soledad O’Brien will deliver the Keynote at the MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards Ceremony. O’Brien launched Starfish Media Group (SMG) in 2013, dedicated to uncovering and producing empowering stories that take a challenging look at the often divisive issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity, through personal stories. The highly successful documentary series Black in America and Latino in America are among the many products of SMG. In addition, O’Brien and her husband, Brad, created the PowHERful Foundation to help disadvantaged young women with college access and success. This year, 25 women will receive scholarships.

In addition to O’Brien’s Keynote delivery, two special presentations will be made: the MLK Scholarship, which is awarded to a college junior; and the MLK Unsung Hero Awards, which are awarded to a UNC staff/faculty, department, or a community/corporate entity.

Tickets are free, but required. They are available online and at the Carolina Performing Arts box office.

The Keynote Lecture is co-hosted by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and the Carolina Union Activities Board, in partnership with Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Parents Council Grant, Association of Student Governments, Interfraternity Council, National Panhellenic Council, Department of Housing and Residential Education, Student Congress, Residence Hall Association, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, School of Dentistry, Carolina Association of Black Journalists, Carolina Center for Public Service, School of Education, Department of Athletics, World View, American Studies, School of Information and Library Science, and Department of Dramatic Art.

The 2017 MLK Celebration Committee is grateful for the support of Carolina Performing Arts, the American Indian Center, Stone Center for Black History and Culture, and the various student organizations represented in the committee in designing and offering the week of events.

For more information about these highlighted events or to learn more about additional campus and community MLK Week events, please visit http://diversity.unc.edu/programs-and-initiatives/mlk/.

by Adrianne Gibilisco