‘A very stressful cycle’: Eating disorders on campuses rise amid COVID-19

By Morgan Chapman

Alexa Casciano is a vibrant and dedicated student at UNC-Chapel Hill, who appears to have everything together. However, she fights internal demons every day regarding her body image.

At 16, she was diagnosed with an illness that led to a double lung reconstruction and brain surgery. Her recovery came with consequences. While in the hospital, Casciano lost her appetite and was losing weight fast.

Her relationship with food after leaving the hospital was forever changed. In the fall of 2021, Casciano was diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

“It was the triple whammy,” Casciano said. 

After waking up at 7 a.m. to work out, she wouldn’t eat all day. Then at night, she would binge.

“After I had a really big binge, I would go on a scale to weigh myself,” she said. “Then I would freak out when I saw the pounds I gained and would make myself lose it the next day.”

Last year, her parents sent her to a nutritionist after noticing her struggle with eating disorders. The nutritionist was worried about Casciano’s condition and recommended an eating disorder specialist.

Her heart was failing. Her hair was falling out. Her Vitamin D levels were low, and the osteoporosis in her back was getting worse.

“My body was functioning, and I looked fine; but I was slowly dying on the inside,” Casciano said.

Typically, people diagnosed with an eating disorder are sent to a residential treatment facility. Casciano’s treatment plan was unique, because she didn’t spend her fall semester in a treatment facility. Instead, her parents stayed with her for two months in Chapel Hill.

“As a junior in college juggling the pressure of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, I was stressed out about having my classes in person after a year being virtual,” she said. “I would eat all my meals with my parents, making sure that I was putting enough food into my body.”

The earlier you catch an eating disorder, the easier it is to get out of it, Casciano said.

“The last thing you need to be worrying about in college is gaining 5 pounds,” she said.

‘Unspoken pressure’

The college routine of studying, exercising and partying obstructs an important need for a healthy lifestyle: eating.

Courtney Lewis, a clinical instructor at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, said college is a pressure cooker for developing eating disorders, especially for teenage girls.

“Going away to college is probably the first big change for a lot of people,” Lewis said. “You are faced with many pressures like setting your own structure, supporting yourself, eating on time, getting to class and studying.”

Wake Forest University’s student body has higher than average reports of disordered eating, according to the University Counseling Center’s latest Healthy Minds survey and American College Health Assessment data.

“There was unspoken pressure,” said Olivia Yabroudy, a UNC-CH student who transferred from Wake Forest. “It depended on how you perceive yourself. There are a lot of people walking around that are very skinny, wearing revealing clothes that make it evident they do not weigh a lot.”

Yabroudy said it is easier to fall victim to the mindset of trying to look like everyone else. She watched female students eat just a piece of toast or an apple before events to get drunk quicker and avoid looking bloated.

The University Counseling Center at Wake Forest did not advertise its services for eating disorders, which perpetrated the campus-wide problem. Yabroudy even said she wasn’t aware of eating disorder support on campus.

Lewis said the negative internal talk stems from the fear of gaining “the freshman 15.” 

“This fear is doing more harm than good, because it distorts how people view their health and body image,” she said. “It becomes a very stressful cycle that many find extremely difficult to break.”

‘Spirals into a compulsive obsession’

During the COVID-19 pandemic, eating disorder diagnoses in teenage girls have skyrocketed. The UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders received a 40 percent increase in calls since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, some of those with preexisting eating disorders experienced worse symptoms.

Many found themselves eating more while isolated and gaining, as Casciano calls it, “pandemic weight.” Eating disorder treatment depends on distractions, especially in the beginning. Lewis said the pandemic robbed people of those common distractions.

Many turned to social media as a coping mechanism during the pandemic, but the standard of beauty it promotes is often unattainable and unrealistic.

“I would post pictures of myself on Instagram while I was struggling with disordered eating. If someone said, ‘Oh my god, you look so skinny,’ then that would trigger me to keep myself looking that way by not eating,” Casciano said.

Jean Doak, psychologist and clinical director at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, said increased social media consumption is a cause of eating disorders in teenage girls.

“When I ask someone what the onset of their eating disorder was, many people say they were on TikTok or on YouTube watching videos on how to exercise and lose weight,” Doak said. “It starts pretty innocuous but then spirals into a compulsive obsession.”

‘You can’t sacrifice your health’

“Your body is the least important thing about you,” Casciano said. “You have to emphasize that there are so many other qualities that make you a great person.”

Alexa Casciano is grateful to be alive and healthy. She took away vital lessons from her eating disorder recovery. She encourages those struggling with eating disorders to reach out for help.

“You can’t sacrifice your health, happiness, or quality of life,” Casciano said. 

 

Edited by Samantha Driscoll and Zachary Crain

 

The student behind UNC’s flourishing fashion page

By Hannah Rosenberger

Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide

 

Annabelle Brown was on her way to a Halloween party, all dolled up as Medusa in a dark green minidress and a gold snake headband, when an unfamiliar student sat down next to her on the bus.

“I know it’s you,” the student said.

Brown’s eyes widened. It wasn’t unusual for people to recognize her when she was out and about, although in this case she was wearing heavy eye makeup and a mask. She can never tell if she gets noticed because of her Instagram page or because of the economics classes they have together.

“Are you out scouting right now?” the student asked.

Yep, it was definitely because of Instagram.

Brown runs @tarheelthreads, an Instagram account that highlights fashion and self-expression with posts of the bold and intentional outfits she spots around campus. She tries to stay anonymous, but there’s been enough traction on the account – which has more than 2,500 followers – that many people now know her face.

“The biggest thing that is always one of my pet peeves is people being like ‘You’re Tar Heel Threads!’” Brown said, shaking her head. “No. No. I run Tar Heel Threads. Tar Heel Threads and me are two separate entities.”

 

How Brown Found Fashion 

As much of a social butterfly as she may seem when out snapping fashion photos, Brown deals with what she describes as a whole alphabet of mental health diagnoses’, including anxiety, depression and panic attacks. She once cried in her therapist’s office because she thought she was having a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 10. Obviously, in her 10-year-old brain, that meant she was going to die before she reached her 21st birthday.

“I was like ‘No, I’m not going to be able to go to college, I’m not going to get married,’” Brown said, barely containing a fit of laughter. “And she was like, ‘Okay, so that’s not how that works.’”

Comedic relief aside, at the center of that “midlife crisis” was her dad. He took his own life before she was out of elementary school.

“I had no concept of what depression was, what mental health was,” Brown said. “And so I struggled a lot in my younger years to kind of feel like myself.”

Dressing herself was her one outlet. Wearing outfits like her Easter dress with jeans and sneakers to school, Brown luxuriated in the sense of control she got from selecting her clothes each day. It was the only thing she felt like she could control amid the chaos in her life.

But she was always told that she’d have to “cut the shenanigans” eventually and ditch her frilly fashions in favor of leggings and oversized t-shirts; the typical college-girl uniform.

She refused.

“I was like ‘No,’” Brown said. “I’m going to show them. Because there are other people where this is their way of expressing themselves too.”

Self-expression is self-care, she said. And more than that, it’s community.

Brown said her dad’s death put into perspective how important it is to not be alone, especially in a high-pressure academic environment like UNC.

Her dad was a smart guy. He held dual bachelor’s degrees from N.C. State and a medical degree from UNC. He practiced as a family physician because he wanted to help people, but he never shared his struggles with anyone.

“We want to feel like we have a lot of power, but none of us really do unless we’re strong as a community,” Brown said. “People feel alone or unseen or just like another number, and how do we change that on a campus that’s this big, and with so many stellar individuals? How do you feel like you’re not swept under the rug?”

And for her, that’s Tar Heel Threads.

 

Founding Tar Heel Threads

The first photo on the @tarheelthreads page is of first-year Sofia Casini standing outside of the now-closed Franklin Street bar called The Library. She was wearing a jean jacket over a tight black romper and bright gold statement jewelry.

Brown spotted her riding the bus one September afternoon and, after complimenting the outfit, the two got to talking about their shared views on fashion as both risk-taking and self-expression. When they got off the bus outside of Time-Out, Brown asked to take Casini’s picture.

“It made me feel secure in the fact that I do know what I’m doing when it comes to dressing,” Casini said. “The things that make us feel beautiful inside and out are being recognized by someone else.”

Now, fashion-inclined minds dress up specifically to get Brown’s attention. First-year Sarah Zhang said she and a group of her friends had the goal of all getting on the page by the end of the spring semester.

“The culture is like, ‘Oh, I’m going to put on a nice outfit to be featured on Tar Heel Threads,” said Jaleah Taylor, a first-year who’s heart-patterned sweater vest was highlighted in Brown’s Valentine’s Day post.

 

Instagram Versus Reality

Brown went and cried in the Halloween party bathroom after that encounter on the bus.

Sometimes people put her on a pedestal of almost celebrity-like status, she said. She would be in the middle of conversations, and when the other person finds out she runs Tar Heel Threads, they would start subtly posing, trying to get her to snap a photo. Other times she would hear that people were complaining about a post because they thought they had worn better outfits, but she didn’t post them.

“I try not to let that get to me, because I know [the account] makes a lot of people happy,” she said. “It makes me very happy, but it does create a lot of inauthenticity in my personal life, because I can’t tell who wants to be on the page and who wants to get to know me.”

Brown doesn’t even have a particular interest in working in fashion once she graduates. She’s currently majoring in economics so she can go into nonprofit work. After graduation she specifically wants to support the children of domestic violence survivors while the victim-parent finds a way to leave the relationship.

But she thinks her two passions — fashion and nonprofits — come from the same heart.

“Everyone’s just trying to make their imprint wherever they can,” Brown said. “And I think that’s Tar Heel Threads for me. It’s not like a tabloid. It’s not a hot-or-not. You’re expressing yourself and you’re getting on campus every single day. You’re trying to be true to who you are.”

 

Edited by Nick Battaglia

UNC student Wesley Barnes creates a new normal after cancer diagnosis

By Kaitlyn Schmidt

 

UNC-Chapel Hill student Wesley Barnes exhaled October air and dropped his purple and black scooter to the ground. As he settled on the concrete lip of the skate park, an abnormal bead of sweat trickled down his face.

 

Wesley always protected his head — a helmet for falls, and a durag for stares.

 

But on this sweaty occasion, Wesley unclipped his helmet and peeled off his blue and white durag, revealing his hairless scalp.

 

A 12-year-old skater passed by and snickered.

 

“I like yo cut, G!”

 

“I have cancer,” Wesley said. As the young skater sputtered to deliver an apology, Wesley only laughed; humor was how he coped.

 

For the longest time though, Wesley didn’t want to admit he had cancer. The tumor stole his independence, his optimism and his identity. Learning to accept his diagnosis was the first step to recovering from not just the physical battle, but the mental one.

 

 

This was Wesley, before.

 

Everyone knew the name at Hickory Ridge High School. He took on many titles: student body president, captain of varsity soccer, prom king, DECA president, theater geek. He was also known for rolling a piano into the cafeteria and singing a slightly pitchy promposal to his girlfriend, Emma Wakeman.

 

Wesley was obsessed with TED Talks, which inspired him while writing his graduation speech.

 

“While the achievements you accomplish during high school put you in the position that you’re in walking across the stage,” Wesley said. “What you do afterwards is entirely up to you.”

 

He got into his dream school, where he thrived in his first year. Wesley participated in community government, placed in the UNC Makeathon and spent his leisure time scootering around Chapel Hill Skate Park.

 

In March 2020, COVID-19 sent him back to Concord, North Carolina with his parents.  He passed the time with Emma and his best friend Logan, who had recently picked up skateboarding. He and Logan frequented Soul Ride Skatepark, Logan always bringing his brown skateboard and Wesley bringing his scooter and two large water cups that he grabbed at Taco Bell. To Logan’s amazement, Wesley would gulp down over 60 ounces and proceed to scooter in the heat without sweating a drop. Unsure of how to react, Logan simply clowned Wesley.

 

“What the f*** is wrong with you, Wesley?” Logan said. “Thirsty a** motherf*****.”

 

 

When Wesley moved back to Chapel Hill in January 2021, he took Logan to the skate park. But after only 20 minutes of scootering, Wesley complained that his hands and feet hurt in the cold. When Logan touched Wesley’s purple hand, it felt like a block of ice.

 

These quirks of Wesley’s persisted,  he excessively drank and urinated and shivered in 70 degree weather with layers on. In late May, Wesley exhibited abnormal blood work results and got referred to specialists at UNC. When Wesley called his mom, Kim Barnes, for help, she saw it as a flare in the sky.

 

“That’s it,” Kim said. “You will not go to another doctor’s appointment without us.”

 

That summer, his parents chauffeured Wesley to his appointments at the UNC Department of Pediatrics. Goodbye adulthood.

 

MRIs. CT scans. More MRIs.

 

“Pituitary adenoma,” doctors said. “99% are benign,” they told him.

 

Doctors reassured Wesley and his parents that the tumor was removable and then his system would just reset itself. And that would be it.

 

Sleep-deprived in the odd hours of the morning in the ICU after his operation, Wesley questioned the doctor in the room.

 

“Do you know what this is?”

 

“We don’t know,” they said. “It could be lymphoma.”

 

 

Wesley was laying in his bed two weeks later when he got the call. He rushed down to the dining room and put the phone on speaker with his parents.

 

The doctor laid it on Wesley: his tumor was malignant.

 

He had cancer.

 

The diagnosis didn’t feel real.

 

Emma and Wesley’s mom urged him to see a therapist to guide him through the looming trauma, but Wesley refused.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Wesley said. “I just want to get through this and never think about it again.”

 

Logan got Wesley’s call in late July. Just five months earlier, Logan had lost his own mother to appendix cancer; he was all too familiar with how it could wittle Wesley down.

 

“I was terrified for him because he’s so young and it really puts a stop on all of your plans,” Logan said. “And I knew he had big plans.”

 

 

Wesley moved back home and went through four rounds of chemotherapy. During each cycle, Wesley spent three days in the oncology unit for infusions. With his hood up, Wesley refused to look at the fluid-filled bags slowly draining into his veins, drowning out reality with The Weeknd’s album, “Trilogy,” blaring through his AirPods.

 

For the three days following his infusions, Wesley was a shell of a human being. He ran a constant temperature, and despite his regimen of anti-nausea meds every three hours, he lost 15 pounds after regurgitating his insides.

 

Holed up in his room, Wesley passed the time by watching “Twilight” and “Squid Game” and texting his small circle of people. But a cloudy disposition soon came over his interactions with his friends, parents and doctors.

 

“It felt like having a bratty 10-year-old,” Kim said.

 

Wesley spent about a week in agonizing pain from treatment, then had two weeks off to recover before his next cycle — but even the taste of feeling normal felt cruel.

 

“What’s the point of going through the ups if I’m just gonna get down again and feel even worse?” Wesley said.

 

 

During his second cycle of treatment, Wesley started noticing tufts of his hair on his pillow and shower floor. After ordering an assortment of durags and hats online, Wesley let his father take clippers to his head for the first time since sixth grade. That was a mistake.

 

“Even if I’m losing my hair, I will never let my dad touch me with clippers ever again,” Wesley said. “My hairline was all jacked up, nothing was even. Bro could have at least tried to fade me on the side.”

 

It was then, when Wesley faced his reflection in the mirror for the first time, that he decided to take on his newest title: cancer patient.

 

Like he told the crowd at his high school graduation, what Wesley did with his life was entirely up to him. He controlled his own destiny.

 

Soon, Wesley agreed to see a licensed clinical psychologist, who taught him to set attainable goals every day.

 

These goals began with chatting with other cancer patients on online forums. Even though Wesley thought it was cliché, talking to someone in the same situation made him want to fight harder.

 

Wesley soon ventured down to his basement, where he and his parents played nightly pool tournaments. Wesley’s competitive fire was ignited once again as his win tally on their white board began surpassing his mother’s.

 

Scootering also kept Wesley sane. It helped him socialize and set goals, like doing a Benihana or Bri Flip.

 

“When you’re skating, it’s very freeing,” Logan said. “When you’re out doing an activity like that, it distracts you.”

 

 

Though he lived only 20 minutes away from Emma during chemo, when Wesley answered the door to her bearing orange and yellow tulips in mid-October, their cathartic embrace was like celebrating a long-distance reunion.

 

As he began achieving these daily goals, Wesley became more comfortable talking about his tumor, even enjoying the reaction he got when he dropped the cancer bomb on people.

 

 

This is Wesley, now.

 

He finished chemo on Oct. 22, 2021, and radiation on Dec. 16. Though Wesley’s pituitary tumor was isolated and has a low return rate, he is still immunocompromised and will be monitored closely for the next 10 years.

 

He’s back on track with his college plans, working towards his psychology degree and interning for Optum Health Services. He stopped wearing head coverings in late January after a thin layer of hair finally blanketed his head again. He plans on getting a tattoo over his Chemoport scar once the tissue heals.

 

On Feb. 20, Wesley participated in the TEDxUNC student speaker competition. If he’s one of the two speakers picked, he will share his story of acceptance on his biggest stage yet.

 

Wesley’s still the funny dude that scooters and will beat his mother in pool. But the scars that he carries from his pituitary tumor, both physical and mental ones, are now a part of him too.

 

And he carries them like badges of honor, open to discussing how they’ve helped him curate a little more practical optimism in his life.

 Edited by Layna Hong and Emily Thoreson

The natural next step: The Schuberts carry the mission to save the sea turtles

By Elizabeth Sills

Stun-cold??

Parked at the Triangle North Executive Airport (LHZ) located in Louisburg, N.C. is a six-seat, blue and white Dahler plane whose back two seats have been replaced by rows of deconstructed banana crates. Instead of fruit, the crates cradle cold-stunned sea turtles. 

The plane belongs to Paul Schubert, a volunteer with the organization Turtles Fly Too (TF2). The group connects a network of pilots to turtle rehabilitation centers and marine hospitals around the country. Alongside his wife Sherry, the two spend their free time transporting sick turtles around the United States.

Before takeoff, Sherry helps load the turtles into the plane, assuring that they’re all facing the back of their assigned box so as to minimize their chances of escape. 

Not that wandering around 30,000 feet in the air would be appealing to a sick turtle. 

How they get sick

Since sea turtles are unable to regulate their own body temperature, cold stunning makes them incredibly weak when exposed to cold temperatures.  

 “They stop being able to use their body,” said Michelle Lamping, a turtle rehabilitation specialist at Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. “It gets to the point where their organs, their vital function start to slow and then get to the point where they actually freeze.”

 And since the majority of sea turtle species are endangered, this makes their rescue all the more pressing. 

Paul and planes!

 The Schuberts have been flying for TF2 for seven years. Schubert’s father was a pilot who worked with the NASA space program in Cape Canaveral. He was responsible for plucking astronauts from the ocean after they safely returned to earth. While Mr. Schubert grew up surrounded by planes, he didn’t get his pilot’s license until he was 51. 

 After passing his pilot exam in 2007, the Schuberts began working with an organization that transported homeless animals from the northern U.S. to the southeast. One day they noticed an advertisement on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website for an opportunity to fly sea turtles. 

It seemed like the natural next step. 

Who is TF2?

 The organization, aptly named TF2, was the brainchild of Leslie Weinstein, a technology entrepreneur. Weinstein grew up in St. Augustine, Florida. He spent his childhood summers rescuing sea turtle eggs from poachers and relocating their nests into the safety of his family’s secluded yard. Ultimately, Weinstein would sell his property to fund education projects about sea turtles. 

Weinstein often received calls from veterinarians who had sick turtles and no means to transport them, so he found them a ride.

Starting up

 In 2014, TF2 transported their first passenger, a green sea turtle named Pierce. Pierce was bound for an aquarium in Iowa, where he was soon to become an education ambassador.

 As climate change escalates creating unpredictable cold snaps, Weinstein has exponentially expanded the non-profit. There are now 450 pilots in the TF2 database. They’ve even extended their rescue missions to other animals like fur seals. They survey whales caught in fishing lines. No matter how tall an order, Weinstein has a pilot ready to match its height. 

 “I believe in taking care of what’s in front of your eyes,” Weinstein said. 

 The same was true for the Schuberts. Paul describes himself as a business man. He’s managed medical equipment manufacturers, nursing homes, and a real estate agency. He currently manages a telehealth company. Flying is a side hustle.

 “I hate to do one thing when I can do two things,” Schubert said. “Or more.”

The first mission | how they met.

 Paul’s first flight was in Nov. 2016 when he and his son William transported 32 sea turtles from Massachusetts to Morehead City, N.C., Pine Knoll Shores, and Charleston, S.C.

 Paul met Sherry through her roommate, who applied to work as a salesperson at his telehealth company. Sherry was attending UNC-Chapel Hill to study nursing at the time. The two embarked on Schubert’s business ventures together, building medical treatment systems. 

 “We were a company of two,” Sherry said.

 “She was my first employee,” Schubert said. “I couldn’t run businesses and hold down all the strings of all the things that I do without her.”

 When she’s not flying with Schubert, Sherry crochets stuffed turtles to sell on her Etsy shop. All of the proceeds go to TF2.

 “I call them my carpool critters because I would make them when I was waiting in the carpool for my kids to get out of school,” Sherry said. “They’re now 25 and 27.”

Always to the rescue

 After Paul’s first flight for TF2, Sherry decided to dust off her crochet needle and contribute to the organization. 

 Ultimately, it was a lot.

 “[The turtles] paid for our software program for the internet that our website was built on. And our web maintenance,” Weinstein said. “Those little turtles pay for that.” 

 One of these turtles sits on Schubert’s desk in his office in Raleigh, N.C., in front of two huge computer monitors. The screens display a map of the United States, where Schubert enters the airport coordinates to track the route of his next turtle mission. 

 Although flights are becoming less frequent due to the warming waters brought on by spring and summer, Schubert remains always on call for when there might be a rogue turtle stranded somewhere. 

 “When you find something that’s important to do, you should do it. Otherwise, why else are we here?” Schubert said. “I don’t need to be known for it as long as what is important gets done.”

Edited by George Adanuty and Tajahn Wilson

Rage rooms can help you demolish your stress without consequence

By Patricia Benitez

Adelina San Miguel is gripping a sledgehammer, her weapon of choice. In front of her, six glass plates sit on top of an oil drum.

“Just let it all out,” she thinks to herself.

She grits her teeth and pounds the sledgehammer against the plates, sending shards of glass flying and crashing onto the concrete floor.

“Oh yeah!” she yells with a smile flashing across her face.

The microwave is her next victim. She grabs it and slams it on the floor. She swings and pounds and thrusts the sledgehammer against it. Miley Cyrus’ cover of “Heart of Glass” blares to the beat of San Miguel’s throbbing pulse. Within minutes, the microwave resembled a flattened car in a junkyard.

The wooden walls around San Miguel are coated with red and black graffiti. She bounces around the small room, demolishing objects one by one, shattering Christmas ornaments, cracking a car windshield and smacking more plates with a bat.

The cacophony of shattering glass and clanging metal should make San Miguel cringe. But here, breaking things isn’t only allowed, it’s the objective.

Paying to Rage

San Miguel is in a rage room, a place where people pay to destroy items such as plates, televisions, windshields and more to unleash their anger or relieve stress. A rage room session can cost customers anywhere from $25 to $300, depending on how much time they want in the room and the number of objects they wish to destroy. Some people bring in their own items while others let the business owners provide them with the community’s donations of unwanted objects.

After putting on goggles, gloves and an industrial suit for protection, customers can choose from an arsenal of tools or “weapons.” Then, they destroy everything in the room. And the best part? No consequences and no clean up.

Rage Rooms: An Unproductive Outlet?

Jonathan Abramowitz, clinical psychologist and professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, had never heard of rage rooms until recently, but is open to the concept as a temporary stress reliever.

“It can’t hurt,” Abramowitz said. “It might make the person feel better in the moment, but it also doesn’t take care of the problem that’s causing the anger.”

For San Miguel, her decision to try a rage room was inspired by a conversation with her psychologist.

“I need to smash a microwave,” San Miguel said to her psychologist who later encouraged her to actually smash one in a rage room, which provides a safe and fun environment.

San Miguel felt as if the isolation during the pandemic had changed her in the same, forceful way that a sledgehammer disfigures a microwave. She was also experiencing heightened anxiety and frustration due to someone owing her money for weeks.

San Miguel is a pole vaulter, so she needed something more stress relieving than lifting weights in the gym. She figured that smashing objects with a sledgehammer for 30 minutes would be intense enough.

That’s when she booked a session at Wreck it Rage Room in Durham, North Carolina. Customers can play their own music in rage rooms, so she spent days adding motivational songs to her “Hard Hitters” playlist before her session.

Now, after 25 minutes of slinging the sledgehammer, her back muscles beg for mercy. But San Miguel isn’t done yet. She bangs her head to the beat of Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire” and puts a couple final dents in the microwave. Then she drops the sledgehammer, done with her session.

All that remains is a battlefield of smashed metal, shattered glass and an industrial jumpsuit soaked in San Miguel’s sweat.

As Abramowitz inferred, San Miguel knew her rage room session wouldn’t solve any of her problems. It didn’t put the money in her hand nor did it end the constant feeling of isolation during a pandemic. But in the moment, she felt light and euphoric.

“You will definitely see me again soon,” San Miguel said to Kasey Taylor, owner of Wreck it Rage Room.

An Unconventional Business Idea

When San Miguel left, Taylor and her two brothers cleaned up the debris with rakes and snow shovels. Taylor doesn’t mind cleaning up after her customers. She knows the importance of releasing anger without worrying about the mess.

After being on dialysis for six years and parenting as a single mom, Taylor longed for a way to psychically release her frustration. She’s not a talker when it comes to her emotions, so she tried a rage room and was fascinated with the concept.

“Where can you go to just shatter a bunch of plates and not get in trouble for it?” Taylor said.

After researching the logistics of owning a rage room, she opened her own. While some of her customers such as San Miguel book solo sessions, others bring their friends to collectively smash objects. Rage rooms can usually host as many as 10 people.

Rage Bringing People Together

Kate-Eliza Dean was invited to a rage room session with two of her friends on a Sunday afternoon. During the session, Dean’s friends stood back as she used a crowbar to smash a car windshield.

“Yeah girl, get it!” one of her friends yelled.

“Smash it!” the other added.

 She felt as if she was living her fantasy of destroying an ex-boyfriend’s windshield.

After they each took a turn hitting the windshield, they annihilated the white microwave together. The room began to smell of thick sweat and chaos.

“We’re women against microwaves!” Dean said. They all bursted into laughter as they attacked the microwave from all angles with their weapons.

When they finished, sweat and relief oozed out of them from every pore. “It’s like a level up from a workout,” Dean said, “Just a huge stress reliever.”

Whether people are breaking items solo or with a group, they can at least say they have demolished a microwave once in their lifetime.

“If you have never smashed a microwave,” San Miguel said, “It will change your life.”

Edited by Katie Bowes and Jorelle Trinity

 

Three vibrant vendors: Who’s behind the booths at The Raleigh Market?

By Alice Hayes

The Raleigh Market bustles to life well before 9 a.m. when it opens. Almost every Saturday and Sunday since the 1970s, vendors have laid out their goods on folding tables, blankets or permanent booths at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

Then come the customers, as varied as the goods offered. Wearing everything from a raincoat, bulging with a dog snuggled inside, to a jean jacket emblazoned with an eagle and worn with a cowboy hat. Children rush with the same excitement and energy as their guardians, just a few feet lower. So much to see, so much to smell, so much to buy.

But it doesn’t matter if you’re a college student in hip clothes or an old man leaning resolutely on his walker. The flea market doesn’t judge — there’s no way it could. The vendors are as diverse in attitude and life experiences as the customers. The vendors have been here for months, years or even decades.

For some, the flea market is an addiction. For others, it’s just business. And for some, it’s about putting food on the table.

Jack

An American flag flies from a makeshift flagpole behind one of the vendors, Jack. He is 77, and he’s lived in North Carolina his whole life. Those years have made him bitter, like sweet tea left out too long. Wearing an old baseball cap and a thick jacket, he tends his booth, made up of mostly furniture: a grand old mirror, a red set of cast iron patio furniture, a solid wooden dresser.

The flea market has gotten worse with time, he said.

“People don’t spend the money on collectibles like they did 15, 20 years ago —nobody collects anything no more,” he said.

After Jack sold his first truckload at the flea market 28 years ago he became “addicted”. But he’s close to moving on.

“Two more years, then I’m a turn my saddle in,” he said.

In the back of Jack’s booth, there’s a picture of former president Donald Trump in a homemade frame perched on an easel. A cryptic caption declares it art regardless of whether the viewer think it’s good or bad. It’s unclear what Jack thinks of the picture.

Jack has help selling furniture from his “partner in crime,” Ray. Ray looks a little younger than Jack, but still has a worn face and said his last name is “not for sale”. He wears an ushanka, a fur cap with ear coverings, and he sits at a tiny table displayed with jewelry cases. Ray’s been helping Jack “on and off for 20 years”. Ray didn’t originally sell at the market. He started off as a customer — that’s how he met Jack.

Boss Barbee

Not everyone at the market is as dour as Jack. Boss Barbee, who sells tie-dye at the market, wears all tie-dye clothing, even down to the underpants, he said. He has a scruffy white beard and a jovial demeanor. All sorts of things — weed, crazy clothes — it’s all coming back into fashion, he said. He seems to like it that way.

He’s serious about his business. He keeps tie-dye business cards in a leather case in the pocket of his white jeans. The case isn’t tie-dye, but the jeans are. The jeans are 50 years old, with a few inches worn off the cuffs.

Barbee thinks people should do what makes them happy. Like the woman who bought tie-dye underwear from him. Or his mother and her boyfriend, who he rolled a joint for. He supports marijuana with the passion of a man who was never told the ’70s ended.

Debs Barton

Across the market, Debs Barton sits with her hands in her pockets behind a small wooden table. Barton has been selling here for 14 years, ever since she moved to North Carolina.

Every weekend, weather permitting, she drives from her home 70 miles away and unloads “about twenty-thousand pounds” of jewelry and antique hardware. She’s been selling jewelry for about four years and has been in the hardware business for about 25. Before that she worked with mantels and fences in Philadelphia.

Barton smiles sincerely and is excited by what she sells, especially the antique glass doorknobs.

“They made it with manganese, which gives it strength,” she said. “It’s too expensive now to do it, they won’t do it, they can do it, and it’s also the thing that allows a knob that’s clear to turn purple in the sun.”

Her tables are covered with plastic buckets and wood bins, but even that isn’t enough. Each table has another smaller table stacked on top with yet more piled on. On one set of tables each bucket or bin is dedicated to a specific category, such as doorknobs, hinges, drawer pulls, metal handles or another niche form of hardware.

Many of her wares are rusted, beaten down or otherwise look more like junk. Still, people need what she sells, and they know where to find her.

“They’ll try to match things,” she said. “I had a gal who bought a piece of furniture and she bought hardware.”

On the other table sits jewelry and “interesting smalls,” referring to the miscellaneous items found among the jewelry. And as to why she sells jewelry and hardware at the same booth?

“We have jewelry for your home, and jewelry for your body,” she said, with a laugh.

Jack, Boss & Debs

Everyone at the flea market is there looking for something. Doorknobs, furniture, customers, money.

The vendors and the customers all want something. And at first glance, it can be hard to tell them apart. Jack, Barbee or Barton could easily be mistaken for another customer slowly perusing through the piles of treasures.

Sometimes it’s easy, when the vendors sit behind their table or write prices on pieces of tape. Other times it’s harder, when the vendors stand by.

Just as aimless as their customers.

Edited by Maddie Ellis

Change the Type: North Carolina A&T junior fights racial stereotypes with her nonprofit

By Brianna Atkinson

At the age of 15, Sydney Ross experienced what she recalls as a “flip the switch moment” in her high school’s library. As she sat studying in the mostly-empty library, two girls sat across from her. At first, Ross couldn’t understand why they decided to sit with her when there were plenty of other empty tables in the building but she now sees the moment as a sign from God. 

Unbeknownst to Ross at the time, the conversation between the two girls would ignite her passion for a project that would grow with her through high school and college. 

As Ross was studying, one of the girls told her friend how her sister, who just had a baby, was left by the baby’s father.

“What do you expect? All Black men leave their families,” the friend replied.

When Ross heard those words, she was immediately overcome with emotion. She couldn’t believe they felt comfortable saying that in front of her, a Black woman.

“I feel like it was God’s way of telling me this project is something that needs to be done,” Ross said. “My dad has been in my life for all 15 years of [it]. And both my grandfathers were in my parents’ lives their whole lifetimes as well. I wanted to combat that narrative. We are above these stereotypes.”

‘An Idea Was Born’

In 2016, Ross started an initiative called Change the Type, short for Change the Stereotype. The nonprofit shares uplifting messages about people of color to combat negative stereotypes in society. Now, it has grown into an LLC.

Although the impetus for her nonprofit started within the library of Garner Magnet High School, Ross took inspiration during her sophomore year in the personal project class. According to Middle Years Programme Coordinator Amy Bennett, the class is a student’s opportunity to focus on something they are passionate about.

“ I could see [Sydney’s] passion from the day she walked into my classroom,” Bennett said. “She seized the opportunity to take a project that was required, but she actually put her personal passion into it. To see that it has taken her this far in her life is pretty extraordinary.”

Ross’ initial plan was to do something related to dance, theatre, or Black history. But it didn’t feel right.

One day after school, Ross was sitting with her grandparents watching the evening news, and story after story after story was infused with negativity. People of color in jail, shooting, looting, mug shots and Ross thought, “That’s not who my people are. There’s more to us than that. I’m a Black woman but I’m not always angry, I’m not always loud, I’m not always mad at the world.” 

“I was like, what can I do to change that narrative?” Ross said. 

And Change the Type was born.

Ross, now 20, is a junior studying multimedia journalism at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She works at the student-run A&T Register newsroom as the culture editor and loves to write feature stories. 

During her senior year at Garner High, Ross brought her love of journalism to Change the Type while enrolling in her school’s optional Diploma Programme.  

According to Career-related Programme Coordinator Gerald Siemering, what Ross did was unusual. Most students finish out their middle years project and move on to something different for their senior year, but Ross kept Change the Type as her senior project.

“Sydney was definitely an exception for that one,” Siemering said. “[She] was always very passionate in school and with community outreach.”

‘Through the Years’

Whereas her sophomore year project was about doing something she was passionate about, Ross’ senior year project focused on doing something that impacted the community. As an aspiring journalist, Ross knew that she wanted to bring some aspect of writing into her project and chose her favorite genre– features.

“I wanted to continue to make Change the Type grow,” Ross said. “We had the name, we had the message, we need people now.”

Her first “spotlight story” was on Malique Hawkins, a high school senior whom she met during N.C. A&T admitted student day. At 16, Hawkins founded a clothing company called The Movement Clothing to stand up against bullying, racism, suicide and violence. From there, Ross interviewed various youths who had started their own cosmetic lines, charities and even a 12-year-old who had designs in New York Fashion Week.

These spotlights were for the young people of color of Change the Type and had one simple goal – inspiration. 

“If they see people that look like them, around their age, maybe even go to the same school as them then it makes them believe ‘well okay, they’re doing it, so maybe I can make a difference in my community too,’” said Ross. 

‘Change the Type during the Pandemic’

Ross’ work with youth in her community didn’t stop when she entered her senior year of high school. Before school started again last August, Ross donated school supplies to other nonprofits and East Garner Magnet Middle School, a school she attended when she was younger. 

She also donated 50 Change the Type themed drawstring bags filled with face masks, paper, pencils, pens and other school supplies to two community centers. Each bag was designed by hand using her mother’s Cricut machine and had an image of a shining light bulb.

“I wanted them to have that idea that they are a light and to not let anyone’s opinion of them dim that light,” Ross said. “Don’t let anyone deter you from your goals and your dreams. Your light should shine whenever you walk into any room.”

Biltmore Hills Community Center Director Kenneth Lyons said Ross’ generosity helped parents get necessary supplies for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic so they could have a positive start to the school year. 

“It was a financial relief. School supplies are expensive,” Lyons said. “Everything she did, it’s been very impactful on the community and for the kids… especially with her being a former [summer camp] counselor.”

Now in 2022, Ross is in the process of getting a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status for Change the Type and is still thinking about how to expand its reach to even more people with her message. 

“It has grown beyond the four walls of Garner Magnet High School, but I would like to continue to see it grow,” Ross said. “We, as people of color, are doing tremendous things in our community. We can stand out. We can make a difference. We can impact others.”

Edited by Ellie Crowther and Simon Tan

21-year-old entrepreneur brings new late-night food option to Chapel Hill

By Rachel Crumpler

Will Gerstein is anxious and exhilarated. His whole family flew in from Wisconsin to witness his big moment — what he spent countless hours of the past year working toward.

With emotions high, he’s thinking, “What if it doesn’t work, and I’ve just wasted a year?”

But he’s also confident that this is something Chapel Hill, specifically UNC-Chapel Hill students, need. Being a 21-year-old sophomore at the university, he would know first hand. 

What do all college students need? Late-night food to satisfy both savory and sweet cravings.

Gerstein’s pop-up restaurant, Buckets at Chapel Hill, provides just that. 

It’s 9 p.m. and customers start to arrive at Buckets. The public food hall with multiple vendors is located on Franklin Street outside the Blue Dogwood Market. Guests scan a QR code that takes them to an online menu, and they place their orders right from their phones.

Inside, Gerstein and his employees cook and assemble orders of chicken and waffles, boneless wings, chicken sandwiches, and waffle sundaes. Food is brought out hot in styrofoam boxes adorned with a sticker of a basketball net.

Some people take their food to go, while others stay and enjoy their food sitting at one of a dozen outdoor patio tables lit overhead by string lights. It’s an energetic environment with music, chatter, and laughter.

As long as the food is served promptly and customers are satisfied, Gerstein says even five orders a day is a success. But he has done a lot more orders than that. And in the weeks since opening, it’s only gotten better.

“Every single night is busier than the night before,” Gerstein said. “We are on a straight upward trend right now.”

Bringing his restaurant experience to Chapel Hill

From the day Gerstein got to campus in fall 2020, he dreamed of opening a restaurant in Chapel Hill. But this wouldn’t be his first venture in the food industry.

Behind Gerstein’s youthful face and smiley disposition is the experience and business acumen ordinarily seen in someone much older.

In his senior year of high school, Gerstein founded Bucket Wings in his home state of Wisconsin amid the pandemic. He got the idea for his business after he placed an order at his local pizza place and a worker told him it wouldn’t be ready for three hours — a long wait time driven by the COVID-19 shutdown of most restaurants in his small town. 

Gerstein decided to quit his minimum wage job at Subway to start a takeout centered wing joint using a few thousand dollars he had saved. He rented a commercial kitchen, which allowed him to tap into the marketplace demand.

Why chicken wings? Because it’s Gerstein’s favorite food, and he considers himself the “wing king.” Plus Buffalo Wild Wings, the closest wing restaurant, was a 40-minute drive away.

Now, he’s drawing from his prior experience running a restaurant to bring another late-night dining spot to Chapel Hill.

He started seriously pursuing the idea of opening a place in Chapel Hill toward the end of his freshman year. After being on campus, he realized how few late-night dining options existed. And the ones that did — Time-Out and Cosmic Cantina — did not satisfy his cravings for wings.

“I have a huge advantage because I am the target market,” Gerstein said. “I am a college kid. I am who I am selling to and that is why if I want something, usually it sells pretty well because every other college kid thinks kind of similarly.” 

Buckets exceeds the expectations

Gerstein hasn’t let his prior business success blind him from the harsh realities of opening a new restaurant. He says he is acutely aware that, “Franklin Street is where restaurants go to die,” particularly those without an established reputation.

The street’s high turnover rate has recently claimed restaurants like Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, Lula’s, Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza, and Peño Mediterranean Grill. Determined to not have his venture become another lost restaurant, Gerstein created a very intentional plan for his business.

He put a year’s work into developing his menu, finding suppliers, designing the branding and marketing, and finding the perfect location. 

Most location options required a permanent, long-term lease with high rent rates. But then he discovered Blue Dogwood Market, which would allow him to use the same model he used in Wisconsin of renting out a commercial kitchen. 

One afternoon, last fall, on the outdoor patio, Gerstein met with Blue Dogwood Market owner, Sarah Boak, and presented his plan, a late-night pop-up that would operate from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. three days a week.

After being sold by Gerstein’s competence, planning, and experience, Boak was immediately on board. Gerstein’s young age never concerned her. In fact, she was thrilled to provide an opportunity to a student entrepreneur and for the first student-run business at Blue Dogwood Market.

They worked out an arrangement for Buckets to operate at Blue Dogwood Market for a five-week trial period that began on Feb. 11.

“Buckets has been cool because it’s brought in brand-new clientele — a lot of students,” Boak said.

The past weeks have shown Gerstein there is demand for his food, and he’s seen a high customer return rate. Buckets fulfilled around 200 orders in one night, for an average of an order a minute — a pace Gerstein said his staff can keep up with and should expect as normal volume. 

Anjeline Lynch, a senior at UNC, has visited Buckets twice in two weeks and there’s still more on the menu she wants to go back for.

“I wish Buckets had been around for more of my college experience,” Lynch said.

Wings with a purpose

With the trial period nearly up, Gerstein plans to extend Buckets’ time at Blue Dogwood Market until the end of the school year and collect data to see if the demand remains stable. 

In addition to students, Buckets also has the support of a few UNC athletes participating in Buckets’ “Athlete Giveback Program,” such as sophomore field hockey player Kiersten Thomassey. 

Without knowing how successful Buckets would be, Thomassey jumped at the opportunity to use her name to give back when Gerstein approached her with the idea over winter break. For every buffalo chicken meal named after her that is sold, 8% of the revenue will be donated to Thomassey’s chosen charity.

Whether or not Buckets becomes a permanent restaurant in the fall, it does have the support of one particularly well-known figure, UNC men’s basketball coach Hubert Davis. Davis even agreed to have a Buckets meal named after him. Gerstein said Davis was the quickest to respond and said what Buckets was doing was incredible. Davis answered Gerstein within five hours of him sending a request for him to get involved, and before Buckets was even an official restaurant.

“If Hubert Davis believes in me, that says something, that means that I’ve got something good,” Gerstein said.

Edited by Sabrina Ortiz and Julia Rafferty

Debate in Roxboro rages over the necessity of… a crosswalk sign?

By Katie Bowes

 “I’m gonna go ahead and tell you what I did today!” said Cheryl Cavalier when she pulled up to her friend Kim Brann’s house on a July 2021 afternoon in Roxboro, N.C.

 Kim burst out in laughter when Cheryl told her what happened on the way to her house. 

 Steve Cavalier, Cheryl’s husband, met his wife at Brann’s house, and after hearing the story, shook his head as if to say, “Lord have mercy!” 

 Cheryl took them both around to the back of her truck to show them a little scratch on the bumper — she had run over the crosswalk sign in front of the Person County Public Library (PCPL). 

 Standing at the intersection of East Barden and South Main Streets is a 4-foot-tall neon yellow metal sign with a picture of a stop sign, a pedestrian figure and a message reading: “State law: Stop for pedestrians within crosswalk.”

 It’s hard to miss, yet it’s still covered in scratches and tire marks, and can occasionally be found lying on the side of the road after a bad run-in with a vehicle. 

‘Flopping in the air’

 On the day of the incident, Cheryl had exited onto West Barden after leaving Rolling Hills Garden Center. She was driving her husband’s Chevrolet Silverado, as opposed to her typical minivan. In the bed of the truck was a magnolia tree she had just bought as a birthday gift for Kim, her colleague at Libby’s Tax Service in Roxboro. 

 As she made her way onto East Barden Street, home to the parking lots for the PCPL, everything seemed normal. Cheryl turned the radio down so she could focus on driving.

 As she came to the stop sign on East Barden, Cheryl waited for any potential foot traffic with the crosswalk sign in sight, before confidently turning left onto South Main Street. She wasn’t thinking of the width of the truck she’s not used to driving — or the blind spots she’s not used to checking.  

At once, Cheryl could hear several loud thwacks coming from underneath her truck. It was the crosswalk sign hitting against the undercarriage, running the entire length of the truck. 

“Then as I look back, I see the sign flopping in the air after I hit it,” she said, “ and I said, ‘Okay well at least I didn’t break it all the way down.’” 

The sign is used to this kind of treatment. Roxboro City Manager Brooks Lockhart said the sign has been completely replaced, base and metal sign included, four times in the three years since it’s been installed, costing taxpayers around $2,300 overall. Lockhart has personally witnessed the crosswalk sign get hit by FedEx drivers on their way to the post office — he knows how the sign suffers. 

Roxboro resident and PCPL librarian Amber Carver said she doesn’t completely understand the need for the sign on South Main Street. The security cameras for the library also give view to that part of the road, meaning Carver has watched people brush, bustle or batter the sign several times in the almost three years she has worked there. 

Carver said she and her coworkers are confused as to why the sign is there in the first place, as that particular spot on South Main Street does not see much pedestrian traffic. 

“Most people aren’t mad about it,” said Carver, “Most people are just like, ‘Why is this even here?’” 

‘An effort to meet safety concerns’

Understanding what should be a straightforward sign is knowledge afforded to very few. 

The Roxboro City Council has the responsibility of defining speed limits, and collaborates with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to look at proper signage and upkeep for roads within the city limits.

However, traffic concerns are brought to the city council by citizens frequently, whether at in-person meetings or online. 

Roxboro City Council member Tim Chandler responded to comments on Person County resident Tim Bowes’ Facebook post about the crosswalk sign, where another resident, Janice Hall, said the sign was “stupid” and “not needed.”

Chandler said the sign was, “implemented to try and control speeding issues where children are often playing,” and was, “unanimously approved by city council in an effort to meet safety concerns that were presented by citizens.” 

South Main Street’s speed limit is already set at 20 mph, so after numerous complaints about speeding from residents, the city council voted on a traffic calming measure adapted from the Federal Highway Administration. Their policies recommend other options to promote safety when lowering the speed limit has been exhausted.  

One of the FHA’s first recommendations is to narrow a roadway. When drivers see a large, open road, they naturally speed up. A restriction placed in the roadway — like a crosswalk sign — can be a natural way to encourage drivers to slow down. In this sense, the sign serves two purposes.

Lockhart and the city council both said they have seen the number of complaints significantly decrease since its installation, even if it requires constant replacement. In their minds, then, the sign is still necessary.

Edited by Morgan Chapman and PJ Morales