By Lindsey Banks
When Hunter Edkins gives tours of UNC-Chapel Hill, he shares some of his favorite traditions, but there are some stories he has to leave out. He doesn’t mention the hundreds of naked students running through Davis Library around the first day of finals, the burning couches in the middle of Franklin Street after a UNC basketball victory over Duke University, or students arguing with Gary, the anti-abortion “Pit Preacher” who sits in the middle of campus with a big, red “stop sinning” sign.
But that makes sense. There are some experiences students need to discover on their own once they get to campus. However, when Hunter first joined the Admissions Ambassadors program as a tour guide last year, there were more important things he left out of his tours. During his training to be a guide, he wasn’t taught the University’s history or the resources available to minority students.
New stops for campus tours
This semester, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions made some major changes to the Admissions Ambassadors program. The most significant change: a new tour route, including two new stops to incorporate the missing information.
The first new stop is at a brick walkway called “The Gift,” an art installation outside the Student Union on campus. The walkway was designed by American Indian artist Senora Lynch and incorporates elements of American Indian storytelling. At this stop, ambassadors share that the university was built by enslaved people on stolen American Indian land in the late 1700s. They also highlight the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program on campus.
“It’s something that in the first couple of tours was an adjustment period of becoming comfortable discussing it,” Hunter said.
The second new stop is at the Stone Center. This building is named after Dr. Sonja Haynes Stone, a prominent Black faculty member on campus in the 1970s and 80s. She was named Woman of the Year by the NAACP and was the primary advocate for the African and African American Diaspora curriculum at UNC.
This information is important to acknowledge on the tour, but Hunter feels these stops do not flow well with the stops before and after, which discuss student life, academics and Carolina traditions.
“It feels a little disjointed because the tone goes from super passionate, super excited to something a little more solemn to then back to that right after,” Hunter said.
Helping minority students find a community
Lydia Mansfield, a new ambassador, has a personal connection with the sentiments behind “The Gift.” She’s a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, North Carolina and the historian for the Carolina Indian Circle at UNC. A few weeks ago, professors of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program told students they would be leaving at the end of the year because they do not feel supported by the university. Because of this, the AIIS program is likely to end.
“The Gift” tour stop is dedicated to sharing information about this program, so Lydia hopes the focus of this stop will shift to the resources and organizations that offer minority students a community on campus. It’s something she wishes she had heard more of when she toured as a senior in high school.
When Lydia first arrived on campus back in August, she didn’t feel welcome. It wasn’t until Isaac Bell, a member of the Admissions Office and a fellow Lumbee Tribe member, told her about the Carolina Indian Circle that she found her community. She worries that the lack of outreach to American Indian students will turn prospective students away from UNC.
In her tours, instead of focusing on the negative experiences, Lydia focuses on how the American Indian students on campus today are working toward creating more spots for American Indian students in the future.
The challenges of being an ambassador
Hunter has a similar approach to tours. He separates his feelings toward administration from his personal experience as a student on campus. Instead of commenting on the mismanagement of the mental health crisis this semester, he shares his favorite memories with prospective students and gives advice on navigating the sea of over 19,000 undergraduates.
In training, ambassadors are taught to lean into their storytelling abilities while weaving in important facts about UNC. For example, when mentioning UNC has over 800 student organizations, ambassadors share the clubs they are involved in.
It’s no secret that students and professors do not always agree with the decisions of the university. Within the last year, ex-ambassador Gabriela Duncan disagreed with how the administration handled the COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, the revocation of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure and the mental health crisis after multiple suicides on campus.
“Representing the university kind of conflicts with my values in a way,” Gabriela said. “A lot of the work that I do outside of school regards how UNC is funding the climate crisis, and I probably wouldn’t even be able to talk about this [on tours] because then if I’m talking about how UNC is funding the climate crisis, why would people want to go here?”
During training, Gabriela was asked a practice question: What is your least favorite thing about UNC? Her response: It isn’t as sustainable as it should be. “UNC greenwashes,” she said. An executive ambassador advised against sharing that and offered up her answer as an alternative Gabriela could use: “There’s just too much to do on campus.”
“I was like, ‘No.’ That’s not right to me,” Gabriela said. “Don’t have your negative be a positive thing.”
Gabriela also said that she didn’t feel valued as an ambassador. However, the Admissions Office has made another significant change to combat that feeling, which Hunter was also experiencing.
Ambassadors are now employees of the university and receive an hourly wage. Before this year, tours were given on a volunteer basis. But because ambassadors are now paid, the Admissions Office had to cut numbers from about 120 to about 65. All previous ambassadors had to reapply to the program. Gabriela felt uninspired to reapply, so she decided not to.
As for Hunter, he was excited to get back out there and have a hand in helping students discover a home at UNC. Lydia shares this excitement, especially about leading a tour for a group of American Indian students on Nov. 20. She hopes to be a resource for them that she didn’t have coming into Carolina.
Edited by Sara Raja