‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’: Taylor Swift fans struggle for Eras Tour tickets

By Isabella Reilly

On the morning of Nov. 15, 2022, lifelong Taylor Swift fan Emma McElroy sat at her kitchen table at 9:30 a.m. Bright-eyed and glued to her computer screen, she patiently waited to join the Verified Fan presale for Swift’s upcoming tour — the first concert the singer has headlined since 2018.  

At 9:41 a.m, she nervously texted her friend Jayne Willard. 

“Are you in the waiting room?” 

“Yes,” Willard replied. “I’m very scared.”

But by 10:33 a.m., McElroy sent another text, this time excited. 

“I got five lower bowl tickets for April 28 in Atlanta!” 

“Still 2,000 plus people in front of me,” Willard replied at 10:35 a.m.  

And at 11:21 a.m., Willard sent two sad face emojis with a message that read, “I haven’t moved in over 40 minutes.”

As a long-time fan of the singer herself, Willard said the cost didn’t matter. She had to see Swift live. 

Still, she didn’t think she’d have to bear with a 6-hour, slow-moving wait in Ticketmaster’s virtual queue to get what she wanted. 

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”

Willard was one of millions of fans to experience significant wait times, site interaction issues and exorbitant additional fees during Swift’s Ticketmaster presale. Fans and scalpers competed for a seat to one of the tour’s 52 U.S. show dates. Twenty-six concert hopefuls have since filed suit against the ticketing company, claiming it engaged in anticompetitive and fraudulent conduct. 

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” Swift said in an Instagram statement. “It’s truly amazing 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” 

McElroy said as soon as she began moving in the queue, she knew she was ahead of others in line. She said she couldn’t believe how quickly she was able to get her hands on tickets.

Willard, who was competing for tickets to Swift’s third show in Tampa, said she entered the presale intending to buy two seats, assuming someone would want to go with her.

But after finally getting through to ticket selection, Willard recalls clicking on a single seat to view the price before immediately being sent to checkout. 

“I had one seat in my cart and thought, ‘I’m not going to risk this,’” she said. “I was just grateful to get out with something.” 

Despite the friends’ vastly different experiences, Willard and McElroy were some of the lucky ones. The ticket battle left many fans, such as Alexa Mazloff, empty-handed.   

After a 4-hour wait in the queue, Mazloff said she thought she could rejoin the presale line the following day and purchase one of the remaining tickets to Swift’s first Tampa show. Though she didn’t think her selection would be as vast, she trusted that if she logged on early enough the next morning, she would be fine.

She later learned she wasn’t.

To address what Ticketmaster called a “historic demand for tickets,” the company postponed the exclusive presale for Capital One cardholders scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 15 to the following day. The general public sale, scheduled for Nov. 18, was canceled later that week. 

Jennifer Kinder, a lawyer representing Swift fans and founding attorney at the Dallas-based firm Kinder Law PLLC, said she had never seen a situation like Swift’s recent ticket sales before.

The Ticketmaster issues made national news, even attracting the attention of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a case hearing on the matter on Jan. 24.  

“Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,’” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during the three-hour hearing, quoting a lyric from Swift’s new single “Anti-Hero.”

Compounding an already trying customer experience, Kinder said verified fan tickets were sold for higher prices than initially negotiated, allowing the company to increase its existing additional fees. 

“As long as they can get scalpers and bots to buy a bunch of tickets, then they are ensured that the ticket will be sold two to three more times,” Kinder added. “And each time there is a new fee, they benefit.” 

Mazloff said that though she’s still on the hunt for a pair of tickets, most available for resale are out of her price range. She recalled an offer of one set of tickets priced at $1,000 each. 

“I’m sorry, but that is out of budget,” she said. “For me and for most people.”

“The Great War”

Kinder said she stands behind her decision to take on the suit, regardless of the criticism she’s faced.

She hopes her efforts will help prevent the further implementation of industry monopolies like the one fans claim Ticketmaster currently holds. Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation Entertainment, an events promoter and venue operator, in 2010. As a result, the company now holds an estimated 70% share of the market for ticketing and live events. 

Since Kinder Law began its “Take Down Ticketmaster” campaign in November, the firm has encouraged fans of other major artists interested in fundamental change to document their ticketing experiences, adding, “consumers need to stand up for themselves.” 

The first federal court hearing for the Swift fans’ lawsuit against the ticketing giant will be held on March 27. Kinder said the firm is prepared for what will likely be a “big fight.”

As for Willard, she isn’t letting anything get in the way of seeing Swift in Tampa. 

A first-year graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, she even moved her thesis defense, initially due by April 16, so it wouldn’t conflict with her show date. The committee hearing her defense agreed to do so on April 7, a scheduled university holiday.

With her one ticket secured, she’ll attend Swift’s concert solo, hoping the show will be akin to a religious experience. 

“Nothing is going to stop me now,” she said.


Edited by Allie Kelly and Guillermo Molero

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

‘Everything just began to click’: Finding a community in film, college and life

By Martha Bennett

Jacob Wishnek paused briefly in front of his computer to take a swig from his cappuccino. Readjusting his chair to get closer to the screen, he studied a scene from his latest short film, “College Kid,” in one of Swain Hall’s editing labs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“There!” he blurted out, pointing to the screen. “Do you see that? Oh man, I love that.”

In this scene, the main character, Alex, walks through a parking lot while he listens to “Birds Don’t Sing” by the hypnotic-pop band, TV Girl. Syncopated to each cut, the beat of the song dictates every edit, going from shots of Alex’s feet to close-ups of his face.

Snapping his fingers and bobbing his beanie-wearing head, Wishnek smiled.

“This might be one of the things I’m most excited about,” he said. “I just wanna be sure I can get it right.”

He knows, though, as much as his friends do, that he won’t feel like he got it right.

“He’s always on the move, on the go, pushing forward,” cinematographer and friend Michael Sparks said. “He discounts nearly everything he does, which means he doesn’t always take pride or gain confidence from his achievements.”

A dedicated planner and perfectionist, Wishnek’s work ethic has been shaped by crowded sets where he couldn’t hear himself speak, 48-hour deadlines that made him vomit from getting no sleep and pages of rough drafts that would never make it to a read through.

“Perfection is not possible,” actor and friend Calliope George said. “But it is exciting to work alongside someone who shoots for the moon.”

Wishnek’s had a lot of practice shooting for the moon.

At just 22, Wishnek has been involved in over 60 film projects. From sci-fi fantasies to comedies, he’s developed a desire for telling stories and finding different ways to tell them.

But his passion didn’t begin with a typical movie experience. He has Alex Kim, and what might be the worst song of all time, to thank.

The ‘film guy’

Wishnek was 13-years-old when he opened his front door in Charlotte, N.C. to see Kim, his neighbor, knocking.

“Hey, have you seen Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’?” Kim asked.

A high school student wanting some help, Kim proposed a parody project to Wishnek as an opportunity to get some laughs around school.

“We called it ‘Pi Day’ because March 14, or 3.14159 day,” Wishnek said. “And it kind of became viral.”

Using their parents’ camcorders, Wishnek helped Kim film an off-color music video that generated over 15,000 views on YouTube. The recognition was flattering, but Wishnek noticed something: The video sucked.

Wobbly frames, harsh lighting and odd angles all made Wishnek curious.

“That became my pastime,” he said. “Just researching how to make films. Whether that was with finding new equipment or just learning how to actually shoot things properly to up the production quality.”

There were other learning moments, too. A summer spent at the UNC School of the Arts gave him one of his most important ones.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” a 2012 film by Wes Anderson, was on a laundry list of movies to study for the summer. Known for his stylized form of filmmaking, “Moonrise” checks all the boxes for a typical Anderson film. A consistent color scheme, quirky humor and spanning landscapes paint a charming picture for anyone who sees it.

“I watched it and I was like, ‘Oh, film is art; that’s what this is,’” Wishnek said. “Everything just began to click.”

It wasn’t about cracking jokes — at least most of the time.

It was about finding beauty.

Whether visually on camera or emotionally through script, that’s what made a film engaging. That’s what made them worth making.

So Wishnek began to chase that beauty.

He became the “film guy” at school. Working from project to project, Wishnek always wanted to be busy, whether he was writing, directing or producing. Voted “Most Likely to Win an Oscar” his senior year and accepted into New York University’s prestigious dual business-film degree program, he felt he had paved a road to success.

But New York never happened. It could never happen.

With an annual tuition of over $75,000 and little financial aid, NYU was thrown out of the picture for the son of a network engineer and a business banker. He had to dream smaller, so he looked to the only in-state school he applied to.

“At first I was just trying to put this happy face on about UNC,” Wishnek said. “But deep down I just told myself I knew I would transfer.”

‘It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that’

Wishnek had found people with similar interests —even co-founded a student organization for filmmakers — but there was a disconnect. He lacked a community, and Ellie Teller was the person to see he needed one.

A year older and an acquaintance from high school, Teller found Wishnek in one of her classes her sophomore year. She saw a nice kid who always had a nervous smirk on his face, but he seemed lost. He reminded Teller of who she was a year ago.

“When I first came to UNC I had an older brother that was a senior, and spending time with him helped me engage with different communities at UNC,” Teller said. “I wanted to provide similar spaces for him to get out of his comfort zone and start enjoying UNC for all it had to offer.”

She took him to parties, introduced him to the media production major and even gave him his first beer. He may not have been in a big city, or enrolled in a flashy film school, but he began to realize he could belong somewhere. He could belong here.

“Our perceptions of college are that when you get there, everything will fall into place, but I don’t think that’s immediately true for many people,” Teller said. “It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that.”

This is what makes “College Kid” so personal for Wishnek to make — it’s about him.

A project four years in the making, the semi-autobiographical film traces Wishnek’s personal growth each year of college. Using musical and color motifs, the film mirrors what UNC-CH and filmmaking have taught him.

“In order to find happiness and fulfillment in your college experience, (in) life in general, you need to find and take part in your community,” Wishnek said.

“And that means putting in the work — doing something — to get there. The film industry is collaborative, not competitive. It’s the community of it all that makes a film thrive, and I think in life you have to find the same thing.”

As he scrolled through the last scene of “College Kid” on his screen, Wishnek spotted an error.

A scene between Alex and his friend Nathan, they’re sitting on a roof, looking at the night sky.

“See there?” Wishnek said, pointing to the screen. “You can see the boom pole’s shadow against the house.”

Embarrassed, he gritted his teeth as he watched the rest of the scene unfold.

“I just feel, in this moment, this sense of meaning,” Alex said to Nathan. “Nothing in particular. No one idea more significant than the other. Just…significance. And it’s a lot.”

Wishnek’s smile began to reappear.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley 

UNC-CH admitted student days bring about decisions, nostalgia and love

By Savannah Morgan

Outside the Smith Center, students dressed in vibrant Carolina blue cheer and chant. It’s early — just before 9 a.m. on a Saturday — but their energy has a Friday-afternoon intensity.

“Go Heels! Woo!”


Identical blue Mardi Gras beads hang around their necks with metallic whistles dangling from the bottom of the necklaces. The beads bounce as the students jump and shout. One young man dons a UNC-themed bathrobe. White and blue balloons sway at the Smith Center’s Gate A. The festivities aren’t for a Carolina basketball game, though. The cheering students are Admissions Ambassadors, ready to share their love for the University. The March 30 event was one of three Admitted Student Days hosted by the Admissions Office for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Inside the Smith Center, admitted students and their parents sit grouped by their prospective majors. Each major is marked by a laminated sign and a colored balloon — purple, lavender, gold, white, dark green, teal, pink, maroon, orange, yellow, lime green.

Jenny Mades sits towards the front of the large section marked off for biology majors. As she waits for the day to officially begin, she thinks about her experience with Admitted Student Day at North Carolina State University last Saturday. She hopes today will help her compare the two universities.

“I’m really excited to learn about Chapel Hill and Carolina,” Mades said. “I tend to be really indecisive, so it helps to meet students and see the campus and see what the atmosphere is like.”

Mades and her mom look through the folder of admissions materials they received on their way in, looking for something that will strike some internal chord, helping Mades decide between UNC-CH and N.C. State.

Other students made the trip to the UNC-CH to affirm the decision they’ve already made.

Claire Skinner, who hopes to major in biomedical engineering, said she has loved the university since she was little.

“I just want to confirm my decision by getting a feel for the campus,” Skinner said. “But I’m already in love with it.”

‘What they could be a part of’

The day begins with energetic bursts to ensure that students arrive either instantly forming or further cultivating the love and excitement that Skinner and Mades describe.

After students have been ushered in past the enthusiastic Admissions Ambassadors, the event kicks off with a performance by members of UNC’s pep bands — the same students who perform at football and basketball games and other sporting events. Like the Admissions Ambassadors, they too are at the event to share their affection for UNC-CH. They play a mix of familiar, upbeat pop tunes and school-spirit songs.

“We start with the band to keep the energy hype and to introduce some of the traditions the band is involved in, like some of the cheers,” said Tyger Hanback, a junior at UNC-CH who is an Admissions Ambassador and a member of the athletic bands. “We really want to get people excited to be here and show them what an awesome place Carolina is.”

After the band’s performance, the Admissions Ambassadors run out with some helpers from Carolina Fever. The prospective students and their parents have the opportunity to learn some of the cheers that are integral to attending sporting events at UNC-CH, such as UNC Vamp and Carolina Spell-Out. Teaching the cheers is a way to get the students immediately immersed in the University’s culture.

“Letting the prospective students learn the cheers lets people see what they could be a part of here,” Hanback said.

A representative from Carolina Fever gets the attendees on their feet and teaches them how to hold their arms to form a U, N and C for UNC Vamp. She instructs them about the tricky speed changes — slow, then quick — and they hear a preview of the spirited tune from the band. When it’s time to try the moves with the music, the prospective students groan as their parents get a little too into the activity. But after a few tries, everyone feels looser, more confident and most of the room engages in the energetic chant.

‘Putting a face to Carolina’

The rest of the day will be filled with information sessions, lunch in Lenoir Dining Hall and tours of the campus. The prospective students will hear all the reasons they should choose to attend UNC-CH, but more importantly, they will get to interact with current undergraduate students and see some of the official information they have been given in action.

“This day is about putting a face to Carolina,” said Grace Tan, a member of the Admissions Ambassadors Executive Board. “We want them to be able to ask questions and hear this information coming from students. Most of all, I really just want them to see, ‘you could belong here.’”

Working for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has been a highlight of Tan’s time at UNC-CH. She loves to take students on tours and share her passion for Carolina, especially after a hard day.

“Being involved in Admissions really gives me perspective,” Tan said. “If I leave after a bad exam and get to take students on tours, it shows me how lucky I am to be here. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it, we are so lucky just to get to be here.”

Hannah Williams, a senior member of the athletic bands, is also passionate about sharing her love for UNC-CH, which is why she volunteered to perform in the band for the event.

“This was one of my last opportunities to share my love of marching band in the Carolina family environment,” Williams said. “I want to welcome people and make it feel like home. Because it’s really been my home.”

Admitted Students Day is an opportunity for prospective students to learn why they should choose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as their home for the next four years. Even more so, though, it is a chance for current students to demonstrate how the University has worked its way into their hearts.

Edited by Rachel Jones

Yoga in the era of #MeToo

By Mary Glen Hatcher

First, she asks them to breathe.

“Gently, softly,” she repeats, like the rain that trickles against the second floor window of Duke University’s dance studio — today’s yoga sanctuary.

A few dozen mats lay scattered across the concrete floor. Perched on each are educators, yoga instructors, activists and community leaders from across North Carolina.

Eyes closed, they listen intently to the rain, the sound of their collective breath, and to the voice of the woman they’ve traveled hours to hear — Zabie Yamasaki.

“Hands come to heart center,” Yamasaki continues. “Focus on your intention for being here.”

For many, that was simple: They are survivors of sexual assault.

They have come to help themselves, and others, heal.

Healing from #MeToo

This marks the fifth annual Embodied Learning Summit, a community event sponsored by researchers from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill that aims to share the health benefits of yoga with the public.

Through interactive workshops and discussions, the summit tackles a different social issue each year and the ways in which yoga and mindfulness techniques can be used to address it.

This year’s theme: #MeToo.

After a conversation with a young sexual assault victim in 1997 left her speechless, activist Tarana Burke crafted a campaign around the simple, empathetic phrase, “me too,” to raise awareness for sexual and gender-based violence.

The message has since grown into a global movement as individuals share stories of abuse, solidarity and survival on social media using “#MeToo.” In 2017, the topic garnered more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions on Facebook in a single day.

Not only has #MeToo changed the conversation around sexual assault, it is also changing the way we think about the impact of sexual trauma on the body and the healing process.

“I think there’s really a hunger to have a space to talk about and to make some of these connections in the yoga community,” said Michele Berger, a women’s and gender studies professor at UNC-CH and lead organizer of the summit.

Every survivor experiences trauma and heals in different ways, Berger said, but yoga and mindfulness practices have the potential to be an effective form of therapy for survivors of sexual violence.

A 2017 report from Georgetown Law confirms this, citing that yoga practice in young girls who have experienced trauma can “restore neurological pathways in a region of the brain that processes emotion awareness,” leading to greater levels of self-compassion, self-esteem and general well-being.

“Even simple breathing techniques can help regulate your stress levels, your emotions and really improve your quality of life,” Berger said. “We know there are communities that could benefit from these resources, and we really want to just give them these tools.”

Taking back your body

“Now, if you feel comfortable, we’ll introduce some movement into the body,” Yamasaki said.

With eyes closed, she leads the class through a vinyasa flow — from a plank position, to a back-bending cobra, to a downward dog. The movement is notable for its smooth transitions between poses and the anchoring connection of the body to the breath.

To Yamasaki, the flow represents a physical, mental and spiritual connection to the body — one she never thought she’d regain after she was sexually assaulted during her senior year of college.

“I never imagined the years of disconnect I would feel from my own body,” Yamasaki said. “I wasn’t prepared for the way my past experiences of trauma would sneak up on me and manifest in various areas of my skin.”

Flashbacks and anxiety attacks pushed her to try therapy, but the thought of vocalizing some of her most painful memories made her symptoms worse. She needed something tangible, something that would allow her to regain power and control of her body.

When nothing else made sense, yoga did, Yamasaki said.

“I finally had an outlet to process the unsafe feelings that were residing inside of me, in a form of self-expression that really moved beyond trying to find the words to articulate what I was feeling,” she said.

Without having to speak a single word about her assault, Yamasaki began to heal from her own trauma by reconnecting with her physical body through yoga — discovering a new kind of energy and power within.

“Despite all the ways trauma makes it easy to feel small, yoga reminded me each and every day that I am more than the darkness that was done to me,” she said.

Now, as the founder of Transcending Sexual Trauma Through Yoga, an organization that offers yoga and therapeutic programming for survivors of sexual assault, Yamasaki hopes her teachings can empower other students as they navigate what is often a lifelong journey of healing.

Students like Emma Hayes.

Over the past few years, Hayes has put most of her time and energy into her studies at UNC-CH in hopes of becoming a therapist. She wants to give others the help she needed after she was sexually assaulted, she said.

“But I realized I’ve neglected my own body and my own healing process doing that,” Hayes said. “I’ve been so focused on everybody else that I’ve been ignoring my own needs.”

Attending the summit opened her eyes to how she can help herself heal through the practice of yoga, while also nurturing her body and her passion for helping others.

“It’s been a good reminder that I’m also deserving of love, I’m also in that group of people,” she said.

The ‘potential for change’

Outside the studio windows, the rain continues to fall. It has grown louder, heavier, steadier, but is drowned out by a voice inside.

Kratu! Kratu! Kratu!

Professor Keval Khalsa, a dance instructor from Duke, leads the group in a Sanskrit chant and dance exalting the “seed of inspiration” to end the day.

“What has it planted in you?” she asks.

Some women shared they felt empowered to talk to someone about their assault — their friends, their therapist, their campus Title IX office. Others said the summit introduced them to a new path of self-love and acceptance, finding stability and strength in their own bodies.

Almost all of them cried.

“There are many gifts that yoga can offer to trauma survivors,” Naomi Ardea, a licensed massage therapist in Chapel Hill, said during an earlier workshop on self-care. It can offer movement for strengthening, flexibility, balance, a space for inner awareness and an opportunity for spiritual connection, she explained.

“But throughout the practice, there’s always this potential for change,” she said.

Just as trauma can change the brain, Ardea explained that healing care can change it back toward health and wellness.

“It may not be back to 100 percent where you used to be, and maybe you put the pieces back together a little differently than before, but you can shift things,” she said.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley

Pursuing Hollywood dreams means leaving behind Southern expectations

Herman Phillips IV moved from South Carolina to Los Angeles to become a production assistant at HBO. He is currently working on the shows “Insecure” and “Euphoria.”

By Virginia Phillips Blanton

The trade-offs were immense when Herman Phillips IV packed up his 2008 Honda CR-V, abandoning White Oak, South Carolina, to traverse the country, running down a dream. He traded magnolia trees for palm trees. Crockpot mac and cheese for authentic street pho. Acres of land for a rent-controlled shoebox. The boldest compromise: leaving behind the family granite business for a production assistant job at HBO.

Phillips Granite Company was established in 1933. Herman always felt pressured to take over the family business and play the role of a good, Christian, Southern gentleman. When he was 9, he told his dad he wanted to be a filmmaker.

“I had two choices. To either embrace the expectations and lie to myself and others, or leave it all behind and reinvent who I was supposed to be,” he said.

From Hunter to Herman

Dora and Herman “Grady” Phillips III have five children: Hannah Brown, Ruthie, Mary Grace, Sarah and Hunter.

Hunter started going by Herman when he was 16. “It was too much of a stereotypical Southern boy name. I realized it wouldn’t be very good branding for who I wanted to be,” he said.

The Phillips children were raised as Christians in a town of 50 people.

“Our parenting philosophy was to bring our children up in fear and admiration of the Lord,” Grady said.

“There was no part of my life untouched by religion,” Herman said. He couldn’t read “Harry Potter” because it was considered a satanic influence. Any film he watched was vetted through biblical movie reviews. Church on Sunday was like clockwork.

“I always dreaded a Sunday morning in my house,” Herman said. “I would dread the process of getting ready, putting on my tie and pushing everyone out the door. We had to drive an hour to church and an hour back. It was the most boring drive. We would listen to a sermon on the way, stay the entire service, then listen to a different sermon on the drive back.”

A passion for film

“I remember the first duck, quail and dove Hunter shot,” Grady said. “I could read that it wasn’t a passion for him like it was for me. But he enjoyed us being together. We still hunt together when he comes home.”

The one thing Herman gleefully shot as a boy was footage. He started writing little scripts when he was 7. On a personal YouTube channel, he uploaded reviews of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” His parents allowed this online presence because he spoke with a brown paper bag over his head with eye cutouts to maintain privacy. When he was 13, Dora drove him on set to be an extra in “The Hunger Games” franchise.

Going out West

The first time Herman visited California was to tour colleges. Grady and Dora accompanied him. They passed out Bibles on the street in-between tours of the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University. Even then, they sensed their son’s attraction to Los Angeles.

Herman’s acceptance to the University of Southern California validated every unacceptance he felt in his hometown.

“But when USC didn’t offer me any scholarships or financial aid whatsoever, everything seemed to collapse around me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that distraught, before or since. It’s still hard to think about.”

The reality of $60,000 a year sunk in, and he enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s Honors College.

“He was very much a gentleman about it. He understood why he couldn’t go,” Dora said.

A chance encounter

Of all places, a Phillips family reunion kick-started his career momentum. It was the summer before his first semester at UofSC. He was deflated about settling in South Carolina. He had no idea his mentor was floating in the sea of nametags.

Hello My Name Is: Ben Patrick. A production sound mixer who resided in LA, Patrick connected Herman with Jim Kleverweis, a producer at HBO. Coffee and email correspondence with Kleverweis landed him a summer job working on the television series “Insecure,” directed by Issa Rae. Herman worked in LA every summer during college in some entertainment capacity.

“People have their cliques, their respective groups, their fraternities and sororities. I had never felt like I had found my people, my tribe, until I stepped on a film set,” he said. “Once I did, it washed over me ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to be like.’”

The City of Angels summoned him. The summer before his junior year of college, an assistant director on “Insecure” encouraged him to drop out and continue working with them. Heeding the advice, he loaded extra credit hours onto his schedule and plunged into his honors thesis, graduating a year early. His exodus from the East Coast began five days after graduation.

‘Just a bunch of weirdos’

Neighbors warned him that “traffic is going to be terrible,” and “they do it different out West.” But the difference for Herman is what drives him. Jack Kerouac-style, he sped through 10 states to his new home. The road trip was a formal education for his narrow worldview.

Los Angeles has not watered down his Southern mannerisms from sweet to unsweet tea. “Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir” remain in his vernacular.

“He’s found great success in his first few years in LA, but that hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still the same old Herman,” said Matt Francis, his best friend.

A wide shot of Herman’s West Coast life doesn’t fit a single still. His White Oak routine was stagnant. Now, he facilitates physical production for the upcoming HBO series “Euphoria” with rising talent Zendaya. He just got asked back onto production for season four of “Insecure.” He grabs coffee for the directors and actors, wires mics and escorts actors to the camera. Everything is time-sensitive.

“One of the reasons he wears facial hair is to cover up the fact that he’s only 21,” Dora said. “On Monday, he had to drive 40 miles to be on location at 5 a.m. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. and got organized. Hunter is very organized. Everything is working in his favor.”

There is a familial structure on set that comforts him when he feels uprooted from his immediate family.

“We’re all just a bunch of weirdos trying to make it for ourselves,” Herman said. “We’re all here for the same reason. Because you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. A film can change people’s lives in ways you don’t even realize. Making something beautiful is why it all works.”

Taking back the family name

Juggling a 65-hour work week, he has a standing call with his parents on Sunday afternoons, followed by another with his grandmother. This past spring, Grady and Herman went skydiving together. Herman jumped first.

“Once we were out of free fall, my tandem partner told me to look up. Hunter had jumped out first and we were the ones below him. How’d that happen,” Grady said.

The life Herman Grady Phillips IV lives isn’t guided by a predetermined headstone. “I’ve taken my family name and turned it into something totally different than what the name means in the South,” Herman said. “Even though I may not be the fourth generation Phillips making granite, I represent the fourth generation of my family as entrepreneurs.”

Etch that on his grave.

Edited by Karyn Hladik-Brown.

UNC-CH’s Persian Cultural Society celebrates the rebirth of spring

By Mitra Norowzi

The year is 1397. Hundreds gather in the Great Hall to feast and be merry. Lively music reverberates throughout the vast room, ringing out into the hallways.

Guests embrace one another, celebrating spring’s long-anticipated arrival. Just days before, they had chanted before fires, coaxing it out of winter’s darkness.

As they stop to admire the decorations, they reach for their smartphones to snap a few quick photos.

While 1397 has just begun in Iran and Afghanistan because they follow a solar calendar, the majority of the world following the Gregorian calendar is already well into 2018.

The new year was marked by the spring vernal equinox on March 20, and was celebrated by about 300 million people around the world, including the Triangle’s Persian community at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Persian New Year party hosted by UNC-CH’s Persian Cultural Society.

The Persian New Year, or Nowruz, is the biggest holiday of the year for Iranians. Translating to “new day” in Farsi, the Persian language, Nowruz is a celebration of the rebirth of spring and the new possibilities it brings.

Reflecting on Nowruz

Fatemeh Sadeghifar, a student at North Carolina State University, moved to North Carolina from Tehran, Iran, about eight years ago. As a child in Iran, the anticipation of Nowruz buzzed weeks before the actual day as families prepared for the holiday, much like the frenzy felt here in America the entire month of December before Christmas.

She remembers the excitement she felt waiting for the exact moment of the equinox. It changes every year, and the different timings were fun for her, especially the years where the equinox was in the night, and she’d be allowed to stay up late.

In Iran, she recalls, this moment would erupt in outpourings of joy and celebration felt and heard by everyone, whether they were at home, out in the street or at school or work.

“The first day of Nowruz [here], I just went to school,” Sadeghifar said. “No one else knew what it was.”

As a kid, she would receive eidi, which are gifts and often money. And her family would set the Haft-Seen table, which is central to the celebration of Nowruz.

The Haft-Seen setting includes seven objects beginning with “seen,” the Persian character for “S,” with each representing a hope or aspiration for the coming year. Many Haft-Seen tables, like the one attendees of UNC’s Nowruz celebration were greeted with, also include books of Persian poetry, live or fake goldfish and a mirror.

Guests flood into the Great Hall

Entering guests were welcomed by tables serving hot, black tea and baklava, a sweet and flaky Mediterranean pastry. The baklava line remained unclogged and in motion, but the line for tea quickly grew until it snaked along two adjacent walls of the Student Union’s massive Great Hall. For people from a tea-obsessed culture, this line might have represented the only axis of evil that Iranian-Americans will recognize.

While the rest of the night’s guests arrived, those already seated at their tables enjoyed conversation with friends new and old over Persian sweets served family-style such as tiny rice flour cookies topped with small, black poppy seeds, sweet and chunky walnut cookies and delicate paisley-shaped coconut cookies.

Iranian guests, particularly the adults, served their seatmates by passing around the platter of treats, practicing the tradition of ta’arof, a practice of courtesy that involves excessive offering and deference. To non-Iranians, this looks a lot like arguing, but ta’arof is considered the proper conduct to demonstrate respect.

Tables also had fresh fruit and dried nuts, typical pre-meal refreshments at Iranian events or dinner parties for snacking before the performances and dinner.

Students were present, but the majority of seated guests appeared to be local families. UNC-CH junior Rose Jackson, a member of the school’s Persian Cultural Society and an organizer of the night’s festivities, said although the annual celebration is a student-led event, the larger Iranian community is active and is eager to be involved.

“So what was initially a student event had a lot of community support, so it became this kind of intergenerational setup,” Jackson said.

Throughout the night, Jackson and her peers scuttled about like worker ants to make sure everything ran smoothly. Jackson served double-duty as a master of ceremonies and a food runner. She even had to step in last minute as a backup DJ. But the hard work had a high payoff, she said.

“I’m Iranian, so it’s important for me to celebrate my culture myself, but also it’s important for me to create a place where other people can celebrate my culture whether it’s other Iranians or people who aren’t familiar with the culture but want to be,” Jackson said.

The celebration begins

The night’s program began with an introduction by Jackson and her fellow UNC-CH students explaining the history of Nowruz for those unfamiliar with the holiday.

The performances honored Iran’s past traditions, but also honored the contemporary culture of Iran’s present, where youth outnumber the old.

A haunting rendition of the contemporary Persian love song, “Soltane Ghalbha,” was performed on piano, violin and guitar. The music began softly at first, but soon became sweeping as the vocals entered the mix.

But those looking for a more authentic musical performance were not disappointed with the lively tanbur solo of the traditional song, “Ey Sareban,” performed by Mohsen Bahrami. The traditional long-necked string instrument crooned and trilled, thumping at the heart of the audience. Many of the audience’s older members waved their arms slowly, quietly singing along.

Jackson said many older Iranians were either expelled from the country or made the difficult choice to leave due to unrest.

“It’s an important event when you aren’t allowed to go back to your own country to be allowed to celebrate this still,” she said.

Fostering understanding

Sara Hosseini, a student at Campbell University, traveled all the way from Buies Creek, North Carolina, to Chapel Hill to perform a traditional poetry reading alongside Duke University professor Amir Rezvani.

The pair demonstrated Iran’s rich history of poetry and literature with their recitation of “Spring is Here,” a classical poem by 13th-century poet Rumi. Each verse was read first in Farsi by Rezvani, and then in English by Hosseini.

“The Persian Cultural Society president asked me if I could do it, and I gladly said yes because Dr. Rezvani is a wonderful man, and the poem was very beautiful, too, about two flowers speaking,” Hosseini said. “I jumped at the moment to do anything to help. Every year, I always come. UNC’s Persian Cultural Society does an excellent job — by far the best in North Carolina — and I wouldn’t miss it ever.”

Hosseini, who is half-Persian and half-Polish, said Nowruz is the time she feels most connected to her Persian roots. Celebrating the holiday and contributing to it by performing was also important to Hosseini to foster more understanding among Americans.

“There’s so many stereotypes and misconceptions about Persian culture and Iran,” Hosseini said. “And if people could just take a second to try and connect and understand and learn about the culture, they’d be pleasantly surprised, and I think they’d really enjoy Persian culture as well.”

The welcoming dance floor

Following the performances was a dinner of aromatic parsley and eggplant stews, searing lamb kabobs and fragrant rice flavored with saffron catered by Flame Kabob, a Persian restaurant in Raleigh.

Then, the lights were turned off in favor of a disco ball, and Persian pop music boomed out from speakers. Everyone took off for the dance floor.

Non-Iranian student Joshua Pontillo came to the celebration with some Iranian friends to learn more about their culture. He felt awkward being dragged out onto the floor and dancing to unfamiliar music in an unfamiliar style, but he found the dance floor full of Iranians to be welcoming.

“One older gentlemen told me I was a natural,” he said.

For Pontillo, observing the Persian New Year as an American was a rewarding experience, and he hopes other Americans will engage with Persian cultural traditions, too.

“I think people can come out and learn a lot, especially when modern politics is so critical of Iran,” he said.

His one disappointment?

“I was upset that I couldn’t try the Persian baklava, which I’ve heard is better — apparently they served more Greek-style baklava,” Pontillo said.

Edited by Adam Phan

Seeking black identity in a white world through rap

By Sophie Whisnant

(Photos courtesy of Alice Hudson)

Rapper and NC State student Phillip Green.

Philip Green leans back on a dirty old pull-out couch in his friend Cole Brown’s college apartment. His head bops along to the “Black Panther” soundtrack, but he’s exasperated and dehydrated after ranting about his descent from an almost mythical and deeply spiritual black Egyptian heritage.

“I’m that black dude that likes to talk about Egypt,” Green says once he catches his breath.

“Yeah but can you rap about it?” asks Brown, his words bouncing off the miscellaneous bongs and smoking vessels scattered around his apartment.

Green just laughs, sinking deeper into the couch. This is a question he’s been asked before.

Growing up in a white world

Since he was old enough to go to school in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., Green has been one of, if not the only, black people in his class. He’s channeled the teasing and loneliness he’s felt through his original rap music and has a budding career as a successful rapper in the Raleigh area.

Although he raps about racism, Green’s world is surprisingly whitewashed. His music might tell the story of someone fed up with racism and society, but to the outside world, Green seems comfortable living a white life.

Green’s rapping career is now almost 8 years old. He started off posting songs on SoundCloud that he made in his makeshift home studio under the moniker “PG-13.” A junior communications major at N.C. State University, Green performs with the popular Triangle rap group “They Came from Lemuria” in Raleigh bars once a month.

Rap was therapeutic for Green as a middle schooler at a small Quaker school in Wilmington, where no one looked like him. His skin color felt the most confining when learning about history and the accomplishments of the Europeans.

“The books we read didn’t have people that look like (me),” Green said.

It didn’t change much once he got to high school. As part of a smaller accelerated college program within a public school, Green was one of five students in New Hanover High School’s Lyceum program. The signature dreadlocks that he started growing when he was 9 made him stand out even more.

In high school, Green experienced racism in subtle and overt ways. He still remembers feeling angry and embarrassed when the topic of flying monkeys came up in class. His peers compared him to the monkeys, laughing about their similarities.

“I’m the butt of the joke,” Green said. “If there’s five people making a black joke, and you’re the only black person, I gotta laugh about it too.”

One of Green’s oldest friends and classmates, Gavin Campbell, who is white, was in the room when the monkey joke took off.

“I have heard years of people calling him an ‘Oreo,’” Campbell said, “asking why he ‘acts white.’”

What bothers Campbell the most is when others seem surprised that Green can be a well-spoken and polite black man. Throughout their friendship, Campbell said he’s noticed how, in stores, white people keep an eye on Green.

Green has felt those extra eyes on him. He has always been conscious of his skin color and what he looked like sitting across from his classmates. It didn’t get easier when he started college.

Higher education, same problems

As a freshman Green almost reflexively joined a white fraternity, but later became inactive when he found it too similar to high school. He was tired of being the only black man in the room.

Despite this, two years later, Green still lives in an almost exclusively white world. He spends Thursday nights with his girlfriend, Hannah Neely, who is white. They lovingly pass a bong back and forth while cuddling on the couch and making plans to visit their other friends, who are also all white, later that night.

Green’s closest friends are all white. After years of being the lone black person in class, he now describes white people as his “comfort zone.” Despite the hurtful joking, he said, his friends are generally well-meaning and have given him a different way to look at the world.

“Being seen by the majority of your white peers as the ‘token’ friend is an inevitability,” Campbell said. “Philip has retained his identity as a black man through his music, friendships with people from various walks of life, and through general pride in his identity which I’m extremely proud of him for maintaining.”

Even though he has friendships with people like Campbell that he values, Green still enjoys, and relies on, being able to play what he and his girlfriend call the “race card.”

“You pull it in social settings where you’re high or uncomfortable,” Neely said to Green about the card.

Green said that he’ll respond to his white friends with the phrase “Oh, it’s because I’m black?” to raise awareness about what is offensive, or to just make his friends uncomfortable and defensive for his own entertainment. It’s funny to him, his little way of getting back at his friends for the jokes they’ve made about him over the years.

But even though he talks about race with his friends, he doesn’t feel like people take his blackness seriously.

Green’s parents own an environmental restoration service. He’s always been comfortable financially and didn’t feel like he fit in with a lot of the other black kids in his high school.

“I have felt pretty lonely,” Green said, “just because, like, I’ve created this niche for myself where it’s like I’m the suburban black kid.”

Because of his socioeconomic status, he’s found it difficult to defend his race with white people.

“People don’t take my advocacy as seriously,” he said. “They don’t think my voice is as valid.”

Rapping: thinking out loud

They may not listen, but speaking up has always been important to Green. He’s passionate about his political views, like his belief that incarceration is modern-day slavery. He will discuss how the TV show “Cops” is lynching, and vent about how black men only witness the American dream through programs with white actors like “Friends.”

When Green speaks about these issues, he starts to use the rap voice he’s been honing since he was 13. He speaks deeply with a natural flow, accenting certain words and syllables to emphasize what’s important. Rap is his preferred method of communication.

Green’s rhymes have reflected his anxieties of being the only black face in a white world. On the 15-minute track “Griselda Negro,” Green raps, “‘Bro, today it ain’t about race’/ Yes it is, the wealth gap it’s a massive issue doe, yes, I notice dis,” and, “They sayin’ I’m free/ Only on the day I escape from my b-o-d-y.” These lyrics might contradict the white life Green has carved out for himself, but they voice the black side of him that he keeps hidden within his social circle. When he “spits” certain lines, he’s sharing his passion. His songs are his diary and provide an outlet that lets him live the blackness that’s missing in his daily life.

Whether rap is a coping mechanism or not, it brings Green happiness unlike anything else. If he isn’t working on a song, he’s listening to rap, either on his own or with his group of friends sharing a joint. Rap isn’t just an escape, it’s his lifestyle.

“This is what I feel the best doing,” he said.

Edited by David Fee


Changing sisterhood: sorority allows bids to transgender women


By Sophie Whisnant

The carpet leading into the Gaylord Texan Resort in the Dallas suburb of Grapevine was obnoxiously, unapologetically Texas; woven into the fabric was a pattern of cowboy boots, horseshoes and Texas flags.

Three young women from UNC-Chapel Hill followed the custom carpet runner to a conference room for the final dinner of the three-day national meeting of Tri Delta leadership. They expected yet another three-course meal shared with hundreds of their sorority sisters from across the United States and Canada.

Exhausted from a full day of meetings and leadership training workshops, they instinctively headed for a table in the back, content to finally be alone with a delicious raspberry cheesecake. The plan? Eat the Gaylord’s cheesecake, zone out during the dinner speech, and check their Snapchats instead.

But when National Tri Delta President Kimberlee Sullivan started talking, the UNC-CH delegation — and everyone else — forgot all about cheesecake and Snapchat.

Starting immediately, Tri Delta was officially changing its policy to allow chapters to grant bids to potential new members who identify as female, not just those who were assigned female at birth.

Cheesecake hung on forks suspended in the air.

It was about time, said Amy Queen, UNC-CH Tri Delta vice president of chapter development.

“The room just kind of burst into claps,” Queen said. “Everybody seemed really excited that an organization founded so long ago could keep up with current changes in our society.”

Making changes to tradition.

Mirroring change isn’t something always associated with sorority life, particularly in the South. Tri Delta was founded in 1888 at Boston University, but its headquarters have always been located in Texas. It was the first sorority to create a non-discrimination policy, which has protected people of any race, sexual orientation, religion or ability. But an update of this magnitude, coming from the Bible Belt, signifies a greater step toward inclusivity for Tri Delta chapters across the country.

“It made me happier to be a member,” said Abby Mueller, UNC-CH Tri Delta vice president of finance.

Returning to their rooms in the sprawling Gaylord Texan resort, which, oddly had a jungle theme, the Tri Delta reps were energized.

“Everybody was pretty proud of an organization that could take change like that,” said Queen. “I think it was progressive that Tri Delt [is doing this before] some other sororities.”

Mueller said she expects the change to sit well with her sorority sisters at UNC-CH.

“Our chapter is more open and diverse, a lot more so than other chapters,” she said.

But UNC-CH business and political science major Meredith Freeland wouldn’t say the sorority is diverse. Freeland, who dropped out of Tri Delta at UNC-CH last year after three and a half years, doesn’t see the change having any impact on the way Greek life operates on campus.

“I don’t think it means much at all,” she said. “A policy can say anything without doing much. It’s like with racial diversity. Obviously Tri Delta’s policies allow for members of all colors but the reason we don’t see much diversity in many chapters is because allowing for diversity is different from encouraging it.”

Freeland said sororities are still viewed as places of homogeneity—“people who look, feel and think differently are made uncomfortable.”

“This is exactly what drew me to Tri Delta in my recruitment: I was told ‘all the girls here are so different and unique, nothing is the same about everyone. Some sororities have a stereotype but I can’t think of ours. Well, maybe we all own a pair of Converses.’ That really spoke to me,” Freeland said. “Disrupting the pattern is hard. Who wants to be the gender non-conforming person to join a sorority grounded in historic womanhood?”

Bringing the changes home.

As they returned to campus, Queen and Mueller discussed how the change was great, but might not be relevant to the Chapel Hill recruitment process.

UNC-CH photojournalism major Alice Hudson considered rushing as a freshman but wasn’t impressed by the diversity of sorority membership.

“A lot of top tier sororities don’t have a lot of racial inclusivity,” she said. “A trans person might get a bid but I’d be surprised if they went through with it.”

“I just think it would be really hard for them to be among the only trans people within a cisgender group that has such a deep rooted history and traditional set of values,” Hudson said.

But Freeland is somewhat hopeful.

“I think this is really a good step…language is powerful,” she said. “The way we talk about things matters.”

From talking comes policy change, she said, “it opens the door for the conversation and forbids outright discrimination.”

Although she dropped out of Tri Delta in her senior year, Freeland said the experience was beneficial.

“I got a lot out of my time in a sorority but …my world became so small, so white, so wealthy,” she said. “All of my friends looked like me.”

The Greek culture hasn’t been historically receptive to the LGBT community. Freeland remembers a male friend who was gay but adamant that anyone who knew about his sexuality keep it a secret because he was afraid he wouldn’t get any bids.

“This is obviously troubling for a million reasons,” she said.

Resistance to change.

Back in Grapevine the morning after the news, chapter presidents met to start their final training session. The leader of the sessions had been calm and serene, until this morning when her complexion was flushed and there was panic in her voice.

After the bomb had dropped the night before, her inbox was flooded with emails from Tri Delta adult volunteers, outraged at the updated policy. She asked the group to talk amongst themselves so she could get some work done.

The presidents weren’t nearly as frazzled as their adult leader. Some discussed their indifference with the change. But most expressed their excitement for it, saying they couldn’t wait to go home and tell their chapters.

As Queen packed up and headed home to Chapel Hill she thought about what the new policy would mean for her chapter.

“I feel like people in our sorority would say they are in full support of this change,” she said. “But if we ever had a trans person rush, they would 10/10 drop them.”


Edited by David Fee

The Eco–Institute is a sanctuary for those seeking to return to the basics

By Janna Childers
There’s a metal arch flanked by a vast blur of green. It reads “Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute.” As soon as I crossed that threshold, the atmosphere shifted. The grumble of gravel beneath my tires softened as my red Hyundai Elantra slowed and a sweet wind brushed its way through the leaves and into my small car.

I could no longer hear the distant hum of cars speeding down Jo Mac Road, but the stillness here was not silent. There’s a quiet roar to the invisible activities of the creatures, hidden underneath tall grass or nestled high in the branches of trees. The frogs bellowed as the sun began to drop through the sky. Birds released bursts of sounds that were carried through the expanse of open sky.  And the constant underscore of cicadas and crickets could not be ignored. I don’t know whether it was the pungent smell of nurtured earth or the crisp taste of clean air, or maybe something more intangible, but something struck me as different about this place. I exhaled deeply.

Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute is a place of hope. The educational farm offers many different programs, including summer camps for children, workshops in organic farming techniques and a ten-week immersive educational experience for young adults, all of which center around the work of restoring a broken relationship between the earth and humanity.

The 38 acres of land, owned by Megan and Tim Toben, offers a place for a community to gather, to learn, to build and to recharge. It attracts wanderers who sense something wrong with the traditional trajectory of education and career, burnt out environmental activists who want to be reminded of their motivation to do their work and people who are looking for a place to connect with others who share similar concerns about the state of the earth.

At Pickards Mountain, real work is done not only to teach people about the plight of the earth and crises that humanity is facing, but also about how to build a new way of doing things. Somehow, despite all of the negative things this place was built in response to, hope has seeped in to this place and refuses to leave.

A quick 15-minute drive west will take you from the paved and manicured world of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus to an unkempt land of oaks, separated by tracts of land for small houses and big fields. It’s here that you will find the Eco-Institute, tucked away behind Honeysuckle Tea House, an open-air tea house and herb farm owned by the Tobens.

While I was making this drive, I rolled the windows down to let the warm evening air blow through my hair and drown out the sound of the radio. I was rehearsing the questions I wanted to ask and the appropriate way to greet Megan Toben, the founder of the Institute, who had agreed to meet with me that evening. The repetition of “Hi, thanks so much for meeting with me,” and “Can you tell me more about…” was underscored by a flood of memories that I kept trying to ignore.

See, the majority of the first two years of my college education were spent sitting in white-walled classrooms being bombarded by devastating information. I heard stories of these structures of injustice that we, as a society have trapped ourselves in, and facts about the tipping point of parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere and how humans have passed that point. I saw examples of disparities between the rich and the poor and the way that greed and power seduce even the wisest of people to keep widening the gap– stories of a failing government, a failing economy, a failing society.

It was hard to find hope. And that same lost feeling started bubbling up again as I drove through the woods to this place I knew was full of people who had devoted their lives building a better future. I just couldn’t imagine how they could do that.

A conversation by the pond

Megan Toben greeted me with a hug, welcoming me to the farm like I was family, like I belonged there. We walked through the gardens of neatly planted vegetables, like spinach and potatoes, asparagus and mint. We passed farmer Dave, the bare-foot garden manager at the Eco-Institute whose shoulder-length blonde curls almost touched the ground as he bent over the rows of plants, pulling out weeds. We stopped by the pond, which takes up about four acres of the land, and sat down in a large red gazebo, with flags of faded primary colors rocking with the wind.

Toben took me back to her days as an undergraduate at Elon Univeristy, where she graduated in 2002. Toben studied biology, but was not able to detach herself from the phenomena she was studying the way her classmates could.

“How is it that things like deforestation and species extinction and water pollution rates and climate disruption are just continuing,” she said. “I mean, it’s still worsening every day. I got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t sit in a classroom and hear the data any longer without doing something. My intellect was being engaged with this desperate information. But there was no engagement for my hands, or my heart, or my voice.”

That’s where the story of the Eco-Institute began. Toben longed for a more holistic education experience, and searched for a way to provide one for herself and to work with others who wanted the same thing. She fell in love with the bodies of work of two environmental activists, Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy, who later would become the philosophical pillars for the work of the Eco-Institute. Then she met Tim Toben.

“When my husband, Tim, and I fell in love, he owned this land,” Toben said. “Part of what drew us to one another was our common love for earth. A big question for us in the beginning was, how can we offer this place to bring people together to support the movement?”

Together, they began to open up their land to the community, hosting potluck dinners and summer camps for children, and teaching people about a new way of living and being in the world — a notion supported by a global ecological and social movement that writer Joanna Macy has deemed “The Great Turning.” Macy wrote that The Great Turning “is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”

This global movement encompasses more than just a need to reduce carbon emissions. It is broad and diverse, but essentially is working toward a new way of doing things. It is built on the basis that our current societal and economic systems are disruptive to the balance of the earth, the balance of society and the balance of humanity itself.

“I think that it helps to remember that there was a time when humanity saw itself as a member of the earth community,” Toben said. “At some point, humanity began to see itself as sort of lord and master, and everything else then became, what we call, resource.”

The movement itself can be characterized by many different social movements, like the indigenous movements of Latin America, the Occupy Wallstreet movement in the United States and many other small movements happening in communities around the world. The Eco-Institute sees itself as a gathering place for this movement, a place where people can come to rest and to learn and be a part of the greater community.

“I think there have to people who go out there and picket,” Toben said. “There have to be people who petition for change. There have to be people who use their bodies to stop the bulldozers from taking down the old growth forests. There also has to be midwifing of a new way of doing things. So, there has to be both at the same time. And we’re more in the midwifing of the new way of doing things, like organic agriculture and renewable energy, social justice and cooperation, collaboration, creativity.”

The Eco-Institute offers a variety of programs, including permaculture classes, mushroom growing lessons and outdoor yoga sessions. But, the most important program they offer is a 10-week immersive educational experience called the Odyssey Fellowship. The fellowship was developed after years of hosting young adults who wanted to be a part of the work the institute was doing. Many of them found the farm through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a network of organizations that connect volunteers with organic farms. The program was named after a period of development between adolescence and adulthood called odyssey and marked by wandering.

“When I read that description, I immediately thought of the hundreds of young adults that have come wandering through here in the ten years that the eco-institute has been here, wanting to work on the farm, wanting to spend time here, wanting to engage, wanting to build community, wanting to talk about the issues that are challenging,” Toben said. “We realized that what young adults were really wanting was an opportunity to come and engage on all levels in a truly holistic educational experience.”

The Gathering Place

Apollo, a golden retriever, was lounging in the grass behind the barn and next to a gathering of a few of the current fellows. They had finished cooking and eating dinner together and were gathered around a picnic table with a large sheet of brown paper before them, thinking through plans to publish a zine. Even though they were all outdoors in this common space, they sat around in comfortable clothes with their shoes kicked off. It was like stepping into an outdoor living room. I could tell that this was home for them.

These fellows had gone through the first 10-week Odyssey Fellowship, and were here for another 10-week program, the Odyssey Leadership Program. Jimi Eisenstein, one of the fellows, called it the “graduate program” for the fellowship.

“We graduated from it and wanted more,” he said, his black poufy hair highlighting the swirls of colors on his tie-dye shirt.

Eisenstein was born in Tai Pei, Taiwan, grew up in Pennsylvania, but calls North Carolina his home. Growing up in multiple places was a common theme among the fellows. Anna Feldman is from New York, but lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Hayley May, another of the fellows couldn’t even name a place that she was from. “That’s a hard question to answer,” she said. “I’m from all over.” It made me wonder if part of the attraction to the Eco-Institute was its roots.

Jessica Cudney sat at the picnic table, leaning against Michelle Rozek. The two sat facing the gardens, both dressed in black sweatpants and sweatshirts, with long brown pulled behind their shoulders. For Cudney, the Eco-Institute was a place to learn how to actually live an alternative life.

“A lot of young people are curious about what other options are out there for them, and through social media, a lot of young people are discovering that there are other options available and that people are living alternative lives,” Cudney said. “It’s just difficult to figure out how to start on that journey.”

For Eisenstein, the Eco-Institute was a place where the dread of a meaningless life could be replaced by something more beautiful.

“I guess like a lot of people who grow up in just this culture, the dominant culture, they kind of go through the motions, but there’s also a part of them that feels like there’s something wrong with what they’re doing,” Eisenstein said. “Like, should I really be in school seven hours a day on a beautiful day? There’s this sort of innate rejection of the system that gets kind of quieted down as someone grows up. But here, that voice is nurtured, listened to and so, it kind of comes from the understanding that there is a more beautiful way to live.”

For Christine LeRoy, who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, coming to the Eco-Institute was a supplement to formal education.

“I went to university and I double majored and I really excelled in that environment, and then I graduated and I realized, I don’t really have very many practical life skills and that’s really a large part of what that is, learning how to live in community, learning how to milk a goat, plant a garden, and like care for yourself and other people and the environment,” she said.


Wendell Berry is a farmer in Kentucky, an environmental activist and a prolific writer. In an interview with filmmaker Laura Dunn, he said: “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.”

Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute is a place that is putting two things together. It is a place of community, of care, of hard-work on all levels. It is a place of hope. And those pit of your stomach, desperate feelings that accompanied me to the farm dissipated at the threshold. I couldn’t be in such an abundant place and feel empty.  I may not yet know what my two things will be, but I’m hopeful that I, too, can find two things to put back together.

Edited by Luke Bollinger