North Carolina’s race to revive the red wolf species

By Anna Grace Freebersyser

“Red wolves? Yeah, baby!”

         A preschooler darts away from his family to get closer to the exhibit faster. He joins a gaggle of other kids howling at the top of their lungs and pressed up to the plexiglass.

         That is exactly the kind of enthusiasm Chris Lasher likes to see from visitors at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro       

The wolves on display are just two of the 245 red wolves in captivity spread out across 40 facilities in the United States. Lasher is responsible for all of them. As the coordinator for the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, his responsibility is to ensure that the species survives in captivity —a real concern with only 20 left in the wild.

         But he has not always been watching them, caring from the sidelines.

         Years ago, with the Red Wolf Recovery Program under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he pioneered a method of direct fostering and cross fostering red wolves —a way to boost the wild population.

         “If a mom has a litter in the wild, and we have a litter under human care that was born about the same time, we can take some of the new litter, born under captivity, and place them with the female in the wild,” he said.

         And it went as he had hoped.

         “Every single time, she raises them as her own,” he said..

         Red wolves are family-oriented. They mate for life and care for their young into maturity. So, when more pups showed up, the moms took it in stride. Sometimes, Lasher finds it hard to wrap his head around..

         “Can you imagine, just coming home from work one day and you have two more kids?” he asked.

         That part of the program is on hold for now. There are no longer enough wolves in the wild to sustain it.


‘Ambassadors:’ Red wolves in captivity

         For now, there is no crawling inside dens. But there is standing, hands in pockets, talking with guests about the red wolves.

         The male wolf on exhibit shows some interest when he hears Lasher’s voice, but it’s not until zookeeper Curtis Malott shows up with a purple plastic bucket that the wolves get up.

The male is young and curious, pacing the width of the rocky enclosure. The female is old and cautious, standing on thin legs. She does not take a step until Malott throws a hunk of meat over the fence onto a rock directly in front of her.

         “They’re great ambassadors,” Malott said.

The zoo’s red wolves are beautiful examples of their species, even if the female’s coat has faded with age.

“She’s a little bit more about your typical wolf. She’s a little bit more cautious around us,” Malott said. 

That fear is natural and makes the captive wolves good candidates for release into the wild, if it’s ever needed. 

The male wolf is a different story.

“He wants to be right alongside us, to potentially play with us,” Malott said. “We don’t give him the chance.”

         As Malott speaks, the male trots back and forth in front of a  water feature and the plexiglass that separates him from his keeper. The female grabs her food and retreats —eyes ever watchful.


Raising big concerns in a small town

Four hours away, in Columbia, North Carolina, there is a red wolf with unseeing, glass eyes in the window of a little yellow building.

Its fur is sun-bleached. Its hide is scraggly and worn. But it’s eye catching all the same, and Kim Wheeler says that’s often what gets people in the door of the Red Wolf Coalition.

Red Wolf Coalition is home to one taxidermied wolf, one taxidermied coyote and one full-time employee: Wheeler. As the executive director, she travels to schools and puts on programs to educate people about red wolves.

She uses the preserved animals to educate guests about the difference between red wolves and coyotes, which they are often mistaken for.

After all, both have pointy ears and noses. The color of their coats can be similar. Both live in Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties in eastern North Carolina. But only one is the most endangered canine in the world.

Columbia is a small town full of hunters. The Red Wolf Coalition is on main street across from Sandy’s Place, one of two restaurants in town. The lunch crowd is full of men in camo. Plenty of women wear the forest pattern too —on baseball caps, hoodies, even purses. Wheeler eats her lunch, greeting neighbors and friends as they go by.

But as friendly as the townsfolk are over lunch,  , they’re not always comfortable with her mission.

Once, Wheeler remembers the window wolf catching the eye of a little girl walking past with her mom. The girl was no more than four, Wheeler thinks. As she passed, she pointed, excited, thinking it was a dog.

“And her mother says, ‘No, that’s not a dog, that’s a wolf. We hate wolves,’” Wheeler remembers. Even now, the incident gets to her.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion. But, my first thought was, ‘Why do we want to teach a child to hate anything?’” Wheeler said. “Hate, to me, is a strong word. Her mother has not had any bad experiences with wolves. She just hates them because she feels like they’re eating all the deer.”

But for Wheeler, there’s no reason for hating the wolves that is good enough. She loves them too much. Her office is covered in photos of them, figurines of them, books about them. She even volunteers to feed a pair of wolves, named Manny and Sierra, kept down the road at Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge.

“I always take time just to watch them. And I look and I think, ‘Why are people so afraid of them?’” she says, as she puts her hand to her heart. “They’re beautiful to me.”


To name the wolves or not

Joe Madison pays a visit to those wolves before his return  to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. He is in charge of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The program is hoping to put together three wild pairs before mating season ends in March. They’ve been unlucky catching females, despite setting and checking traps for over a month.

Here at Pocosin, he stands inside the pen. There is nothing between him and the wolves.

“You can see how menacing they are, how much they want to tear us apart,” he jokes, motioning to Manny and Sierra. The wolves nearly skim the opposite fence in their eagerness to be far away from the human in their space.

“Don’t tell me the names,” he says, averting his eyes from the plaque where the names of the captive wolves are emblazoned.

“As a wildlife biologist, you don’t name wildlife,” he says. But, Madison admits,  he understands why they name them. It’s easier for educational purposes.

After all, the wolves in fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” don’t have names except for their descriptor: Big Bad Wolf. If naming the wolves makes it easier for people to connect with them and want to save the species, that is fine with Madison.

Edited by Meredith Radford and Claire Ruch

Overcoming struggle, facing opportunity and challenging opposition

By Michelle Li

It was an anxious afternoon in 2018 as Sheel Patel did his routine walk home from the bus stop in quiet suburbia, Morrisville, NC. He had been checking the mailbox every day for the past few weeks.

At the time, Patel was a senior at Panther Creek High School with a dream to be a diplomat and entrepreneur. As college acceptance letters kept coming in, one fear kept looming over him. Without a green card, the proper paperwork or a visa, attending college was almost impossible. But, he risked it all and had applied anyway.

Sifting through the mail, there it was—his family’s long-awaited green cards.

“I opened the mail and started to cry tears of joy,” Patel recalled. “I think I went into my room and cried for a week or so,” He had received an acceptance letter to UNC-Chapel Hill a few days prior.

Sheel Patel was going to college.

An outward and inward journey

Patel, 19, has been on the move since he was 1 year old 1. He is an Indian-Canadian-American immigrant and with that, comes a blend of culture, identity and inevitable crises. Sheel’s English is a culmination of learning from other Indian immigrants, the Canadian accent and American slang. “I had just moved to Houston, Texas from Ohio and was talking about hail. With my accent, everyone in class was shocked because they thought I was casually bringing up hell,” said Patel.

Patel was born in Dahod a city in Gujarat, India. to Rinkal and Ashish Patel. One year later, the Patels immigrated from Gujarat to Brampton in Toronto, Canada. They moved into the basement of an acquaintance’s’ home and tried to make a life there. Patel remembers placing murtis of Hindu gods in the living room, walking around the fixtures seven times with his best girl friend. It is symbolic of marriage and a fond memory of his time in Canada. His parents, struggling to find work, packed up their bags and crossed borders once more, to America.

Now a sophomore at UNC-CH, Sheel is majoring in business and public policy.

From the moment his parents saved enough money to purchase Country Store Foods in South Webster, Ohio, Sheel knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “It was a big accomplishment,” Patel said. “The store was the town’s mini Walmart. My parents were so happy.” Patel reflected on the steps his parents took to get to where they were: “When we first immigrated to America, my mom was working two jobs at Burger King and Tim Hortons.” The stark lifestyle difference for the Patel family inspires Sheel to keep pushing.

“There’s never been a place where I fully fit in because I am a bucket of contradictions,” Patel said. “I’m Indian, but I’m also Canadian and American. I grew up in America, but I’m not a citizen. I’m gay, but I’m not white, which seems like the blanket in the gay community. I’m Hindu, but I’m not necessarily theistic.”

Tyler Dunston, Sheel’s college roommate, said, “I think that as college progresses, he’s immersed himself more in his Indian and Gujarati identity. In America, there are a lot of things that we just inherently assume everyone knows. I know he just tried coleslaw in the past year, and it did surprise me when I found out he didn’t know what it was beforehand. I think it’s admirable and interesting to see someone gain a grounding in a non-western-centric identity while also still being able to engage in certain aspects of American culture.”

Not only has the college opportunity allowed Sheel to explore his Gujarati identity, but it has also allowed him to “explore his sexuality more,” Dunston added.

Patel was in second grade when he realized another facet of the many identities he holds that he must wrestle with.

In the back of the classroom sat a dark, curly-haired Sheel and his friend Ethan. Moving images from “Peanuts” filled the screen in the front of the room. Almost everyone had their eyes transfixed on Charlie Brown’s next move. Everyone but Sheel. Instead, he was mesmerized by Ethan’s soft smile. Without warning, he leaned over and planted a small kiss on Ethan’s cheek. Embarrassed and filled with guilt, he handed Ethan three Crayola markers as a peace offering and said to never bring this kiss up to anyone, not their friends or family, let alone the teacher.

It was the day before Valentine’s Day when Patel, now 13, came out to his father through a YouTube video titled “Your Son is Gay”. Anticipating his father would be open-minded, the response of his father’s threats to send him to boarding school took Patel by surprise.

“I immediately retracted my coming out after I saw my father was angry. I just started laughing and saying, ‘I got you, it’s a prank!’ and that I had a crush on a girl in class,” said Patel.

It was not until high school that Patel bravely came to terms with his sexuality: “My dad asked me ‘Are you, are you gay?’…they both started hysterically crying,” Patel said. “But I had hardened up at that point.”

Patel’s parents have slowly accepted his coming out saying, “My dad tolerates it now, but my mom is eons ahead of where she was to the point where we are going to see a Bollywood movie together that features a gay couple.”

What’s next?

The challenges did not end there.

Dev Patel, Sheel’s younger brother, remembers the day his family received their green cards. It had been a 14-year wait: “We had finally done it. We had gotten our green cards. Sheel was probably the happiest as he has always been passionate about politics and could apply for citizenship in a mere four or five years, so he could vote,” Dev Patel said.

Those five years are the supposed five years it will take Sheel Patel to gain his American citizenship. But, with Patel’s hopes of going abroad through the GLOBE Program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-CH, his path to citizenship could be greatly impacted. “I’m not sure what will happen,” said Patel, “I will meet with a lawyer soon.”

However, Dev is not worried. He believes Sheel has “learned to conquer his problems.”

When asked how Sheel has made the best of his legal situation, Patel’s longtime friend Arya Kode said that “Sheel has often taken his feelings on not having a U.S. citizenship and funneled them towards active social work because he knows he can’t do normal civic things like vote.” Sheel and Kode have known each other since they attended middle school together and are in the same fraternity at UNC-CH.

Regardless, Sheel is thankful for his experiences and for his parents. For Patel, holding many identities pushes him to exist out of the boundaries, revealing inherent uniqueness and perspectives that nobody can match. “It’s almost better that way,” he said.

Edited By Caleb Schmidt

Fanatic or nonchalant?: Student responses to UNC-Duke game day

By Jazmine Bunch

The darker specks of blue rejoiced throughout the arena. Tears exposed trails of skin as they rolled down Carolina blue-painted faces, and mouths dropped in horror. Duke players rushed the court and swarmed the Duke forward who transformed an air ball into a buzzer-beater shot to top the Tar Heels by two points in overtime.

Jamal Smith, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, stood in the nosebleeds with a dead phone and broken spirit. Suddenly, the gaping hunger from not eating all day began to gnaw its way through his Michael Jordan jersey.

And while an estimated 21,500  fans of one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball stood in the Dean E. Smith Center—some on cloud nine with triumph while others were picking their jawlines off the ground— freshman Treasure Rouse didn’t even know or have the slightest care in the world that the Blue Devils had just won.

The typical Duke celebration consists of burning benches and bonfires, but post-win festivities were halted by Duke’s Dean of Students, who planted herself on top of one bench, because students didn’t have a permit to burn them. When Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke University, heard that a student shouted, “Burn her too!” she was reminded of why she doesn’t participate in game day rituals.

Fueled by the rivalry

Not everyone’s fire is rooted in family feuds and divided houses like Smith’s.  Before attending UNC-CH, he was a Duke fan for 12 years. He and his mom rooted for Duke while his dad and sister loved Carolina. Every game day they’d watch the game from different rooms and come together in the last quarter.

But after his Carolina conversion, he has new game day rituals.

He hopped out of bed at 7 a.m. with no time to eat and threw on his UNC edition Air Jordan 11’s, Michael Jordan jersey and UNC jacket before barreling down the hill from his Horton dorm to the Dean Dome in preparation for ESPN’s College GameDay.

As a member of the sports administration team, he didn’t have to brave the cold for hours before the 11 a.m. entry time. Instead, he got to marvel at the behind-the-scenes magic inside the arena until the floodgates opened, and then he got to watch thousands of eager fans pour in.

He remained at the stadium until 1 p.m., took a nap in between the seats, grabbed a quick bite with the sports administration crew and hopped in line outside at 3 p.m. to wait for his Phase 3 entry time into the game.

His ticket confirmation from Carolina Athletics didn’t feel real. He was numb to the game day buzz throughout the week. Even his early morning alarm didn’t completely jolt him out of this dream. He’d been to plenty of UNC basketball games this season, but this was Carolina versus Duke. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten a coveted ticket his first year.

But when the horns from the “Jump Around” intro blared through the stadium, he felt that this was real, and this basketball game was about to be “real different.”

It’s an even bigger game when you’re rooting for both blues.

“It was exciting at home or watching it in my room,” Smith said. “But being in the Dean Dome and you’re a part of it, and being nervous because you don’t know if you’re about to rush Franklin Street or go back to your room and cry… it was better than anything.”

Smith cycled through all the normal game day emotions as Carolina led most of the game.

Even after the shot that narrowly snatched away the win from UNC, Smith said being in the stadium, experiencing those last seconds in slow motion and sharing pride and pain with thousands of other fans was surreal.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone wouldn’t want to be here.

Oblivious to the game

Rouse woke up at 11 a.m., hours after some fans had been waiting for hours just to gain admission into the Smith Center for ESPN’s College GameDay. She strolled through the thick of game day madness on her way to her boyfriend’s dorm, initially oblivious that there was a big basketball game.

“I didn’t even know we had a game… until I walked to go to Ehaus and there was a radical white man,” she said between laughs, “and he goes, ‘GO DUKE!’ He was like the Pit preacher, but it was just him cheering on Duke. And I was like ‘Woah, this is not what I signed up for.’”

She and her boyfriend, Jordan Roberts, would be confined to the four walls of Ehringhaus dorm. With butterfly lights illuminating the dim room, they cozied on the comforts of a 36 inch by 80 inch twin bed, and  judged couples on “House Hunters” at tipoff.

They’d just be fine with that.

“I knew there was a game, and I planned to catch some of it,” Roberts said. “I was at work early in the day, so game day was a no-go.”

It’s a part of the Carolina experience to anticipate rushing Franklin Street after a win over Duke. But the passion and immediacy of a Tar Heel-Devil rivalry didn’t exist in their dorm room. In this moment, it was just Rouse, Roberts and “House Hunters.”

A normal day

The nonchalance stretched 10 miles down Tobacco Road to Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke. When the battle of the blues ensued at the 6:05 p.m. tipoff, she was eating pizza and preparing for step practice.

Her day started when her alarm woke her up at 10 a.m. She was going to be busy with laundry, lunch at IHOP, an event with her modeling organization, step practice at the Bryan Student Center until 9:30 p.m. and a party she planned to attend that night.

She’s only been to one basketball game since freshman year, and she tries to stay out of the way on game day. Her hate for Carolina goes as far as a solicited round of trash talk, but there’s no true hate for the Tar Heels in her heart, nor any major allegiance to the Blue Devils.

“For me, I didn’t grow up around the rivalry. I probably didn’t know what the rivalry was until I got to this school,” Nwabueze said. “I don’t think I could tell you the players that are on this team.”

In combination with a lack of passion, Nwabueze described the process of getting student tickets at Duke.

Tents will line K-Ville— also known as Krzyzewskiville, the line where Duke students camp for tickets—weeks before Duke basketball games, housing student groups who undergo freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather to gain access to conference games. Carolina games always guarantee that students will make themselves at home in these temporary dwellings for weeks at a time.

For Nwabueze, that just isn’t worth it.

Around 9 p.m., other students in the student center erupted into cheers at what Nwabueze realized was the end of the game. Even though she didn’t ride the game day wave, after she left step practice, she casually threw on a Duke jersey and—not really needing a reason either way— partied as planned.

Although the nation may stop for the Carolina-Duke game, some students on the 10-mile stretch of Tobacco Road aren’t even phased.

Edited by Rachel Crumpler

Reminiscing on a Carolina win after Blue Devils stun the Tar Heels

By Tamiya Troy

Calia Johnson stared at the television as there were 16 seconds left on the clock in overtime. The score was UNC 96, Duke University 93. She eased into a daydream.

On this day two years ago, she went to her first Carolina versus Duke basketball game. She originally didn’t win a ticket through the lottery, but a friend found a ticket for her to attend the game.

Too excited to think, she stood in the mirror then ransacked her closet to find an outfit. She wore a Carolina blue shirt, black pants, a grey scarf and a black North Face jacket. She wore Uggs and brought earmuffs and gloves to wear as she waited in line.

She walked up the hill to the Smith Center and saw lines of shivering students. The lines were wrapped around the entire building, and she didn’t know if she wanted to wait that long. “I saw Roy Williams through the basketball museum windows and I knew it’d be worth it,” Calia said. “I realized I didn’t mind waiting two hours for something I looked forward to my whole life.”

The cool air against her face was nothing compared to the warm feeling throughout her body. When she finally entered the arena, she could feel the anticipation in the air. There was a sea of Carolina blue faces, t-shirts, foam fingers and towels. Her heart filled with joy and she smiled from ear to ear.

Calia attended almost every home basketball game that season and this was the one she was most excited to experience. She was used to sitting in the first row of the student section at every game, so she didn’t know what to expect. Sitting in the nosebleeds wasn’t ideal, but Calia cared more about being present.

The Smith Center was dark. People pulled out their phones and prepared for the light show. Across the arena, the cellphone lights flashed in sync as Michael Jordan, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye appeared on the jumbotrons. Cheers filled the air while highlights from the unforgettable 2017 National Championship win played in the video.

The teams walked onto the court. It was officially game time. The fans stood the entire game, watching as both teams hustled across the court. By halftime, Carolina fans had their hands on top of their heads, standing in distress. UNC was down by four.

But any true Carolina fan knew that the team would pull through. The scores were close. The fans were restless. With 15 seconds left, Carolina had a five-point lead and possession of the ball. People started to gather their belongings in preparation for what was to come.

Seconds passed by and screams began to fill the atmosphere.

The clock hit zero, and the arena erupted with excitement. Carolina defeated Duke 82-78. The stress and anxiety of the game turned into joy. Calia grabbed her friends as they jumped and yelled into their cameras. She couldn’t believe that she had experienced her first Carolina versus Duke win.

People hastily ran out of the Smith Center. They didn’t even bother singing the alma mater, which is typically sung after a Carolina win.

The Carolina fans that filled the arena had one place in mind. More than four decades ago fans rushed Franklin Street for the first time. Today, they still run to Franklin Street to celebrate a win over Duke or a championship game.

Calia and her friends joined the crowd. It would take about 25 minutes to reach Franklin Street, but her heart was beating fast and time was moving slow. They waited eagerly for people to exit the arena.

When they finally reached the pavement, they walked up the Skipper Bowles hill, thinking about how to avoid getting tired too quickly. News stations were parked at every curb. There were so many people and no way to run around the barricades.

They walked through SASB Plaza, past Chase Hall and Kenan Stadium. As they approached the Bell Tower, they began to run. “At that moment, I knew it was real,” Calia said. “I would never run this far across campus for anything else.”

You could hear crowds screaming from every direction. Their journey consisted of sporadic chants of “Tar… Heels!” They ran through the Pit, past the Old Well and by Silent Sam. Despite slowly running out of breath, they continued their trek until they reached Franklin Street.

Students are not the only ones who rush Franklin Street. Fans young and old, as well as health and safety professionals line the street to rally and ensure safe celebration.

Members of the Critical Incident Response Team, like Aisha Pridgen, were also running toward Franklin Street, but for a different reason. “I remember my colleagues and I trying to figure out the best route to beat the crowd,” Aisha said. “But the bonfires and fireworks had already started by the time we arrived.”

Calia weaved through thousands of people, searching for her friends. “We kept trying to call them, but the signal was so bad,” Calia said. Every time they got through one crowd of people, they found themselves in the middle of another. She started to lose hope.

Music was playing, people were dancing and everyone was screaming. “It was a huge mosh pit that I thought I’d get lost in,” Calia said. Unexpectedly, she spotted her friends standing at the corner of Franklin Street and Colombia Street, in front of Lotsa. She ran toward them, screaming with excitement. They laughed, cried and took pictures together in the middle of the chaos.

The energy was at an all-time high and she couldn’t believe her eyes. She interacted with random people as if she had known them her entire life. The fact that some people never experience the Franklin Street rush was absurd to her.

As she looked around, people were standing on things, climbing light poles and holding friends on their shoulders. The only thing everyone cared about was the win over Duke. They spotted the bonfire and decided to join the crowd. One…two…three! She jumped over the fire and everyone cheered. “It was electrifying. I felt like I was dreaming,” Calia said.

She knew that this was the epitome of the Carolina experience.

It hit Johnson that this experience would be incredibly different than the 2018 game she attended.

As she shifted back to reality, the clock hit zero seconds. Duke defeated Carolina 98-96.

Tears filled her eyes, and at that moment, she realized that she wouldn’t experience the thrill this time around.

Edited by Rachel Sauls

At Connor’s Lane, new life springs up from tragedy

By Savannah Cole

Every time the Beeson family sits around their fire pit, Connor’s Lane, they reminisce over the 19 years they shared with their son. They smile, they laugh, and sometimes, they cry.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Ryan Beeson had just returned to East Carolina University after a nice weekend at home. His day started just as any other. He headed to Cook Out for lunch, unaware that his family had been trying to call him all day. That afternoon, Ryan got a knock on his door. It was his cousin, Sid.

Sid sat Ryan down and told him there had been a death in the family. Ryan’s first thought was his dad. He never expected it to be his younger brother, only sibling and best friend. Ryan said, “I just remember crying and screaming.”

Connor was working on his truck, White Thunder. He was pumping air into its tires when one exploded, instantly killing him. Connor was just 19 years old. Jan. 19, 2015, would be a day that changed the Beesons’ lives forever.

‘I love you to the moon and back’

Ryan was about two years older than Connor. Some of Ryan’s favorite memories include playing with his younger brother every day after school. They played Us Big, a game where they would pretend to be grown-ups from different time periods. Ryan also remembers the two playing with their cousins in their grandparents’ sandbox until high school.

Connor and Ryan’s rooms were beside each other, connected by a bathroom. Every night they would tell each other good night and that they loved each other.

Connor enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, hunting, working on White Thunder and playing with Dixie and Daisy, his bluetick coonhounds. Ryan describes his younger brother as “dedicated, loyal and loving.”

Connor was a special person who was taken too soon. One of his friends, Kyle Hollingsworth, said, “Connor was a kindhearted, faithful friend. He always wore a beautiful smile on his face but was very unpretentious.”

Ryan remembers that the last time he saw Connor, they spent the whole afternoon walking around where Connor hoped to build his house. Ryan said, “I’m so thankful the last time we had together was forward-looking.”

The night before his death, Connor woke his mom up in the middle of the night to tell her he loved her and that he knew how much she loved him. The two had always told each other, “I love you to the moon and back.” That was the last time they spoke.

Connor had also written a note to his girlfriend saying, “When I die, people are going to know how much I loved you.” Ryan said, “There’s a lot of things that can’t be explained but by God; I felt like God was trying to prepare us to say goodbye.”

Ryan misses his brother every day, but has peace in knowing that Connor left this earth feeling loved while letting his family know of his love for them.

The days, weeks and months following Connor’s death were agonizing for the Beesons. They lived on autopilot. Ryan said, “I look back at that time and I don’t know how I would sleep at night or how I ate.”

Turning tragedy to blessings

As terrible as the following days were, the Beesons had a wonderful support system. People were constantly at their house. Neighbors brought food, did their laundry, prayed with them and read Scripture with them.

The week after Connor died, Ryan’s family and friends told him that he needed to go back to school. People said that if he took too much time off, he would never return. Despite the heartache Ryan was going through, he put on a brave face and went to school.

About five or six weeks after returning to school, the pain took over and Ryan had to leave of his classes. It was unbearable. “You feel like the world has ended, but the world is still going on around you,” Ryan remembers. “How are these people just acting like everything’s normal? My brother is dead.” That day, he called his parents and decided to withdraw until he was ready to go back.

The family searched for ways to cope with the pain of losing their loved one; they knew they could not spend every day in mourning. They had to do something, so they decided to make a spot where they could go to remember Connor. The family built Connor’s Lane. They got chainsaws, cleared out all the trees and made an area for a fire pit.

The Beesons use Connor’s Lane to gather as a family and remember all the wonderful times they spent with him. Ryan said, “It’s a weird thing; sometimes it feels so fresh like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen him.”

Ryan and Connor’s mother, Christine, prayed for a sign that her son was with the Lord. Soon after, a yellow butterfly appeared and kept circling her. The Beesons often see yellow butterflies and believe it is God’s way of sending a “hello” from Connor. Whether at the lake or Connor’s grave, when they see a yellow butterfly, they know that Connor is OK.

The family decided to create a scholarship in Connor’s memory. Connor loved cows and often played with toy cows when he was younger, so they came up with the MOO Scholarship. The MOO (Make Others Outstanding) Scholarship goes to one graduating senior at Randleman High School each year.

Connor’s family and girlfriend adopted a highway in his memory. They are joined in the project by community members four times each year as a way to remember Connor. The Randleman Bojangles’ donates biscuits to feed those who come out to help.

A way forward

Nov. 20, 2019, would have been Connor’s 24th birthday. The community gathered to clean up the highway, but also to honor his life. There were food, friends and a cake.

Ryan wears a necklace that has Connor’s fingerprint on it. It makes him feel like a piece of Connor is with him every day. The Beesons still fight through tough times. January 19 of this year was exceptionally difficult, as it was the fifth anniversary of his death. Ryan cried for about two hours until a happy memory came up to make him smile.

Ryan said, “It’s OK to hurt; you’re supposed to hurt; you would feel guilty if you didn’t.” As the Beeson family gathers around the Connor’s Lane fire pit, they remember his story. They share stories, share laughs and share tears.

Edited by Stephen Kenney

Living ‘without fear’ on the streets of Orange County

By Julia Masters

Shivering on a sidewalk bench, Aurelio DiScala wept.

The wooden planks provided no warmth, no shelter. Freezing tears streamed down toward his beard tied into uneven sections with neon rubber bands. She was supposed to be here by now, DiScala thought through his exhaustion. It was his third night in a row without sleep.

She had told him over breakfast at the Waffle House that she still loved him. She said that she would come for him tonight — so where was she?

It wasn’t until later the next day that he realized they’d never spoken. There had been no breakfast of smothered and covered hash browns. No confession of love or promise of a future.

It was all a hallucination.

This happened soon after DiScala’s arrival to Chapel Hill two months ago. Since then, the scruffy ‘metaphysical shaman’ set up camp in no man’s land outside the Red Roof Inn in Durham. The camp is at the end of the line on the Chapel Hill Transit D Route, making for an easy commute to Franklin Street.

An estimated 131 people are experiencing homelessness in Orange County, according to a report by Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.

“People are homeless for three reasons: because they can’t work, won’t work or choose to be,” DiScala said. “I’m all three.”

The Norwalk, Connecticut, native graduated Apex High School in 1999 and attended UNC Charlotte for two years. He then transferred to UNC Wilmington, where he studied computer science, played rugby and started smoking marijuana.

Through the years he worked for General Electric Power, Kenan Flagler Institute of Private Enterprise and played semi-professional rugby for the Atlanta Old White Rugby Club. He has waited tables, rolled pizza dough, gone to Europe and Turkey on soul searching quests and lead cults of metaphysical thinkers, including one in Carrboro. He has also been diagnosed with ADHD, depression and delusional disorders.

Glancing down at the ground, he noticed a rusted razor blade. He Picking it up, he was torn between carefully placing it in his book bag or throwing it away, like invisible forces were playing a game of tug-of-war with his body. He chose to throw it away, because every time he gets a pain on the right side of his nose, it’s his spirit guiding him toward the right decision.

DiScala said that due to his diagnoses, he cannot hold down a job and work normal hours like most 38-year-old men.  Beyond this, he chooses homelessness.

“The homeless population with diagnosed mental conditions have problems getting jobs just like felons,” Annie, a Carrboro resident who mentors the homeless, said. “In some cases, the homeless could get off the street; some want the negative freedom to be out all night, drink, commit crimes and justify it by being homeless.”

Part of the family

DiScala chose Chapel Hill as his home base because of its “gentle feminine energy.” There are no territory wars when it comes to the best spots to position on Franklin Street.

There are no laws prohibiting panhandling and the IFC Community Kitchen serves three course meals, making Chapel Hill a haven for DiScala.

Annie said that the longer a person remains homeless, the closer they feel to the street community. Many of Chapel Hill’s homeless become recognizable on the street, adopted into a new makeshift family.

“Rick! Rick! Where have you been?” DiScala shouted.

“Hey man! What are you up to?” Rick, a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and fellow member of the homeless community, responded.

DiScala stepped into a store and returned with a pack of India pale ales. Rick pulled out two inconspicuous disposable coffee cups from his bag. He ventured into the nearest alley and poured the beer into the cups.

Rick and DiScala sat back, sipped their beers and laughed over somewhat crude conversation, similar to what one might witness walking by fraternity court on a sunny day. Except these men were sitting on the ground, thinking of when their next meal would be.

When worlds collide

Annie compared the student and homeless population in Chapel Hill to two ships passing by one another on their way to different worlds. While she does not believe it is necessary to interact, she thinks students should be aware of the misconceptions surrounding homeless individuals.

“I feel like I usually walk quickly past them or try to avoid eye contact,” Justin King, a junior neuroscience major at UNC-CH, said. “I feel like if I make eye contact I’ll feel more guilty about not giving them money.”

Sometimes interactions between the two ships are less mundane.

Walking home from work one afternoon, junior Isabella Gonzalez realized she was being followed. She noticed that a homeless man she’d passed leaving the ITS office was still behind her as she veered off onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Panicking, Gonzalez sped up and frantically dialed her mom’s number. She only hung up after making it to Mill Creek, where the man stopped and watched her walk into the building.

Annie said that the key to the balance between Chapel Hill’s two worlds is to encourage students to treat the homeless with humanity.

DiScala holds a crumpled “Homeless, please help” sign on the street. His long, frizzy curls partially cover a pink scar he got in Mexico defending his girlfriend. He appears stand-offish to those that peer sideways at him as they walk by.

They know he is homeless. They know he is probably hungry and in need of a shower. They assume he has struggled with substance abuse and made terrible life decisions.

They don’t know he recites phrases in ancient Greek and Latin. They don’t know he created and coded his own video game. They don’t know that while science fiction movies are his favorites, Sex and the City holds a special place in his heart. They don’t know that he is a Cancer and his favorite time of year is the fall. They don’t know that he’s been in love.

“You can get very very depressed living on the streets, lose your will to live and start going through the motions,” Annie said. “The problem is when someone doesn’t have something bigger than themselves to believe in.”

DiScala said that he uses a different tactic to endure life on the streets: “I live without fear, act without fear, I never run.”

Edited by Anna Farmer. 

Empowering moms-to-be: doulas push for the best pregnancies possible

By Molly Sprecher

In movies, pregnancy is a supportive pep talk from the partner, a tough-love nurse and kindly doctor chanting, “one more push,” a first cry and ensuing happy montage. Off-screen: stretch marks map stomachs, afterbirths seep, nipples crack, limbs swell, distended stomachs cramp, hair thins, postpartum hits.

“I think there is a movement now for women to reclaim their bodies and their birth experiences,” Spencer Tackett, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill seeking her doula certification, said. “And a large part of that is having a doula to help a patient advocate for themselves and calm them down when they are in a stressful and vulnerable position, or help women give birth with fewer medical interventions.”

What is a doula?

It’s hard to define what a doula is. Doulas aren’t medical professionals. Yet they are more than just emotional support humans who hold hands in the hospital. They are trained, largely through DONA, Doulas of North America, to support their clients throughout their pregnancy. Doulas offer physical, emotional, mental and educational support. . They answer questions and offer tips. In a time of emotional and physical vulnerability, doulas stand up for clients who cannot stand up for themselves — sometimes literally, seeing them balancing on the medicine ball, deep-breathing in the bed, pacing the floor with one hand dragging their IV.

Robin Rennells has been practicing as a birth doula for 11 years. She attended her first birth at the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill. She’s stood at the side of a woman, whose husband was out of town, getting a cesarean section. She’s scheduled her own family around being able to help grow others. She’s delivered all four of one woman’s children and been the doula for women who have struggled with infertility for years. She’s watched women mouth, “I did it,” through their tears and sweat. She’s left her home for a labor not knowing if she will be gone a few hours or a few days.

Doctors come in and out of the room, but Rennells stays, answering questions, holding hands, empowering clients and watching their confidence and courage grow. She’s emotionally and physically exhausted, but she keeps coming back.

“It’s like coaching someone through a marathon,” Rennells said. “Watching a miracle take place, believing in someone more than they believe in themselves, seeing a couple at their worst and best and seeing God answer many prayers.”

Why be a doula?

Joelle Schantz’s first birth lasted an hour and a half, and she stood in the corner watching her mentor coax the mother through. She’d thought she might cry. She didn’t.

Schantz completed her training to become a volunteer doula through the UNC-CH Birth Partners program. She’d first heard of doulas in a sociology class. She spent the rest of the day with friends joking that they would never have children.

“There’s this fear around birth for a lot of girls or women,” Schantz said. “Even though I was taking this reproductive sociology class, I think I still had that fear of it and thought that it wasn’t my cup of tea to be in the position to help someone. But the more you learn about something, the less fear is involved.”

Schantz has stood alone by the side of a teenage girl giving birth with no one to help her. She’s watched a father lean over the side of the tub holding his pregnant wife with pictures of their toddler. She’s hoped Spanish-speaking clients would understand her presence when they can’t understand her. She’s moved women into different positions, massaging pressure points and lowering them to the birth ball to facilitate shorter labors. She’s directed fathers away from televisions, reassured frantic women that the beeping on the electronic fetal monitor is normal and talked to people she’s only just met throughout the night. She’s wished she could be in 20 places at once, a doula for everyone who needs but can’t afford one.

Who needs a doula?

“There’s a huge disparity between maternal morbidity and mortality outcomes by racial divide, by income divide,” Schantz said. “The people who need doulas don’t have access to doulas. Everyone should be able to have a doula.”

Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Doulas are expensive and not everyone can afford them,” Schantz said. “The people who have doulas are typically high-income, educated, typically white women.”

Women with insurance still pay an average of $3,400 in hospital fees during pregnancy, according to a survey by Childbirth Connection, a program run by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Without insurance, prices range from $30,000 for vaginal delivery to $50,000 for a cesarean section. Many women who would benefit from having an additional support system cannot afford to hire a $1,200 doula. Although doctors help ensure the physical well-being of the mother and child, clinical settings limit women’s ability to take control of their pregnancy.

“Women in society often aren’t as assertive, and that’s just because of social norms that are put on them,” Schantz said. “And when you’re in labor, especially in a hospital setting, those norms are perpetuated. And when you’re in pain and confused and don’t know what’s going on, giving a person the space to speak and making sure a person knows their options is a huge part.”

How does it feel to be a doula?

Fariha Rahman and Spencer Tackett are both students at UNC-CH. Rahman has seen five births. Tackett has seen none. All the same, both are beginning their journeys as doulas.

“The first time I was a doula, it was a 12-hour shift, and by the end of it, I was exhausted,” Rahman said. “When I went into the client’s room, within an hour or so, I was holding one of her legs, and next thing you know, the baby’s born.”

Rahman doesn’t know what to feel each time she sees a birth. They’re all different. She laughs with new mothers cradling their child. She tenses with mothers who’ve been told something’s gone wrong.

Tackett studies high-risk births, medical paternalism and the struggles of black motherhood in secret during her Celtic studies class. She sets notifications on her phone for doula trainings and checks her Facebook messages for information on the new UNC-CH Doula Project. While filling her schedule with classes on cesarean sections and social work, she worries that not having had a child herself will limit her ability to help clients.

“It would mean everything to experience a birth with a family,” Tackett said, “The birth of a child is one of the most memorable moments in a person’s life, and knowing that a family trusted me enough to have me present for that moment, and trust me enough to advocate for their wishes, would be really special for me as well.”

Rahman’s favorite part of the job is interacting with the mothers, watching their faces transform from screams to smiles and sharing the intimacy she’s been allowed into. She sees bodies contort and triumph over impossible pain.

“I’m Humbled,” Rahman said. “Honored and humbled.”

Edited by Maddie Fetsko

China to Chapel Hill: UNC student turns maps into art around the globe

By Katie Clark

UNC-Chapel Hill senior Reid Brown, 21, is a typical senior. A student, musician, environmental scientist and world traveler who spends his spare time hanging out with friends, playing music and talking with his girlfriend. However, he also has another hobby that makes him, well, not so typical.

He creates artwork with maps.

Brown is in the business of creating original cartographic prints, he said, his smile then slightly more determined as he proudly laughed over a cup of coffee in a bustling bagel shop. Artwork that, in his words, is “a tangible embodiment of who he is and where he’s been.”

“Basically they’re black and white; that’s the art style, so it’s minimalist,” Brown said. “It’s just to show a city or town’s character through its streetscape.”

He will graduate from UNC-CH in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a minor in statistics. He also studies music and is a self-taught pianist.

During his studies, Brown learned how to use a program called ArcGIS, an information system that works with maps and geographic material. Through the Geographic Information System, or GIS software, Brown finds and edits portions of maps for his posters before personalizing them in Photoshop.

“It’s maps by geospatial data,” Brown said. “Kinda nerdy, but it’s really cool.”

Brown was fascinated with what the GIS system could do and wanted to use it as a medium for artwork.

“It also kind of reinforces what we learned in our [environmental studies] classes,” Brown said. “It’s fun, it’s an application of stuff I learned.”

Brown spends lots of time in Davis Library building maps in the GIS system for his artwork.

“At its most basic [GIS] is a piece of software to make maps,” Philip McDaniel, GIS Librarian in Davis Library, said. “You can use it to optimize behavior, travel time or service areas around places like hospitals, and then you can use it to communicate all this.”

McDaniel has seen other students use GIS for fine art projects and to study certain landscapes. Students and professionals who use the programs for their studies and products, but not for an on-the-side side business.

The artwork Brown creates, however, may be referred to as a “side hustle.” He does not predict a strong profit from his art, but continues to make and sell pieces for friends, family and any fellow students and community members who commission him.

The birth of an idea

Brown does not call himself an artist, and said he never spent much time doing arts and crafts as a kid. Instead, the map art began during his world travels while working in China.

“This past summer I got to go to China and work in a research lab,” Brown said. “In the period between school and going to China, I was like, ‘I’m going to set this little challenge for myself.’ I wasn’t sure what it was at the time.”

While in China, Brown learned that Chinese culture largely involves gift giving. This inspired him to give gifts to those he met. He made cartographic maps for each of his mentors. These pieces encompassed portions of maps from Kai Fung, China, to Nigeria and Ghana.

The artwork is also a way for Brown to face certain fears and to challenge himself as a person. He is nervous about his inability to follow through with certain projects in his life, and thinks that perhaps these maps can help lead him to a place of confidence.

“I don’t want to be too serious about something and not have it work out, so I see this as a continuation of things I’m into,” Brown said. “It’s really just following through. I’m competitive against myself because I like studying a goal and then realizing it. This was one of the first times I really committed to something that big.”

His favorite piece of artwork that he has done is a map of Chapel Hill. The map was one of his earlier pieces and did not come without challenges.

“The biggest hurdle was getting it printed. The first piece looked terrible, it was on copier paper,” Brown said, recalling the weeks of planning, editing and trial and error. “It’s just been getting better every time. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. There’s a lesson in that.”

Bringing lines to life

According to Brown, other companies who make cartographic pieces may have maps that are more detailed, but they are much less personal.

“I have to have a whole conversation with someone asking, ‘What do you want? Does this look good to you?’” Brown said.

Other companies also sell pieces in a more streamlined fashion, but Brown claims they charge almost five times as much as him.

“I sell them for like $15 to $25 each,” Brown said. “I probably should charge more, but I don’t want to gouge anyone. The reason why I made this is because I felt it was way too expensive for other ones.”

Elias Tymas, a sophomore at UNC-CH, saw the artwork and immediately took a liking to it.

“My dad was an artist, so I have an appreciation for art,” Tymas said. “The art is so cool, and the fact that you can choose your own town is awesome. It shows that the person is talented.”

Tymas stated that he would pay $20 for a student-produced piece like Brown’s.

The business of making, selling and delivering personalized map art is not something that Brown foresees as a steady future income. In the short term, however, he has plans for a website, possible streetwear and to get his cartography into businesses on UNC-CH’s campus.

“I don’t see it getting crazy big, but the eventual goal is to get them in the student stores,” Brown said.

Brown believes that Student Stores would provide more visibility for his work. For now, he plans to sell his art around campus and would like to set up tables in the Student Union.

“I can ask students, ‘Hey, you wanna support me?’” Brown said.

Kat Doan purchased a map of Jinan, China as a gift from Reid last year. She saw the artwork on Brown’s Instagram, and thought that it was unique.

“I try to support local artists, and I insisted on paying for his work. The price was very fair, in my opinion,” Doan said. “He kept me really involved in the decision-making and the recipient and I are really happy with how it turned out!”

Brown likes to teach himself new skills and said that others should try this too.

“I think everyone has something they’re into. If they haven’t found it yet, they’ll find it eventually,” Brown said.

If you are interested in Reid Brown’s art, you can contact him at or by phone at 336-847-9484.

Edited by Maya Jarrell

Meet the five local college students who launched their own creative media company

By Jonny Cook 

On a brisk Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill, most UNC-Chapel Hill students are doing homework, studying or even nursing a hangover after a Saturday night out. Baaqir Yusuf and the rest of his team at Triad Studios––a creative media production agency started by five college students––have been in their Franklin Street office for hours.

Tucked away between Julian’s clothing store and Underground Printing on Franklin Street, you might on first glance miss the small entrance labeled “” The wooden entrance is so small that it’s not surprising the official address of the building is 1/2 133 E. Franklin St. Although difficult to see from the outside, a flurry of activity is happening inside.

Yusuf reads from his computer, “At Honors Carolina, you get your education from the world around you––”

“Wait, wasn’t there a line about the Board of Advisors?” Tristan Gardner, one of the other founders, interjects. “Let’s put something like that in there, ‘your personal board of advisors for the real world.’ ‘Between the faculty staff and…industry mentors? Industry leaders?’”

“‘Industry mentors’ is good,” Yusuf responds.

Gardner repeats: “You’ll have a personal board of advisors for the real world.” 

Yusuf’s eyes light up. “Yeah, I like that. I like that. ‘Between faculty, staff and industry mentors, you’ll have a personal board of advisors for the real world.’”

In one room of the office, Yusuf and Gardner are bouncing ideas off one another for a script accompanying a flagship video production for Honors Carolina. In an adjacent room, two of the other founders, Daniel Pan and Justin Fouts, are doing the post-production work for a new television show called Sip’d, which explores craft beverages. 

Yusuf could scarcely imagine he would be where he is now three years ago when he walked through the Pit in the middle of the UNC-CH campus and saw the Adobe Creative Cloud tent. He picked up a frisbee and gym bag, thinking little of it.

 “I got back to my dorm and thought, hold on, this is kind of cool,” Yusuf said. “I’ve always wanted to learn Photoshop.” 

After racing through a 20-hour Photoshop fundamentals tutorial, he began tinkering with Photoshop. It was great, but something was missing; he was using others’ photos. What if he could use the same skills he was gaining, but with his own photos?

Then came his first major investment: a $400 Nikon D3400 camera. 

“My mom was like, ‘I don’t know, do you think you’re gonna use it? I don’t think you’re going to use it.’ And I said, “I’m going to prove you wrong,” Yusuf remembers.

 From friendship to entrepreneurship

Weeknights spent in Raleigh until the early hours of the morning with his childhood friend and future co-founder, Pan, sparked Yusuf’s passion. The early years of their friendship remain especially sentimental for Pan in light of their relationship now.  

“He was always top three––not much to say in third grade––but top three smartest kids in our grade, but that never really mattered that much to me,” Pan said. “He was always a people person. When we were 8 years old, it was his house where we were going to play basketball, or he’d be out and gather the troops so we could play soccer in someone’s backyard.”

The Raleigh nights these old friends spent together began to sow seeds of doubt in Yusuf’s mind about his future. Until then, Yusuf had told his parents he would be a doctor, a plan which they took pride in.

“My mom always wanted to be a doctor, but she couldn’t for various reasons,” Yusuf said.  “She was like, ‘yeah, my son’s going to be a doctor, it’s going to be awesome.’”

After completing a research internship in which he shadowed a radiation oncologist in Greenville following his freshman year, he realized medicine didn’t offer the lifestyle or path he desired. Above all, Yusuf desired the freedom and ability to cultivate his affinity for interacting with others. 

Exploring their options, Yusuf, Pan and Michael Thomas––one of Yusuf’s friends from Panther Creek High School––started a brand inspired by their favorite travel videographers whose work they wanted to emulate. They called it Triad Studios.

 The path to Triad wasn’t entirely straight or easy, however. Revealing to his parents that he would not be a doctor proved to be a very difficult decision for Yusuf. Family has always been a crucial value in Yusuf’s life, and one of his biggest fears is disappointing his parents.  

The next best thing to being a doctor, Yusuf thought, would be investment banking or consulting. His studies in these areas, too, proved unsatisfying. 

Yusuf began to wonder what his future would hold. 

Despite his academic frustrations, Yusuf and his friends slowly tried to build a portfolio, working with small clients. But even this had slowed by the end of the first semester of their sophomore year. 

They needed something else. Yusuf had worked for a startup part-time his first year––The Campus Cause––which sold discount key tags for businesses on Franklin Street. There, he met Fouts, who shared his passion for people and had interests in finance and sales.

At the end of the fall semester, Yusuf reached out to Fouts. Fouts, who had started a small brand called Flare Studios with his friend Gardner, agreed to meet. In a Davis Library study room, Yusuf, Gardner and Fouts video chatted with Thomas and Pan, proposing a joint venture under the brand name of Triad. They all agreed to try the idea when they returned from winter break.

“We always call Baaqir the ‘king of Triad,’ because he brought everybody together,” Gardner said. “He’s all about connecting us.”

Fouts agrees with Gardner.

“We blindly went into business together, and it turned out to be one of the luckiest things we ever did,” Fouts said.

A successful work in progress

For six months, the five of them crowded around a single laptop in Gardner’s Carolina Square apartment, taking on any project they could get their hands on.

 After speaking with professor Jim Kitchen in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Gardner secured the group an office, which provided the breakthrough and space needed to explore their creativity.

 Now, two years later, business is flourishing. Triad has worked with over 60 clients in various industries, including university institutions, nonprofits and large franchises. After earning $82,000 in business in their first year and $270,000 in their second year, they’re poised to double last year’s revenue.

As a second semester senior, Yusuf recognizes that his situation is unique from his peers. While others are networking and applying to jobs, he is focused each day on chasing his vision. Even though the social pressure stemming from such a circumstance is unavoidable, he remains resolute.

The hard work has paid off for Yusuf and has provided him knowledge he can take into his future work. 

Yusuf said: “Triad has re-taught me that anything is possible if you put in the effort and anyone can do anything with the right focus.”


Edited by Elisabeth Beauchamp and Suzanne Blake.

UNC students are trying to save the koalas, one condom at a time

By Molly Brice

At 8 a.m. on Feb. 8, UNC-Chapel Hill students stumbled out of their beds to make the trek to the Smith Center.

Most students wouldn’t be awake this early on a normal Saturday, but this was the Saturday that UNC-CH would face Duke University in basketball.

The Saturday that eager first-years and sentimental seniors wait for hours, covering themselves in blankets and oversized Carolina sweatshirts, in hopes of getting the best seats the arena has to offer.

Vasu Gupta and Maulik Sarin, are not waiting in line—they are breaking it, weaving between the masses of students. They dodge an employee golf cart to their right as they pitch their product to the students on their left.

“Me and my partner were nervous,” Gupta said, “naturally, because we were selling a taboo product.”

Organizations frequently attempt to capitalize on the rivalry to raise money, such as “pie a Duke student” or “destroy a Duke-blue car” themed fundraisers.

Gupta and Sarin, junior students at UNC-CH, have a new approach, an unconventional idea that no other organization has attempted with the Duke rivalry.

“Support your UNC family and donate for affected animals,” Sarin yells into the crowd, “all while trashing Duke!”

Condoms for a cause

Gupta and Sarin’s campaign, Carolina Condoms, sells condoms branded with anti-Duke statements to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund’s “Save the Koalas” initiative.

The condoms, individually wrapped in white packaging with bold Carolina blue lettering, have different cheeky phrases that play on the rivalry with Duke: “Too Cute to be Dook,” “Go to Hell Dook” and “Fuke Duck.”

“It’s all about jokes,” Sarin said, “you want to make it a light-hearted subject because some people think it’s taboo.”

Selling one condom for $2.99 or three condoms for $7.50, Gupta and Sarin hope to sell enough condoms to donate $2,000 to the WWF campaign. One dollar for each condom purchased goes to the campaign that helps animals affected by the Australian wildfires.

The pair chose contraceptives in hopes of not only raising significant funds for the cause but also tapping into a lucrative marketplace.

During a visit to his cousin’s Bank of America office, Gupta was introduced to an entrepreneur and civil engineer that manufactures condoms in the U.S., India and Thailand.

“Talking to him, we developed a similar wavelength,” Gupta said, “and the idea for Carolina Condoms started to grow in my head.”

After this initial spark, Gupta and Sarin, friends since their first year at UNC-CH, began the research phase. Hunched over their laptops, they searched the bounds of the internet, exploring motivations for condom use along with statistics on sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.

Gupta and Sarin then questioned, “how can we turn around all of these to give back to the world?”

The pair strategically picked the Duke game for their first initiative, but they plan to develop the Carolina Condoms idea into a business that provides funding for different social issues. “As much fun as this is,” Sarin said, “we want to make it really work too.”

To buy or not to buy?

While the students distract themselves with card games splayed across the pavement, Gupta and Sarin are working, talking up their product and cause to anyone who will listen.

Martha Bennett is talking to her friends when Gupta and Sarin approach her. A couple with matching Michael Jordan jerseys glance away from the screen they have been sharing to watch the interaction.

Gupta holds the pair’s white poster board with pictures of koalas and condoms as Sarin explains the campaign to Bennett, another UNC-CH student.

“Sure, I’ll buy one,” Bennett says, “if it’s for the koalas.”

Sarin fans the condoms in front of Bennett for her to choose; she looks them over, laughing, and picks “Fuke Duck.”

“It’s a really great idea,” Bennett says, “to use the humor and appeal of sex to raise money for a good cause.”

Bennett comments that usually “the guys get the condoms” but likes that Gupta and Sarin’s efforts target the entire student body.

The students look to their friends, laugh and even pull out their phones to take a picture of the sign as Gupta and Sarin part the crowds.

Even though the condoms sold by Gupta and Sarin are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, some students express concerns about buying the contraceptives.

“I think buying condoms from anywhere except a box is stupid,” student Kelly Huben says, “because you are risking the potential that the condoms are old.”

Bennett also says she will most likely not use the condoms, which she considers more of “a novelty purchase.”

Other students, like Ben Stroud, say they would prefer to support the Save the Koalas campaign by donating directly to the WWF.

‘The greatest rivalry in college sports’ gives back

Eighteen to 22-year-old UNC-CH students make an ideal target audience for Gupta and Sarin’s campaign of selling condoms for a good cause.

“In North Carolina, and especially at UNC, we are looking for causes to support,” Gupta said, commenting on the student body’s interest in being responsible consumers.

The rivalry has inspired innovative fundraising campaigns beyond Carolina Condoms. For example, The Daily Tar Heel and The Chronicle, host a fundraising competition for each university’s respective newspaper in the weeks before the game.

Currently, the DTH has raised $33,747.51 and The Chronicle has raised $22,450.

It’s ‘the greatest rivalry in college sports’ for a reason. Once inside the Smith Center, you can hear the boisterous cheering, see the ocean of Carolina blue apparel and sense the elevated heart rates of the fans from every section.

Even before the tipoff, the students come together, clinging to their caffeine and huddling for warmth. For those hours, in between winning and losing, they are fans rooting for the same outcome.

Maybe, in those hours, between victory and defeat, they are more likely to strike up a conversation or even buy a condom from the stranger in line beside them.


Edited by: Ashley Mills