Tennessee native and activist uplifts UNC community as co-president of Campus Y 

By Guillermo Molero

Sometimes they’re blue. Other times they’re green — a little corduroy number stretching from head to toe. Or maybe burnt orange or bright yellow, like leaves falling from trees.

Whatever color they are, Megan Murphy always wears overalls. 

For the co-president of Campus Y, a student-run advocacy group at UNC-Chapel Hill, they’re more than just a fashion choice. Overalls have long been a symbol of her willingness to take charge and do what she must to get things done. 

The Nashville native was always involved in something.

Murphy’s road to activism

When she was a young girl, her mother, a local chaplain, founded an initiative to help women who had been the victims of violence and trafficking. 

These women were all around Murphy during her childhood. They were her babysitters. They watched her and her friends build makeshift towns out of old cardboard boxes and other junk in her yard.

They were farmhands, by her side as she tilled the soil in her overalls. They were at Thanksgiving, passing mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce along a crowded table. 

They were family and Murphy did everything she could to help them.

“I was 8 years old with a very complex understanding of injustice, inequality and systemic reasons why people would end up in the situations that they were in,” Murphy said.

“And it made me really fiercely angry, honestly.”

That fire kept burning all throughout high school, even if she wasn’t the liveliest kid when she first started there. She was an aspiring ballerina, whose most distinguishable trait was her good posture — that is, to those who didn’t know her better. 

“I wouldn’t say she was shy,” said Spindel, a friend that Murphy met in seventh grade.

“This is still Megan Murphy we’re talking about.”

Spindel, who prefers to be referred to by their last name, talked about how Murphy eventually garnered a reputation for activism, even if she was quieter than most. 

A baby radical in a sea of plaid-skirt conservatives, Murphy found herself blacklisted by the “cool girls.” They often made group chats to make fun of Murphy’s more “liberal” beliefs. 

They added insult to injury by including her friends in these toxic text groups. 

After being cast aside because of her body type at an audition, Murphy permanently stepped away from ballet. It was difficult for her, she said. 

But the dance she once thought so beautiful and graceful had become repetitive and repressive. 

Murphy’s pointe shoes felt like shackles; her tights were suffocating. She needed to break free. 

And through her activism, she did.

The 2016 election came around the same time as that audition. Spindel talked about how the moment marked a turning point for Murphy. It was almost an enlightenment.

Murphy had become fed up with the toxic rhetoric of that election’s eventual winner. She was shocked by the apathy displayed in those supporting him and how they treated disadvantaged communities. 

She couldn’t just stand by as the world around her became nastier. Murphy had to do something. She had to help them. 

She had to make a change — and she had to do it right then and there. 

“The thing that’s unique about her is that it’s not about her at all,” Spindel said. 

“It’s not about Megan Murphy.”

 And it wasn’t.

It was about those battered women she had helped as a child and who she still works with today. Murphy is committed to helping them move on from their painful pasts and start a new life that is filled with love. 

It was about the victims of gun violence. She helped rally 300 classmates to walk out of school during the March for Our Lives.

It was about people in Nashville struggling with homelessness, whom she went to bat for at all those Town Council meetings. She sought to help them cope with the onset of gentrification in their neighborhoods.

“And that was what I lived and breathed,” Murphy said.

“It was everything to me.”

From Nashville to Chapel Hill

Murphy eventually applied to UNC because of the Campus Y, which she saw as the perfect place to continue serving her community. 

But this time, she’d have more help doing it — help from people like Laura Saavedra Forero, who joined the group last year. 

At the same time, Murphy was in charge of recruitment for the group. Both Murphy and Saavedra Forero ran into each other often at meetings for first-years and other new members. 

Not long after, they started hanging out outside the confines of the Y and quickly became close friends.

November of 2021 saw another turning point for Murphy, this time while sitting in her home alongside Saavedra Forero. 

The two of them were eating tomato soup and grilled cheese. Murphy slightly burnt hers, but it still tasted good. 

They talked about what their experiences had been like at the Y, all of the great work they’d done so far and what they wanted to do in the future. 

Murphy shared her thoughts, good and bad, with her legs stretched out on the floor where they sat. Then Saavedra Forero. Then back again to Murphy. 

Eventually, Murphy and Saavedra Forero decided they could do more than they were doing at the time. So they both ran for the group’s co-presidency. In the spring of 2022, they won. Then it was back to work. 

Only just getting started

Saavedra Forero said the start to this year has been a dream due to the word that she, Murphy and their executive team have been able to accomplish.

They have supported their campus community and helped those seeking affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

But she also said that it’s Murphy’s kindness and her effervescent energy that has made the job all the more fulfilling. 

“She’s stepped in and showed up, especially during some of the hardest times that I’ve had, both as a friend and as co-president,” Saavedra Forero said.

When Saavedra Forero went through major surgery this summer, Murphy was always the first one to ask how she was doing and tell her she loved her.

And when her friend Sam Toenjes needed a roommate this semester, Murphy was there, too. 

He met Megan at first-year student orientation in 2019, and the two have been good friends ever since. 

Murphy’s current achievements would probably surprise many of her high school friends, but Toenjes said he knew immediately that Murphy had a knack for that sort of thing.

“I mean, the overalls at orientation were a pretty dead giveaway,” Toenjes said. 

He said living with her has been simple. Murphy always knows when to step in, whether to do chores around the house when Toenjes is studying or to ask if he wants to get coffee when he’s having a bad day.

“She’s so intuitively helpful. She can always sense when something’s off,” Toenjes said. 

“She has a sixth sense for these things.”

Murphy deeply knows what it means to help other people and is more than willing to put her ego aside to do it. She always has.

Edited by Caleb Sigmon and Brooke Dougherty