UNC DiPhi carries on history of debate, one argument at a time

By Chapel Fowler

Sam Gee sat on the top floor of New West on Monday night, typing furiously as he scoured Google for a punchline.

At the podium in front of him, Luke De Mott was halfway down a rabbit hole already. During the formal debate portion of this Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies (DiPhi) meeting, designated senators met to argue in favor of or against that night’s topic at hand: were J.K. Rowling’s recent retroactive changes to her “Harry Potter” series illegitimate?

Once the floor was open, De Mott launched into a sarcastic rant. The senior Phi senator started off with a friendly jab, telling his rival Di senators they “don’t control fiction.” There’s no objective truth to imaginary worlds, he said, and no incorrect interpretations of art. It’s all up to the reader.

Gee’s typing stopped. He’d found his counterpoint. The sophomore Di senator shot his hand up from his third-row desk. Quoting the famous line from “Hamlet,” he said: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“So,” Gee said, “is it possible that Hamlet is set on Mars?”

“Well,” De Mott said, “Maybe Mars has a Denmark.”

And with that, the chambers of UNC’s oldest student organization erupted in laughter.

History of the society 

For 224 years, DiPhi has offered  students a platform for robust debate with competition and friendship on the side. In 2019, the society is a bit more modern than in decades prior, with a well-designed website, active social media pages and senators reading speeches off laptops. But the rich history, many procedures and the fundamental goals of DiPhi remain the same.

“I think a bunch of students having a bunch of opinions and wanting to share them on their own accord is a really cool thing,” said Katrina Smith, a senior and joint senate president this semester. “I don’t think there are many spaces like that, where students come here for fun to do this.”

DiPhi, established in 1795, has been involved in all kinds of UNC history. Most notably, the societies’ use of diploma ribbons — light blue for Dis, white for Phis — helped inspire UNC’s now-famous school colors. The societies, which merged into a joint senate in 1959, also operated as the student government for over a century. DiPhi helped shape the UNC Honor System and the Yackety Yack yearbook, among other campus institutions.

But if you take a trip to Room 310 in New West, the history of DiPhi and its participating students truly come to life.

The space itself is regal, with cream-colored walls, blue trim and four massive golden chandeliers. All of the furniture is wooden, save for a chair made of literal cow hide and cow horns. Portraits of famous DiPhi alumni and honorary members hang wherever they can fit.

“It’s so cool,” said Peyton Furtado, a junior and Phi’s president. “To just study in some of these chambers and realize that people like Thomas Wolfe, Joseph Caldwell, James K. Polk have all been in these rooms and have been doing basically the same thing we’re doing.”

The debate comes alive

Each meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. On this night, Jack Watson took the podium after a roll call. As the critic, he alerts speakers when their time is up by ringing a silver bell and critiques his fellow senators’ performances after debate ends.

DiPhi debates start with a resolution, or an opinionated statement. Senators then argue in favor of or against it. This particular night’s resolution revolved around Rowling, who recently tried to add extra information to the “Harry Potter” canon to mixed results. Watson smirked as he introduced the topic.

“First, she said Dumbledore was gay, and I said nothing, because sexuality is a spectrum and I can buy that,” he said. “Then, she said, ‘I never said Hermione wasn’t black,’ and I said, ‘That’s kind of a weird way to say that, but OK.’ And then, she said that wizards used to poop on the floor, and I could say nothing, because it was my fault for retweeting her for so long.”

The debate took off from there. Senators against Rowling’s decision offered strong arguments: that art can’t retroactively be changed, that Rowling should create new diverse art instead.

Those arguing for Rowling advocated just as intensely. One interesting point  brought up the question: Whether publication is the true cut-off point for a book, or is it just an artificial boundary placed on the author? All through the debate, senators snapped their fingers when they agreed with something, and they hissed loudly when they didn’t.

Among the structure and carefully curated arguments, though, there’s plenty of humor. Gee created his own obscene revision and joked that Dobby the elf had “a 10-inch rod.” Sophomore Mo Van de Sompel decided to push back on the idea that all interpretations of art are valid with an off-the-wall hypothetical.

“I choose to believe that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not a white supremacist,” Van de Sompel said. “But if the author, Eric Carle, comes out tomorrow and says the caterpillar is a neo-Nazi, do I have to accept that?”

The fun continued into DiPhi’s other main staple — PPMAs, or papers, petitions, memorials and addresses. During this “signature free speech forum,” anyone can rant on whatever they want for up to five minutes. On this night, many chose comedy.

Senior Kristen Roehrig recounted the panic attack she had in a Washington, D.C., bathroom (“This will be a good story for an interview someday”). Watson, the critic, talked about how he discovered his inverted nipple (“Lefty goes in; righty goes out”). One senator told the story of a piece of cheese thrown so perfectly it landed inside someone’s pocket; another broke down the phenomenon of orange plastic Garfield telephones washing up on France’s beaches.

“We have lightheartedness in the serious,” sophomore Christina Barta said. “We also have seriousness in the lighthearted.”

The Rowling debate wasn’t exactly political. But political debates are frequent. Last month, six senators presented their argument for the best 2020 presidential candidate. In February, DiPhi hosted the second UNC student body president debate. Other topics that were tackled this semester included the two-child policy, how familiar Americans should be with the Bible and if wars have been beneficial to mankind.

There’s usually a quota — one science debate, one policy debate, one literary debate and so on — but Smith said DiPhi’s been more flexible this semester. Thanks to a wide array of majors and interests in the society, the balance between serious debates and more lighthearted ones “just ends up happening.”

Monday night’s meeting didn’t adjourn until past midnight, but, to no surprise, another DiPhi tradition held true. Senators made the short walk from campus to Linda’s Bar & Grill on Franklin Street for baskets of cheese fries.

They’ll be back at it again next week with a fresh topic: whether or not homeschooling should be abolished. They’ll be debating, like they have been for 225 years.

In the words of the DiPhi Facebook page: “The conversations don’t ever have to stop.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler and Nick Thompson

Remembering UNC’s African-American history with the Black & Blue Tour

By Jessica Snouwaert

The wooden door of the UNC-Chapel Hill Visitors Center flings open. Two college-age women scurry in and beeline their way through the people milling about the marble foyer.

“Professor Porter, we’re coming on your tour today,” one of the young women, Jasmine Pourtaheri, says as they approach a jovial-looking man standing near the front desk.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Porter says. “We’ll start the tour soon, so let me get everyone outside.” Jasmine nods and blends into the crowd.

“Welcome everyone to the Black & Blue Tour Part II,” Porter says. “We’re going to get started, so let’s head outside.”

He marches across the foyer, leading the crowd out into the gray February afternoon.

The crowd follows.

They all stop at the edge of McCorkle Place when he points to a white, marble obelisk a dozen yards away. He explains some of the history about the obelisk, noting that it marks the grave of UNC’s first president, Joseph Caldwell.

“I won’t go into too much detail about that now,” he says, “But keep it in mind for later on in the tour.”

He marches onward, attendees in tow, and calls back, “In spite of my Southern accent I walk like a New Yorker.”

Jasmine glances at the other young woman with her and giggles. She knows this is not going to be an average tour.

Viewing UNC’s history from a different angle

The Black & Blue Tour focuses on African-American history at UNC.

Robert Porter, a lecturer in African, African American and Diaspora Studies (AAAD), started leading the tour after its founder, AAAD professor Tim McMillan, resigned in 2015.

Black & Blue is one of the most popular tours given by the UNC Visitors Center as a part of the Priceless Gem tour series. The series of walking tours aim to give attendees an in-depth look at UNC’s history with the insight of an expert guide.

“It’s an interesting way to view UNC’s history from kind of a different angle,” Lindsey Waldenberg, manager of the UNC Visitors Center said. “It’s always interesting to take a look at the past through different lenses, so I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of it.”

But much of the tour’s vibrancy is thanks to Porter’s satire of what he calls “the typical American tour.”

“I’ve learned more about how to do this tour by looking at what all the tours I’ve been on do wrong,” Porter said. “Have I really learned anything about how to do a tour right from the ones I’ve been on? Huh, not so much.”

Porter has attended hundreds of tours, many of which he says treat African-American history as a sidebar, and deemphasize that fact that African-American history is American history.

Porter’s tour seeks to set the record straight. He wants attendees to walk away with a profound appreciation for African-American History.

As a child, Porter was enthralled by this history. When most children idolized Batman, Superman and Spiderman, Porter saw Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln.

Porter found inspiration in the stories of his heroes – the heroes who worked to make their lives better in the face of adversity.

“They had difficult lives and they went through a lot of hellish things to be sure, but they made their time on earth count,” Porter said. “They made a difference.”

Now he tries to make a difference by sharing the stories of the history of UNC’s campus, Chapel Hill and North Carolina. Stories just like the ones he learned as a child.

“Uncovered history that has not been told”

Leading the pack, Porter makes his way to the School of Government. The attendees trail behind down the uneven sidewalk.

Seteena Turner, a master’s student at UNC and staff member, walks amid a clump of her colleagues from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The cohort decided to attend the Black & Blue Tour together as an office outing.

They chatter about the stops made on the tour so far: a controversial sculpture hidden behind Manning Hall, the dedication of the student stores to a racist publisher, the Lenoir food workers strike and student protests for a Black cultural center.

“There’s a lot of uncovered history that has not been told,” Turner said. “I’m grateful there’s a place and space for it to be told.”

It is a history speckled with strife.

As the tour makes its way into the inner reaches of the basement in the School of Government the chatter falls to a hush when Porter stops in the middle of a sideline hallway.

“Time to catch up and fill this massive hole in your education,” says Porter, gesturing to the mural that extends the rest of the wall’s length.

Everyone gazes at the mural.

It is a scene of influential African Americans from North Carolina sitting at a diner counter. Harriet Jacobs. David Richmond. Ella Baker.

Some hold cups of coffee. Others read newspapers.

All are giants in American history, Porter says. He then muses to the group that everyone must have learned about them in school, right?

But in truth many of their stories have been left out of the public school curriculum.

Remembered icons

The cemetery is wedged into a square tenth of a mile plot.

Yellow, white and pink flowers rest on proud slabs of granite. Other craggy headstones sink into the ground with indecipherable names. Some have no name at all.

Porter stops at various graves noting the lives of those who lie beneath. Members of the tour listen attentively, a few scrawl furiously into notebooks.

But when the tour reaches the western end of the cemetery their pens stop.

Among the pines a few fieldstones lie in the grass.

Porter explains that this end of the cemetery was the African-American section. Many of the fieldstones used to mark graves were moved or destroyed as tailgaters would park their cars in the grass, leaving many graves unmarked.

“This is devastating,” says Turner, looking across the field void of gravestones.

But out among the remnants of burial markers standing alone is an obelisk and a plaque.

The sandstone obelisk is stained by time with moss and lichen growing around its edges. It once marked the grave of Joseph Caldwell, the first president of the university.

Now it marks the grave of Wilson Caldwell.

Wilson Caldwell was born a slave to University President David Swain. Once emancipated, he became a justice of the peace, town commissioner and head of the campus workforce.

His father, November Caldwell, was a slave to Joseph Caldwell. His son’s grave is now marked with his enslaver’s former obelisk.

The plaque, which stands several feet from the crowd, honors those buried there with unmarked graves.

A poem by George Moses Horton is engraved on its face. Porter begins to read:

“Thus we, like birds, retreat

To groves, and hide from ev’ry eye;

Our slumb’ring dust will rise and meet

Its morning in the sky.”

From enslavement to remembered icons, Porter sets the record straight for yet another tour group.

Edited by Caroline Metzler

UNC senior balances identity and mental health in his raps

By Brandon Callender

To Paakweisi Krentsil, who is better known as “PK,” life is a series of performances. He reacts to the situations that happen to appear in his life. He refuses to let situations tie him up and prevent him from doing what he desires. Instead, Krentsil adapts. He understands how he needs to change himself to succeed, but that comes with its own sacrifices.

Krentsil is Ghanian-American; both of his parents were born and raised in Ghana, while he was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He adopted the moniker PK primarily because it’s what his parents call him, but also because all of his white teachers and classmates in grade school simply could not pronounce his name.

Krentsil, 21, remembers his childhood and adolescent years as being part of what he describes as an “identity crisis.” He grew up in a home where it was always about African culture – he was reminded of his roots and Ghanaian homeland constantly by his parents. But when he left home, he was exposed to African-American culture. He was torn between two separate identities. Krentsil said he struggled in being a minority within a minority – he wanted to be closer to the default. Because of that, he embraced African-American culture more. That is, until he was an upperclassman in high school, when he met another Ghanaian student. Krentsil could not recall a time where he felt more at home.

“It was the first moment where I was like, ‘Okay, this is fine,’” Krentsil said. “I don’t have to do all these things I was doing, like letting people say my name wrong, or being okay with stupid nicknames. People would call me ‘Parcheesi,’ stuff like that. It was that moment where he was like, ‘Say your name the way it’s meant to be said.’”

Now, Krentsil grins when he says his name, exposing all his teeth. He said it to himself for emphasis: “Pah-Kweh-Si.” To him, learning to embrace his culture was just part of growing up. He’s content with the improvements and changes he chose to make. The biggest challenge he’s facing now is discovering his voice as a songwriter. Krentsil, a senior, joined The UNC Cypher during his first year, first as an observer, but later as a participant.

Cypher’s impact

“I think [Cypher] helped me realize what I wanted to actually do musically,” Krentsil said. “I hated freestyling. Didn’t enjoy it because I’m a perfectionist. If I’m going to perform or be in front of people, I want it to be as good as possible.”

Joshua “Rowdy” Rowsey, founder of The UNC Cypher, emphasized the freestyle aspect of rap. Rowsey wanted to see every member of Cypher come up with verses off the top of their head. Krentsil realized that others would end up using similar rhyme schemes or even reuse lines verbatim. That simply wasn’t enough for him. He credited Cypher for helping him get over his performance anxiety – but stressed that it still exists. He said he did not get the chance to develop his voice as a writer there.

During his sophomore and junior years, Krentsil struggled with mental health issues. He remembers periods where he couldn’t leave his bed for days at a time. But he said that these issues existed even before college. He remembers being bullied and having to deal with his dad’s anger issues at the age of five. Krentsil compares the relationship he has with his dad to Earl Sweatshirt’s. He said that Sweatshirt’s second studio album, “I Don’t Like S–, I Don’t Go Outside,” is what allowed him to make it through his sophomore year of college. When asked for a single favorite song by Sweatshirt, Krentsil couldn’t answer. He gave a list of songs, stopping at “Veins,” a song off Sweatshirt’s most recent album. Krentsil repeated Sweatshirt’s words a few times before nodding his head in approval.

“Earl’s so young,” Krentsil said. “He was wilding very young, so he has to be 25 and to have been through all the things that he’s been through. You know, getting sent away [to a boarding school in Samoa], all the addiction stuff he talks about. And now, getting to a point where he has to reconcile with the death of his father. Going through things like that so young, it will age you. You can hear the age in his raps because it’s coming from a place of clarity after having been through all of that.”

Krentsil is fascinated with Sweatshirt, describing him as “lightyears ahead” of his peers. Krentsil desires that quality. He wants to show how he’s aged in his writing too. Krentsil said most of the pieces that he has written have “heavy” tones. However, he’s concerned that currently his voice as a writer sounds too similar to that of Sweatshirt’s.

“As I’ve gotten back to writing raps, I find that like, from me listening to [IDLSIDGO] over and over again and sending it out to friends, they keep saying, ‘Yo, you sound like Earl,’” Krentsil said. “And that’s cool, but I’m not Earl Sweatshirt. I don’t want to be Earl Sweatshirt. I want to be me. I think Mac Miller said this in an interview, but there’s more to life than being sad. It’s about finding ways to write happier things. Giving the entire human experience, or at least my human experience, through the things I say.”

Figuring out his own identity

Krentsil wants to become the same type of honest, personal songwriter as the people he most enjoys listening to. He wants to make people feel something with his words.

“PK calls himself a producer,” Mu’aath Fullenweider said. “People will sometimes take ‘beat maker’ and that equals producer to them. I think a producer is someone who brings a song into fruition. Like a doula. If a baby is being born, the doula is there to help a baby be born. That’s a producer. They make sure the baby is healthy from the inception. I put out a record in January, but I ran it by him several times before mixing it. I’d ask him about [art] direction, what he thought about the sequencing of songs.”

His experiences have allowed him to become the individual he is now – one that does not allow the nihilistic zeitgeist of the decade to get to him. That sentiment bleeds into his own writing, as he has now gotten the chance to write pieces he considers to be happier. He pointed to a spoken word piece he performed last year titled “ILY,” about the journey he had to take for him to begin loving himself.

“It’s cool to be happy,” Krentsil said. “I feel like we wear being jaded and nihilistic as a personality trait and it’s not always like that. It’s okay to smile. To express positive emotion. There’s so much beauty in life. … People should write about these things.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler