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

‘Fighting the government with absolutely no weapons:’ Our immigration policy

By Cee Cee Huffman

Misael did not sleep on Nov. 8, 2016. He spent his Nov. 9 drive to his early college high school crying.

“Not for me,” he said. “I thought of all of the innocent people that were going to go through so much suffering through this one thing. How many families were going to be tore up, how many hearts would be shattered, how many lives would be lost.”

He said everyone at school was shocked that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. They were afraid. They were sad. Misael’s teacher could see that he was panicked. She offered to take him to the bus station right then and there.

“I’ll drive you to Moore Square right now and buy you a ticket, so you can go back to Mexico right now,” she said.

He couldn’t understand why she would say that to him.

“Because you’re acting like everything’s lost already,” she said. “If you think that everything’s lost already, might as well go back right now.”

He said that was the cold, hard slap in the face that he needed to keep going.

Getting by

Misael came to America on a plane when he was 6 years old with his dad and sister. His dad had finally won parental custody, and they were going to live here with Misael’s aunt and grandparents so his dad could have help raising them.

“They assume that we’re here to take their jobs, we’re here to take their money, and we really aren’t,” Misael said. “You come here and you try to make a decent living for yourself. If you mess up, you go back.”

When President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Misael and his sister signed up. They explained where they were, who they were, gave them their fingerprints and had their pictures taken. They received social security numbers so they were able to work and, most importantly, they were put at the back of the line for deportation.

Misael’s not quite American, but he’s not quite Mexican, either.

His dad got married during Misael’s last semester of high school. His sister was 16, so she now had legal status. Misael was 18 and without legal status, but he kept pushing forward.

He got the opportunity to work for the county school system for nine months translating documents from Spanish to English for teachers. He was the youngest full-time employee the county ever had while still finishing high school.

He became anxious when that was over. He said Mexican families share bills, groceries — everything. He got a job at an immigration attorney’s office as an interpreter. It was chaos. There was no one to clean, vacuum or take out the trash. Misael went in extra early every morning to do all of that himself, without being asked.

“You have to take pride in where you work,” Misael said. “We’re a lawyer’s office. You can’t have a mess.”

He started working Saturdays and Sundays. He was going to jails, talking to clients and explaining the bail process. He saw firsthand all of the holes in the American immigration system.

“You’re basically fighting the government with absolutely no weapons,” he said.

Misael started working for his buddy installing windows and doors. He had never done hard labor like that before.

“I’m a heavy guy,” he said. “So to get up on those 40-foot ladders – I remember it was the middle of January, 20 degrees, and I was sweating like it was mid-July.”

He was the only one who spoke English, so Misael got access to all of his buddy’s accounts. Misael was his right-hand man, but his friend would disappear for days or even weeks at a time. Misael couldn’t take that stress.

He learned how to drive trucks. He hauled logs for a while before moving on to paper.

Misael does anything he can, and he does it better than anyone else.

An unexpected wake-up call

He was lying in bed, relaxing after his long day as a temporary truck driver for a paper company. He’d been getting up at 2 a.m. every day to start his route. His day finally ended at 6 p.m.

He was just about to fall asleep when there was a knock at the door. He jumped out of bed and made himself presentable. It was two policemen.

“Which is weird, because I respect my town’s policemen,” Misael said. “Historically they haven’t been very humble, but they had never messed with me.”

The two gentlemen came into his house without invitation.

“I don’t need any explanations,” the officer said. “I’m just looking for a cellphone.”

Misael didn’t have the cellphone the officers were looking for — the cellphone they said they had tracked to his house, the cellphone a woman had lost at the Food Lion earlier that day. They told him it would be a shame if they had to go check the tapes and come back.

He was scared. He lives in a 287(g) community, meaning that the very same police standing in his house could deport him or his family if they felt they had any reason at all.

Misael said no one in his house had been to the Food Lion that day. Maybe they could ask the neighbor. The officers walked out, but Misael wanted to talk to his neighbor himself. His neighbor told him they were searching the whole block.

“Then why did he tell me it was in my house?” Misael asked. “Why didn’t he tell me the same thing he told you?”

The officers probably saw that Misael was flustered when he opened the door. They saw Misael’s surprise and could have sworn he was guilty.

“He saw a young, Hispanic kid and he thought, ‘This kid’s got it,’” Misael said.

He was angry. Not because he didn’t understand why the officers would do that to him, but because they didn’t respect his dignity. It’s a recurring theme in his life.

Still, Misael said everyone deserves to be respected.

He said he’s tired of feeling like a stranger somewhere he’s lived his whole life. He said that, even though his dad and his sister will stay here, he thinks about what it would be like to go back to Mexico.

“How wonderful it would be to walk down the street, ride a bus, go to the library, go to a restaurant and not stand out because of my race,” Misael said. “Here, everywhere I go, people look at me. I stand out. You feel like an outsider everywhere you go.”

“Is there else anything else you want to add?” I asked.

“People need to start paying attention to what’s going on,” Misael said. “For their sake.”

Edited by Charlotte Spence.


NC state mandate threatens high school arts and specialty classes

By Colleen Brown

The bell shrieked, releasing a rush of students from classrooms. I pressed myself against one wall, trying not to get in the way of the stampede.

The students at William G. Enloe High School seemed smaller than I remembered them being, or maybe I just grew in the two years since I walked the halls. They darted around one another, chatting or staring down at phones as they passed teachers.

The teachers stuck on hall patrol looked out over the crowd of bobbing heads with faraway expressions. They didn’t bother asking students to put their phones away and students paid them no attention whatsoever.

A two-minute warning sounded and like water leaking down a drain, the teenagers found places to be that weren’t the hallway. A few stragglers slipped into classrooms just as the final bell rang.

The hallway echoed emptily as I walked down the worn tan and green tile, grown dull and scratched in months since its last buffing. It smelled vaguely old, a given in a building that was built in the 60s.

A mural painting of a galaxy wrapped around the door and lockers outside my old astronomy classroom. Reds and pinks, navy and touches of black covered the institutional white cinder blocks. A large greyish-white moon and small white stars twinkled on top of the riot of color.

A student walked by holding a tripod and a staff topped with the golden head of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

Another mural graced the walkway outside the cafeteria. Photo-realistic fruits, each as tall as a person, overlapped each other. A sign by the mural said “Enloe Beautification in Progress,” a warning for students not to vandalize the new piece. Someone had crossed out the word “Enloe” and written “Enloe sucks 3/20/2017”.

I laughed. That’s about what I expected.

Arts in trouble

This past November, Republican Senate leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly created a mandate, hidden in the state budget, that will lower class sizes in Kindergarten through third grade to a maximum of 18 students per teacher. Although lower class sizes are better for learning, this mandate came with a problem: extra money was not provided to pay for the hiring of new teachers.

I spoke over the phone with Mary Casey, the K-12 Director of Arts Education at Durham Public Schools, to help me better understand how this mandate will affect students and teachers.

According to Casey, the response from school districts statewide was virtually unanimous: the only way to pay for smaller class sizes without increased funding is to cut arts, physical education and specialist classes.

The mandate might not affect just elementary schools. Each district has discretion in figuring out how to pay for teachers. According to Casey, some might just cut elementary specialists. Other districts might spread the cuts across elementary, middle and high schools in order to keep a few teachers at each level.

This means no art, band, dance or music for students. No gym, orchestra or other specialties like newspaper and audiovisual classes. But more than that, the state is taking away teachers’ livelihoods, their incomes and careers.

“A lot of people are saying they’ll make the students a pawn in this,” Casey said. “We believe in a well-rounded student, which includes specialists, in support of classroom teachers. Engagement and self-expression in the arts and PE are part of a child’s growth. It’s a huge part of how they develop, through movement and song and artwork.”

Casey has 175 art teachers under her, one of whom is my mother. It’s unlikely any of them will have a job this upcoming school year.


Enloe GT/IB Center for the Humanities, Sciences and the Arts is one of the most challenging high schools in the state, ranked seventh in NC by The Washington Post in 2016. A school like Enloe is built off enticing talented students into a poorer, underachieving region of Wake County like southeast Raleigh through advanced classes in the humanities, sciences and arts. Take away those classes, and you take away the success. I spent four years here, growing and learning as a person. I likely wouldn’t have gotten in to UNC-Chapel Hill if not for Enloe.

Physical Education: Womble

I met with Andrew Womble, one of the best soccer coaches I ever played for, during his weightlifting class.

Womble looked the same, rocking athletic gear and a crew cut, with the body of a former athlete who’s still, mostly, keeping up with it after seven years teaching at Enloe. He lives in Sanford. The pay to work in Wake County makes up for the hour-long commute, but it’s nothing compared to what he made working in Texas.

Womble commanded the room of teenage boys with absolute respect and a booming Southern accent, putting them through their warm-up paces on the heavy, old-fashioned weight racks. The bars creaked and groaned as we spoke. The boys were doing squat clean and jerks, throwing the weight bar above their heads before letting it slam to the rubber mats. It smelled awful, a caustic mix of sweat and metal, exacerbated by poor air conditioning.

“It’s… tough, and to be honest, I’m looking for a way out,” Womble said as he went over the students’ numbers from their max-out day. “There’s not been any money invested in athletics. I think the drive’s starting to get to me more and more a little every year. I only get $2,400 for coaching. Pennies on the hour. It’s just not worth it.”

The workout broke down toward the end of class. Boys started doing their favorite exercises. Some lifted dumbbells. Others did chin-ups. Nirvana played over the speakers, which had some of the guys rocking air guitars in front of the wall-to-wall mirrors.

When I asked to take photos, one boy ripped off his shirt and started flexing. Womble barked at him to put his shirt back on because, “No one wants to see that.” The class laughed, giving the boy a hard time for trying to show off in front of a college girl.

I explained the predicament the NC legislature had placed schools, almost shouting to be heard over the music and weights. Womble just shook his head slowly.

“If I wasn’t an athlete, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” Womble said. “I hated school, only liked sports. They teach leadership, work ethics, motivational stuff, this is stuff kids carry their lives. I couldn’t picture myself as a five-year-old not being able to play. There’s a bunch of kids that are going to be left behind.”

Studio Art: Klenow

The classroom was light, airy and absolutely packed with art. Art on the walls, the tables, the windows. Drawings of pineapple and buildings in correct aspect ratio hung on the wall next to a mobile of small, grasping hands bunched together. There were watercolors, pastel sketches and mixed media lining the hallway outside the classroom, shepherding you into an explosion of color and chaos.

The countertop lining the back wall was splashed with dried paint, supporting wooden easels, newspaper clippings and stray bits of paper. On the back wall, the words “Line, Space, Shape, Value, Color and Texture” were printed. “ABC: Always Be Creating” adorned another wall.

Ten students, mostly girls, stay in the class during Mrs. Klenow’s planning period for lunch. They were dressed in artsy clothing, with Chuck Taylors and shirts advertising bands I’ve never heard of. They’ve created their own little hideout here in the art room.

Trish Klenow is a middle-aged woman of medium height, with light hair highlighted an artsy reddish color. She spoke and moved quickly, with motions that made her seem younger somehow, quirky in her capris and comfortable shoes. She wore dangly silver earrings and a silvery watch, paired with a key-shaped necklace.

“I knew from a young age that art was my passion, that this is what I wanted to do,” Klenow said in-between bites of low-fat Greek yogurt.

She told me about working near the Texas-Mexico border. “There was razor wire, fires, fights breaking out all the time,” she said. “But my budget there was twice what it is here. My salary was better. I won an award, Most Outstanding Art Educator, High School Division, for all of Texas.” Klenow gestured to the plaque on the wall above her desk with a plastic spoon.

Klenow has been voraciously keeping up with news about the mandate.

“I am such an advocate for art education,” she said. “It teaches critical thinking and creativity. To take it away, you are handicapping one of our strengths. I’m afraid, for students, for myself, for my colleagues.”

Klenow looked around her classroom, surveying the students working on projects. One girl painted a watercolor with rapid, small motions, spreading blues and purples. Others gathered in the center of the room, talking politics away from the insanity of the overcrowded cafeteria.

“I love my nerds here, they’re so dedicated,” Klenow said. “I’ve had children tell me that the only reason they come to school is for art. It’s not just fun art therapy. I have students who’ve gotten prize money, great scholarships they need for college. It’s just not fair.”

One of the students, senior Ken Wear, was packing his sculpture into a shipping box headed for the Parsons School of Design and a two-year tour of the United States.

Wear is small and unassuming, with glasses and short, stubbly hair mostly covered by a black beanie. He wore a dark hoodie with what I thought was a Tardis on the back.

His piece that’s going on tour, Sucellus, is a hand-sculpted clay mask with leaves coming out of the back of the head. Small black beetles crawl over the face into empty eye sockets.

Wear is still deciding on which college to attend. He received a $54,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, but is waiting to hear back from the Maryland Institute College of Art to see if he wins their full scholarship.

“I can’t pay $150,000, so I’ll go to the one that gives me more money,” Wear said, half-joking. “I’m trying not to be in debt for the rest of my life.”

Wear isn’t sure what he’ll do in the future, whether it be gallery work or teaching, but is sure either school will offer great opportunities.

Before leaving for his next class, Wear turned to me with no prompting and said: “Art is the only thing I can really lose myself in. I don’t know what I’d do if they took it away.”

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Reporting amid distrust at the Carteret County News-Times

By Jacob Hancock

Wayne Guthrie is the owner of Outerbanks Seafood in Beaufort, N.C. Everyone in town who enjoys eating good shrimp – that is, most everyone –  knows “Mr. Wayne.” He’s a busy man, always talking with someone who wants fresh, local seafood, and he does his best to keep up with the news.

“I try to read the paper every day, and I watch CNN,” Guthrie said.

But he doesn’t trust the media.

“They just don’t understand a lot of what they’re talking about,” Guthrie said. “They don’t always have the facts. They publish what they hear instead of what they know.”

Guthrie isn’t alone. Natalie Gibble said she isn’t confident in a lot of the media content that she gets each day.

“My momma always told me to believe nothing that you hear, and only half of what you see. I’m skeptical,” Gibble said of news media, “because they often have a bias, and they make mistakes on all kinds of things.”

Public confidence in the media has reached a new low, according to a Gallup poll taken in September. Only 32 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount of trust” in the media. Among republicans, who traditionally distrust the media more than democrats and independents, only 14 percent say they have confidence in news outlets.

Carteret County, with Beaufort at its heart, is the most Republican-dominated County in all of Eastern North Carolina, and it’s where I was raised. Everybody knows each other, and rumors travel faster than the trucks that gun it out of the parking lot after the school bell rings. People still buy the local paper, the Carteret County News-Times, though many call it the “Mullet Wrapper,” because they’d rather use it to package fish than as a news source.

This environment presents problems for local journalists, some of whom were born and raised in Carteret County. At times, it can be frustration boils up for both the reporters and within the community.


It’s November. I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed and see a headline that reads: “Clinton Campaign Paid Beyoncé and Jay Z $62 Million for Cleveland Concert to Secure Black Votes.” I click on it and it takes me to EndingTheFed.com. I decide to copy and paste the headline into a search engine, and dozens of articles come up from various websites, but none of them are traditional media outlets. They are websites with titles like NewsBreaksHere.com, TheAfricanSpear.com, or AmericansNews.online, and much of their content, including this article, is false.

But that didn’t stop 11 of my Facebook friends from Carteret County from liking and sharing the article.

“She is despicable!” one post reads. A commenter replies, “Sounds about right!!!”

Beth Blake, managing editor of the News-Times, said she’s concerned by how readily people accept content from fake news websites as true.

“It’s disconcerting that people aren’t asking questions when they see these articles,” Blake said. “Some of the things I’ve seen shared on Facebook are just ridiculous, but people believe them.”

Blake recalled a story that she saw during the election season that said Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. It would be odd for the pope to publicly endorse a candidate, and even more odd to endorse Trump considering Pope Francis has been considered liberal on social issues.

“I saw that and right away I knew that it wasn’t true,” Blake said. “But somebody I’m friends with thought that it was legitimate and wanted to share it with all of their friends. It’s kind of scary.”

Jackie Starkey is a government and politics reporter at the News-Times. She said she feels like many people believe fake news articles because it reinforces their own beliefs.

“Everyone wants to feel like they’re always right,” Starkey said. “They’re looking to read something that confirms what they already believe, and if it doesn’t then they tend to lose interest. That can make things problematic for us.”


Guthrie, like 70 percent of voters in Carteret County, voted for Donald Trump in the election this fall. One of Guthrie’s biggest complaints about the media was his perception of bias, especially against President Trump.

“They’re constantly on his case,” Guthrie said. “Every day it’s something new. They were never this hard on Obama.”

Many Carteret voters agree. Starkey thinks that attitude seems to persist throughout rural areas in the United States.

“There’s a lot of animosity towards the establishment,” Starkey said. “I think that’s pretty evident considering the recent election.”

Students from West Carteret High School traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Trump’s inauguration. Before they left, Starkey wrote about the trip, using it to describe controversies surrounding Trump’s campaign and the assembly of his administration. She mentioned that the inauguration signified the beginning of one historic era and the end of another. She alluded to President Obama’s accomplishments as America’s first black president.

“It wasn’t even a big part of the story, but it definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” Starkey said. “If you’re not pissing people off, you’re probably doing something wrong though.”

If you throw a rock in Carteret County, you’re bound to hit a Republican. It can be very difficult to provide evenhanded news when readership is so right-side dominant.

“It runs pretty red here,” Starkey said. “That can make it tough to provide balanced content, and frankly, a lot of people aren’t always looking to read balanced content.”

Community ties

J.J. Smith is the News-Times’ sports reporter. He was born and raised in Atlantic, N.C., and graduated from East Carteret High School. Smith mostly reports on high school athletics in the county. The East Carteret Mariner’s varsity boys’ basketball team is one of the area’s most successful programs, having won seven consecutive conference championships. They went undefeated in the 2013-2014 season before losing in the NCHSAA 1A Championship game to Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. East came back to beat Winston-Salem in the championship the following season. Smith said that he often catches a lot of flak from people in the community because his alma mater tends to dominate the press during the winter.

“Some of the coaches at the other high schools like to call me ‘Mickey Mariner,’” Smith said with a chuckle. “But it’s kind of hard not to write about them when they’re having so much success. People want to keep up with East basketball.”

Smith said that, as a sports reporter, he feels pretty insulated from most of the criticism that political journalists receive.

“Sometimes I almost feel like more of a cheerleader than a reporter,” Smith said.

However, he did recall one time a critic got under his skin. A student from a competing high school tweeted that Smith would get sexual gratification from writing about another East Carteret state championship.

“I didn’t really appreciate that one,” Smith said. “I enjoy seeing all of the county teams thrive.”

Smith said that he is passionate about his job, he enjoys working in the community he grew up in and yet he definitely feels being a reporter in your hometown can be challenging.

“I can count the negative things I’ve written on one hand, but it definitely gets to be a problem if you’re writing about politics or education,” Smith said. “You have to be careful because the people you’re writing about are the people that you’re going to sit next to in church, or people that you’ve grown up with your entire life.”

Jackie Starkey did not grow up in Carteret County.

“I always feel like an outsider,” Starkey said. “But I think that’s a good thing. I have fresh eyes. I’m always bringing a fresh, new perspective. I think it makes things easier.”

But being an outsider has its disadvantages.

“Sometimes it can be hard when I’m doing a story and trying to set up interviews,” Starkey said, “And someone says ‘you should talk to so-and-so,’ and I have no idea who they are. And sometimes people might be more hesitant to talk simply because they don’t really know me.”


Blake has been working in the news industry since 1979 and she believes that this is a crucial time for the newspaper.

“Our role is more important now than ever,” Blake said. “It is imperative to have community journalists that are reporting on everything from government, to education, to business, to sports. The people have a fundamental right to know what’s going on.”

Asked what she would tell an aspiring journalist who may feel discouraged by the public’s lack of trust in the media, Blake said it’s important to study American History.

“The American media has been under attack forever,” Blake said. “It’s nothing new. You have to have a thick skin and just know that you’re serving the public.”

Blake said that she believes a critical public makes the media better.

“We are aware that people are doubting us,” Blake said. “That just makes us work even harder. We want to make sure that everything we publish has a solid factual background. We work harder to make sure that every fact has been checked. We want to get it right.”

Jackie Starkey said that even though she may receive criticism, she feels that she’s appreciated as a local journalist.

“They may not be a fan, but people are respectful,” Starkey said. “They see the value in having someone reporting on local government, and they respect me even though they may not always like me.”

Gibble says that while she may not always trust the media, she does have respect for journalists

“I don’t think that most journalists are bad people,” Gibble said. “I think they have a really tough job, especially now with how divisive everyone is. It’s not a job that I would want to have to do, that’s for sure.”

Asked whether or not they think the media can mend its relationship with the public, Gibble and Starkey gave the same answer.

“I sure hope so.”


Ed. by Jordan Wilkie

Raging Grannies bring decades of activism to HKonJ march

By Molly Weybright

Fayetteville Street brimmed with people on Feb. 11, 2017 as the crowd for the Moral March on Raleigh seeped into the adjoining streets like water into cracked concrete. It was nearly impossible to move without bumping into another person.

But the agitation that often develops in overcrowded spaces was missing. In its place was an incredibly powerful feeling of togetherness. As people of all ages, races, sexualities and ethnicities gathered in the streets of Raleigh, cries of “forward together, not one step back” echoed off the towering buildings.

Over the sea of people floated homemade signs promoting everything from transgender rights to an end to racial gerrymandering. One sign read: “I’m not LGBTQ, black, Muslim, poor, disabled or a woman. I’m a privileged white male who believes in liberty and justice for all.” That idea of standing up for one another pervaded the morning.

Hope, empowerment, positivity, power, opportunity, progress, unity, justice, inspiration, equality and moral resistance. Those are the words that crowd members said best described the idea of the 11th annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street – known as HKonJ – People’s Assembly Coalition.

The first HKonJ was held in 2007 under the leadership of North Carolina NAACP President, the Rev. William J. Barber II. At the beginning, the coalition consisted of just 16 organizations. During the next 11 years, the coalition grew to include over 125 NAACP branches and over 200 organizations.

There were around 3,500 attendees at the first march in 2007. That number grew considerably to about 80,000 attendees in 2014, and according to the organizers, February 2017 saw HKonJ’s largest crowd yet.

Within that massive crowd was a group of grannies – Raging Grannies to be exact.

Protesters show off homemade signs at the march in Raleigh.

The Grannies

Young and old alike gathered in Raleigh to make a difference; at one end of that spectrum was Vicki Ryder.

Vicki is part of a group known as the Raging Grannies. The Grannies began in Canada, and today there are around 100 “gaggles” of Grannies around the world that attend marches and protests to stand up for everything from environmental protection to voting rights.

At 74 it’s safe to say that Vicki has seen her fair share of strife and struggle in the United States. She marched for the first time at 12 years old in the Youth March for Integrated Schools and again in 1963 at the March on Washington where she heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

She has marched in HKonJ every year since she moved to Durham in 2012 and finds that every year there are more and more reasons to march.

“All of these struggles are connected,” she said. “They’re all part of a systemic ‘dis-ease’ in our country, and we can either run around putting out every little brushfire, or we can look at the bigger picture.”

Jade Dell, a 71-year-old Raging Granny from Raleigh, said that since losing her husband – her “social activist partner” – the Grannies have helped filled his role.

She said that she loved how the march was “a real fusion movement.” Barber, she said, always makes sure to include every group fighting for justice, which makes the march more powerful.

“Many groups I have been with in the past leave somebody out,” she said. “[HKonJ] is crucial, as together we are stronger and more vocal.”

Gann Herman, 67, from Durham echoed Jade’s thoughts on the importance of unity. Gann joined the Triangle’s Granny gaggle in 2013 and has attended HKonJ since. She said she is always impressed with the resonating sense of community.

However, she said that it felt like this year’s march had a more diverse and populous turnout.

“This one was especially electric because of the election of Trump,” she said. “There were many people who turned up who hadn’t come to earlier ones.”

Part of the Grannies’ staple is that they sing songs to express their ideas and promote activism. Vicki writes most of those songs, including the song they sang at HKonJ.

To the tune of “Oh, Susannah” the song’s chorus says:

“People power! Together we will stand!

And reclaim our rights with all our might

Across this troubled land!”

Vicki said that the songs help her focus on what is important. She noted that the HKonJ song didn’t include any mention of President Trump because she feels that even though he is part of the issues, attacking him will get people nowhere.

Marchers stand on Fayetteville Street facing the Capitol while listening to the speakers of the day, including the Rev. William J. Barber II.

A national climate

In previous years, the march has largely focused on state issues, such as the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 – commonly known as the bathroom bill – in 2016. But this year, in response to the Trump administration and its many controversial policies and promises, the march’s focus took a national turn.

Enactments by the Trump administration such as the refugee ban, which restricts access to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and his promises to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, are what sparked many to march on Saturday.

Barber was the backbone of the march. With his speeches, he heartened and encouraged the crowd, telling them not to give up.

Every individual in the crowd, he said, will play a role in bringing the country back to the moral high ground it once rested on; though the issues may seem divisive and singular, they are more encompassing and overarching than one may think.

“The decisions are bigger than left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, democrat vs. republican,” he said. “Some things are about right vs. wrong.”

Barber said that HKonJ is more than just a once-a-year gathering of people; it is a place where people can stand up for the ideas of freedom and equality that they fight for every day under an oppressive administration.

Gloria Chamblee, a marcher from from Virginia, said that she was encouraged to march for the first time at HKonJ because of both the national climate, and the international climate as well.

“[People] have been protesting all over the world,” she said. “If they can, and they don’t even live in the country, I can.”

That unity – statewide, national and international – created an atmosphere of togetherness in Raleigh.

The Raging Grannies’ song reflected that idea of unity when they sang, “We have come together, black and white, and tan, and red and brown, to say that we’re not gonna let the fascists beat us down.”

Vicki Ryder said that she saw more signs of resistance from a greater number of people at this year’s march.

“The results of the last election have mobilized people who ordinarily would be perhaps more complacent,” she said. “There was a lot more attention being paid to the big picture.”

That bigger picture is not a new one. The crowd was reminded that over the last century, the nation has seen countless violations to human rights and people have fought and overcome them, just as the marchers seek to do now.

Moving forward

HKonJ showed the degree to which people are in unrest about the current state of the nation. People are not pleased with an administration that Gann Herman described as “stingy” and “wrongheaded.”

But, what can be done to move forward in the face of these national issues?

According to Vicki Ryder, people have to keep fighting.

“We fight them in the streets, we fight them in the courts, we fight them in Congress,” she said. “On all fronts, we have to be vigilant and we have to be vocal and we have to be strong.”

Vicki was echoing Barber’s sentiment that now more than ever is the time to stand up and fight; now is not the time to stand down.

If Martin Luther King Jr. had ceded when he was faced with adversity, how much longer would the country have been segregated?

If Gloria Steinem had decided not to fight for women’s rights, how many fewer female faces would young girls today see in positions of power?

In the moment, many activists’ views are seen as extreme and unnecessary, Barber said, but more often than not, those views are what help move the nation forward into a new class of equal rights.

“The radical ideas of one generation often become common sense of the next,” Barber said.

Historically, that has held true; and for all intents and purposes it will hold true in the future.

But, it’s not just the young people who are making a difference – it’s the Vicki Ryders and the Gann Hermans and the Jade Dells.

It’s the people who have seen true strife and struggle in person rather than just having read about it in books. It’s the people who can reassure upcoming activists that while their efforts may feel futile, perseverance makes all the difference. It’s the people with a lifetime of experience that can take themselves out of the issues and see that unity and persistence will prevail.

Jade Dell has witnessed 71 years of people overcoming perceivably impossible odds.

“Over the years, I have noticed that while a cause is ‘sexy’ people participate, then they go back to their normal lives,” she said. “But now, there is no ‘normal life.’ Everything has changed.”

She said that for the sake of her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s children and their children after that, the country and the world will have to change.

Edited by Bridget Dye

Pain and resilience: A refugee’s journey to North Carolina

By Luke Bollinger

Zubair Rushk is not the typical student at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s not a typical U.S. citizen. Zubair is from Syria, but he fled the country to escape persecution from the Bashar al-Assad regime. His body is a representation of the experiences of his early life. He walks with a limp from a childhood disease. His glasses sit crooked on his nose, a result of it having been broken multiple times. At times he flashes back to traumatic events, something no amount of therapy can fully mitigate.

Zubair was resettled in Durham in 2010. Since then, he has built a good life for himself. Zubair considers himself lucky to have landed in Durham, as the Triangle has proven to be a welcoming and accommodating place for refugees with numerous organizations devoted to easing the transition and creating fulfilling lives for them. Despite all the good Zubair has found while living in Durham, the events that led to his resettlement are something he carries with him every day. It is part of who he is. Those traumatic times are what make him unique. His journey to Durham holds parallels to the journeys of many refugees. It’s a journey of pain and resilience.


As a child and young adult, Zubair was a troublemaker, but not in the way one might think of a typical rebellious child growing up in the U.S. He was a troublemaker because he refused to let his pride in his culture be suppressed. Zubair is a Kurd, a minority within the Syrian population. The laws of Syria prohibit students from speaking Kurdish in school, on the streets and even in their own homes.

Zubair never understood why he must disassociate himself from his cultural identity, so he decided he would speak Kurdish in school. He described this act of defiance as if it were kids passing notes to each other or shooting spitballs across the classroom, hoping the teacher didn’t notice and getting a sense of glee when they weren’t caught. But he did get caught. The teacher heard him and called the police. Zubair went to prison.

It was only two days, and he wasn’t harmed. It was only meant to scare him. It would be nine years until Zubair found out what prison was really like.

At the age of 23, Zubair was operating a Kurdish school in a spare room of his home. He taught around 40 students, mostly children and teenagers. He used Kurdish books on history, language and culture to teach them. Just owning these books was a crime in itself.

In his eagerness to share his knowledge, he allowed two men he did not know to enter his home. The men claimed they lived in the neighborhood and wanted their children to attend his school. Zubair showed them the room where he held class and the books he used to teach. He realized his blunder before it was too late. And when he did, he tried to leave his home, hoping escaping the house could save him. But a car was already waiting outside. He was put in the car and escorted to prison for questioning.

For the next 72 hours, Zubair was beaten and tortured, and not a single question was asked. He was then asked to sign a document stating that he had been found with a gun in his home and was participating in the Kurdish rebellion, which had sprung the day before he was taken to prison. He refused. His captors then continued to beat the resolution out of him. They succeeded after three hours. Zubair said he later felt shame for giving in and signing the document after three days when he heard that one of his friends withstood the same treatment for eleven days.

He received a seven-month sentence for his crimes, and they would be the worst seven months of his life. It was during these months that Zubair would come to fully understand the meaning of pain. There seemed to be no end to the torture and beatings.

Zubair was not silent during his time in prison. He defied authority in the only ways he could. He screamed. He cursed the guards. He cursed the government that restricted his freedom and suppressed his identity. And he did not go unnoticed.

Two weeks before he was released, Zubair’s resolution would undergo its greatest test. The prison administration knew he would be a problem once he was released. His defiance had been all too evident. They sent him to the ‘Dark Room,’ which consisted of a single chair. Zubair was strapped to the chair, and his head was placed in a brace. He couldn’t move an inch in any direction.

The guards left, and he was alone. He had been in solitary confinement before. He was optimistic – scared, but optimistic. He had been in this type of situation before. Then he felt a drop of water hit his head, then another and another.

Zubair remained hopeful. He thought he would get a shower. The water dripped through his hair, down his unwashed body and to his toes. However, after 30 minutes, each drop of water seemed to weigh 10 pounds heavier.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His body began to shake and go numb. He lost his vision, hearing and ability to speak. More tragically, Zubair lost his memory, as if the small drops of water had hammered out all the most important functions of his brain.

Once Zubair was released from prison, it would take him three months to learn to speak without a stutter. It would take him years to recover his full memory.

After his release, Zubair received a notice in the mail of pending legal charges for his defiance. The family lawyer told Zubair his best option was to leave the country. So he was smuggled to Lebanon.

The money paid to the smugglers was guaranteed to provide Zubair a donkey at the border, a more desirable mode of travel compared with walking, as he had been diagnosed with polio at the age of two and has always felt the effects when he walks. Once his family paid the smugglers at the border and drove away, the smugglers removed Zubair from the donkey and pointed him toward a mountain. A mountain he would need to climb in order to cross the border. So he climbed, on his hands and feet, until he conquered the mountain.

Zubair would remain in Lebanon for five years. During that time, he worked as a self-employed electronic engineer to help his brother pay the bills. Zubair went to physical and psychological rehabilitation for the first three years of his stay, a service provided by the U.N., which Zubair had applied to for refugee status. After five years of escaping Syria, Zubair found out he would be resettled in Durham, North Carolina.


Arriving in Durham was the greatest blessing of Zubair’s life. The resettlement agency found him a small apartment consisting of three pieces of furniture. The agency gave him enough money for groceries and a month’s rent and told him they would help him find a job. Instead of waiting for the agency to finish the job search, he took the initiative to find a job himself.

He traveled to The Streets at Southpoint mall every day and visited as many restaurants as possible, asking if they were hiring. He spoke very little English, but he knew enough to inquire about jobs. On the twelfth day of his search, the manager at The Cheesecake Factory agreed to hire him. He did not know how to fill out the job application, so the manager, Jeff, helped him fill it out.

Zubair is grateful for Jeff to this day. Grateful that someone would hire him despite the fact that he spoke little to no English and couldn’t even fill out the job application on his own. Zubair said because of the welcoming and accommodating Triangle community, the area quickly began to feel like home.


Zubair is not an anomaly. The Triangle has proven to be a sanctuary for many refugees.

Scott Phillips, director of the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said his organization is the first point of contact for many refugees who come to the Raleigh area. Phillips said the organization finds affordable housing for refugees, provides them with three months’ rent and helps about 90 percent of refugee families become financially self-sufficient within the first 120 days.

“In the area, we’ve really seen, and our clients have seen, really friendly people here who are willing to take the extra step to work with refugees,” he said.

Phillips recalled a phone call he received during the holidays. The call came from an employer who had hired a refugee who had been resettled through Phillips’ agency. He told Phillips he was hosting a holiday party for his employees and he was not sure of the religion of the one refugee worker. He was wondering if there was anything he could do to make the employee feel more included in the festivities.

“That is amazing,” Phillips said. “That’s so great. He didn’t have to do that. That’s the guy who stocks the shelves. They didn’t have to take that extra step, but they did.”

Still, refugees in the community consume media like everyone else. Despite the warm welcome most refugees receive in the Triangle, many are still fearful of their place in the country. Phillips said he has heard the concerns of many refugees regarding the rhetoric toward them in the past presidential election and recent executive orders.

“There’s a lot of fear after the initial executive order on refugees,” he said. “Then you turn around and see 1,500 people at RDU and people at the rally the next week. That was a concrete example of North Carolina spirit and American values. That resonated with our clients a lot.”

Zubair has also noticed the contrast between what is said in the media and how people actually treat him and other refugees. He said despite the country being deeply divided on views towards refugees, false perceptions can’t diminish what he calls “this heaven I’m living in.”

And for Zubair, it is heaven indeed. He became a U.S. citizen in 2015, he works hard at multiple jobs and he’s on his way to completing his degree in peace, war and defense.

Zubair and his wife, Etena, were married in October 2016 after she completed the vetting and resettlement process and joined him in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest moments of Zubair’s time in Durham was when his wife joined him. With the help of U.S. Rep. David Price, his wife wasable to complete the vetting and resettlement process in two years, a short timespan compared to the lengthy process many refugees must go through. Zubair and Etena, his wife, were married in October 2016 and are hoping to start a family soon.

Edited by Matt Wotus

Fact-checking used as a remedy to help cure fake news epidemic

By Luke Bollinger

“Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide.”

This is the headline of a story published on Dec. 11, 2016. The story was published on abcnews.com.co. If this controversial executive order sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it is absolutely false.

The promulgation of fake news like this has gotten out of control. After the 2016 election, Buzzfeed used Facebook’s monitoring tools to collect data and determined that the top 20 fake news stories outperformed news from mainstream outlets. Data collected included views, likes, comments and shares on Facebook.

The diminished value of truth in the past election and the difficulty of identifying fake news has posed a new challenge for journalists and media outlets – combating the fictitious information that diminishes the value of truth in our society and undermines the effectiveness of media that promotes accurate journalism.

Complicating the job of journalists even further is the way politicians have wielded false information and how President Donald Trump demonized the media during his campaign and continues to do so in the first weeks of his presidency. With the truth absent from many of the narratives in our country, journalists must do some soul searching to figure out how to be more effective.

The website for the fake ABC News is strikingly similar to ABC News’ actual website, abcnews.go.com. Anyone who is familiar with the real ABC News would notice the logos of the websites, though the same format, hold some noticeable differences. The ABC emblem in the top left hand corner of the fake site is an oval, while the real logo is a circle.

The story includes quotes from now former President Barack Obama.

“I am willing to rescind my decision here today and allow the Pledge of Allegiance back into the schools if we can all agree on the creation of a new Pledge, something that is includes everyone’s beliefs and not just the belief of one nationality or faith,” he is quoted as saying.

According to the story, Trump responded by calling Obama an “illegitimate Muslim traitor.”

To the trained eye, the warning signs pointing to the falsity of this story are easily discernable. Yet, this story garnered 2.2 million interactions on Facebook.

Not a new problem

This type of fake news outlet is not an anomaly, and recognizing false news on Facebook feeds is not always easy.

The prevalence and magnitude of fake news implies that many people have problems differentiating between the accurate and inaccurate. And contrary to what some believe, young people are not immune from being enticed by fake news. A recent study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education shows that students, ranging from middle school through college, have a very hard time recognizing fake news.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the study said. “Our work shows the opposite.”

The main incentive for the creation of fake news is simple: money. The writers of fake news earn money from advertisements on their sites, and Facebook has proved to be a very hospitable platform, especially in a country so deeply divided down partisan lines. In order to gain more clicks, fake news readily appeals to hyper-partisan Facebook users. This strategy proved effective during an election with a hyper-partisan electorate and a Trump campaign often criticized for its dissociation with the truth.

Facebook and Google have stated they are taking actions to monitor and regulate their platforms to minimize the damage, while many fact-checking websites and groups are developing strategies to restore trust in the news.

Dale Blasingame, a journalism professor at Texas State University, said the problem of fake news is not new.

“It’s important to take a step back and realize that fake news has always been around,” he said.

Tabloids and outlandish stories, produced for entertainment value, have always been a part of media culture. What is different about what we are seeing now is the way fake news has exploded, aided by social media platforms, Blasingame said.

The role of social media

It’s no secret that people seek out and interpret information in a way that verifies their beliefs ­– a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Social media’s ability to amplify the reach of information has made this phenomenon very apparent.

Tracy Dahlby, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said many people only get their news from sites such as Facebook and Twitter and often fail to expand their scope of information inputs. He describes this as being trapped in a bubble.

“We have to fight the bubble, right?” he asked rhetorically.

Dahlby said social media users tend to believe information shared by their friends and families, and people often share a story after only reading the headline because it reaffirms what they desire to be true, despite the story being false. Once the false information has been shared, friends and family may take the headline at face value and fail to do fact checking of their own.

Dahlby said the lack of media literacy has diminished the value and usefulness of social media. The idea of a newspaper is for a community to have a conversation with itself, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have expanded this conversation. Used correctly, these platforms allow users to have a broader conversation and access to information they might normally miss out on.

“If we allow ourselves to get trapped in that feedback loop of only listening to those people who agree with us, then it is a danger, and that’s probably what made fake news a factor in the last presidential campaign,” Dahlby said.

So, what does this mean for journalists? How do news organizations and social media companies “fight the bubble?”

The rise of fact-checking

One tool that came to the forefront during the election and has carried over since is fact-checkers. Alexios Mantzarlis works with Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network, and he said the role of fact-checkers is more important now than ever.

Mantzarlis said fact-checking entities often spring up right before an election season before seeing a significant decrease in traffic once the election is over. However, he said so far in this post-election period, traffic to fact-checking entities, such as PolitiFact and Storyful, has remained steady.

A big step for fact-checkers came when Facebook recently began working with them to monitor its newsfeed. In addition to working with fact-checkers, Mantzarlis said it was heartening that Facebook begun efforts to monitor its newsfeed. The company has also worked to alter the algorithms that promote trending stories to be more sensitive to news that may be fake.

“I don’t know that this will be necessarily be the final solution,” he said.  “I don’t think they think that either.”

For reporters such as Will Doran, the PolitiFact reporter for The News & Observer, fact-checking has become a part of their daily routine. Doran’s job represents the changing role of reporters, a role that is different from that of the fact-checkers who monitor Facebook’s newsfeed.

It is also different than traditional journalism.

Doran said one side of his job is practicing traditional journalism ­– repeating claims made by politicians while presenting both sides of the story ­– while his role as a PolitiFact reporter includes vetting the claims and researching the context and history surrounding the issue.

“It’s definitely made journalist’s jobs harder,” he said.

PolitiFact added a reporter for North Carolina because of the state’s ability to swing an election, Doran said. PolitiFact guessed correctly that more attention was needed in North Carolina politics at every level, as the races for senate and governor proved to be some of the closest in the nation.

Doran said part of his job that some traditional journalists may feel uncomfortable with is adding the analysis required when fact-checking statements made by politicians.

He said incorporating analysis into his writing helps readers understand the whole situation, but the writing does take more time because he still tries to remain objective. Writing for PolitiFact is not just calling out politicians when they lie or bend the truth, he said, but also writing about when politicians were right and used accurate information when speaking on an issue.

Dahlby said he has heard a lot of discussion about how news organizations should function in what some are calling a “post-truth era.” For him, the answer is simple.

“What we need is to get back to the old-time religion of journalism, which is to hold officials accountable as a matter of protecting the public interest,” he said.

He added that journalists should focus on the facts before thinking about the debate.

This is really an opportunity for journalists to strengthen their ability to produce quality accountability journalism, and it is more important now than ever to always be right in your reporting, Dahlby said.

Reporters such as Doran certainly have their work cut out for them, but he said he is optimistic about the future.

“I don’t think morale is too down because of people’s acceptance of fake news,” Doran said. “It’s a great time to be a fact-checker. Anytime you’re bringing light to an issue, even if you’re not reaching a whole lot of people, but you’re influencing the way they read the news, then you are doing a good job. Change happens incrementally.”

Edited by Matt Wotus

Signs at the Women’s March on D.C. show more than a simple message

Signs ranging from political to comical displayed unity and commitment to women’s rights in D.C.

The initial reaction

As I emerged from the Metro tunnel onto the street, I was stunned by the sight of thousands of people flooding towards downtown Washington D.C. to march in favor of women’s rights. The air was filled with excitement and conversations buzzed around me. Glancing at my surroundings, I found people in different outfits including t-shirts with feminist slogans, pink knitted hats and most importantly, tennis shoes to prepare for the miles they would walk that day. Their clothing choices might have varied, but these people all had one thing in common: they were carrying signs. Men, women and children held mass-produced signs, homemade signs with original content, signs with famous quotes, political signs and humorous signs.

There was a three-year-old child perched on her mother’s shoulders with a sign covered in crayon scribbles that symbolized her expression and involvement without words. There was a man holding a sign that said, “Weak men fear strong women,” which symbolized his understanding of the importance of the movement, casting off the idea that supporting this movement indicated a hatred of men. There was a sign held by an elderly woman that read, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this,” that showed the exasperation felt by her generation. There was an eight-year-old holding a sign that said “In ten years I can vote,” that portrayed the next generation’s stance. These were just four signs out of hundreds that caught my eye as a sea of people flooded the roads leading up to the Capitol on the way to the White House.

The people

There were hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington D.C. to march for women’s rights and they took various roads to get there.  Some were motivated by different causes, but in that moment they were unified. A large factor in that unification was the thousands of signs made and carried by marchers.

For a country struggling with class, racial and gender divides, the march was a place for people in all walks of life to come together and stand up for a cause they not only deemed worthy, but necessary. At the march, the signs were an external indicator of the intentions of participants and served as the glue that bound these differences together. Signs bridged the gap with a visual communicator by eliminating the possibility of misconception and replacing perception with reality.

Lee Mueller, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, traveled eight hours by bus to attend the march.  She said, “The group that I was with, including myself, were all white, and so the signs were a visible identification that you were with the march. You knew everyone with a sign was on your side and it created a sense of community.” She acknowledged the anger felt by some of the participants because of the number of white women who voted for Trump in the election and stressed the sense of relief that holding the sign brought her. “I really feel like it showed those around me that I was fighting the same fight as them.”

People all around the world participated in the march for different reasons. For some, it was reproductive rights, for others it was gender equality and still more for the general fear felt in response to the changing government in Washington D.C. The signs gave marchers a chance to vocalize that reason. It united people, it sparked conversations and it broadened people’s mindsets. Signs were also a way to convey a message to many people without stopping to converse. It was possibly a way to voice more uncomfortable opinions that marchers wouldn’t normally voice in their daily lives. Instead of speaking with each person you encountered, you could quickly glance around and understand why this march was important to the people there. The signs also presented a way for participants to forge connections with fellow marchers. Kayla Seigler, a student at UNC-Charlotte, carried a sign specific to her university. “I actually found a couple other people who I go to school with because of my sign,” she said. “I had never met them, but we exchanged numbers and planned to keep in touch after the march.”

The effects of signs

Additionally, the signs were a symbol of commitment. Not only did marchers take time out of their day to attend the march, they also felt compelled to make a sign specifying their hopes of long-term results. Sarah Lerner, a resident of the D.C. area said, “It was thousands of voices expressing themselves on cardboard, which is more action than just simply showing up.” She mentioned that because of her geographic proximity, attending the march was not a huge effort to make and so she wanted to show other marchers that she was passionate about the cause in another way — by making a sign.

There was some debate over the long-term effects of the signs. Mueller did admit that she believes that the primary purpose of the signs was an outlet for the personal purpose of each marcher, rather than a message to political figures. “I think the true message that was received was the sheer number of people behind the signs,” she said. However, Tucker Morgan, a senior at Trinity College said, “I think signs do make a difference to political figures as it gives them some insight into the issues people feel strongest about.” Lerner held a third opinion. “I don’t really care if my sign sent a message,” she said. “The important part is that it allowed me to use my voice to express my opinion.”

Signs and social media 

The fact that this march took place in the 21st century, where social media was able to come into play, only adds to the importance of signs. Thousands of photos of signs surfaced in the days after the march, constantly providing visual evidence of the sheer number of people who attended the march. Morgan from Trinity College said, “The fact that, through social media, the signs could be quickly circulated and turned into memes, tremendously increased the impact they had.”

Unfortunately, the presence of social media also opened the event to criticism. One downfall of the signs was the lack of gender inclusion felt by the transgender community. The repetitive visualization of female reproductive organs that were displayed across hundreds of signs alienated a significant number of marchers that consider themselves intrinsic to the women’s rights movement. The appearance of the signs on social media also allowed the images to be altered by those who opposed the movement. The Internet was able to analyze signs over an extended amount of time and eventually twisted the meaning of signs produced with pure motives into harsh and judgmental phrases.

What now?

Now that the march is over, most participants have gone back home to return to their lives. However, what remains are the thousands of signs lining Pennsylvania Avenue, sending every message the protestors deemed worthy of carrying throughout the streets of Washington DC to the new president. Seigler from UNC-Charlotte compared this to how one would leave a memento or bouquet of flowers at a grave. “I got that impression because I think that many women did feel like they lost something after the election.” She went on to compare her view of the neatly and strategically placed signs to a compilation of art in a museum. This comment was a foreshadowing of what was to come, because on Monday morning, many universities and art institutions began collecting the signs as pieces of history to preserve for decades to come. So although the march was over, the messages placed on the signs will be safeguarded for future generations to see and remember.

Each participant in the march came as an individual, but they left with a sense of community. Mueller from UNC-Chapel Hill said, “I can’t say enough positive things about the march. It gave me so much hope and was easily one of the most memorable weekends of my life.” The signs were the messages voiced by thousands every day across the world. The march allowed people to put faces to those holding the messages.

Looking forward

Just as an exit sign on the highway signals a new town, the signs at the Women’s March signaled a promise to fight for change, a promise to be an ally and a promise to not forget where this country has been and where it needs to go. At the end of the day, the signs were more than a piece of poster board with words scribbled on it, but they were a symbol of the future, of what is to come and of promises left up and down the streets of the Capitol. The Women’s March on D.C. produced images that will be engrained in history for years to come and will serve as a source of hope for the country as it adapts to the new administration.

Edited by Avery Williams

Women’s March bridges gap between cultures, nationalities

By Courtney Triplett

“WHERE ARE YOU??” The all-caps text message glared urgently at me from my trusty iPhone 6. I lightly traced the small crack on the left side of the device with my thumb, looking back and forth from the message to the front of my Uber. Leaning forward, I squinted my hardest to see the ETA in the corner of the navigation program on my driver’s phone. I knew it was almost 10 a.m. and that I was running late.

“Excuse me sir, what time does it say we will get to Union Station? My friends are waiting for me there.” I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice, but it was no use. He picked up on my rush right away.

Stopping the vehicle at a red light as a mass of enthusiastic demonstrators entered the crosswalk, my Uber driver, an older African-American man with kind eyes, turned around to face me. “Should be soon. This traffic is crazy, isn’t it? It’s all for the march, you know.”

Looking up at him from my phone where I had typed “On the way, so sorry,” I broke into a smile.

“Yeah, I know! I’m actually going to the march!” I moved my light blond hair off of my cheek to point excitedly at where I had drawn a female symbol earlier that morning, rather crudely, with the cheap black eyeliner I’d fished out of my suitcase.

The light turned green, and he turned around to continue the drive, but not before giving me a warm smile. He looked at me, eyes glimmering, like he would a child waving a report card in his face with all As and Bs. He looked at me with pride. And I felt it.

We continued to make small talk for the last few minutes of the drive, and before I knew it, we were pulling in front of Union Station. “You have arrived at your destination”, the navigation announced, and after thanking my driver, I leapt out of the vehicle and raced up the concrete to find my friends before the march began.

The march

The air was crisp and hit me in the face the instant I hit the pavement. I paused to scan the massive crowd dotted with colorful, snarky signs and exhaled. I was never going to find them in this.

Finally, after several minutes of searching and one brief phone call full of “where are yous” and “I can’t hear anythings,” I spotted my friends and, with a sigh of relief, ran to join them.

We hugged each other and began to discuss our excitement about the march. The Capitol Building served as an appropriate backdrop, standing unflinchingly tall and proud as we were about to do.

Tamar, the leader of the pack, wore her dark, curly hair loosely. Giggling, she held her sign proudly above her head. “I’m just so happy to be here,” she said. “As a new American, this really means so much to me.”

Tamar is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. Born in Israel and raised in Maryland, she grew up with a conflicting identity. Where was home for her? What did home mean? The Women’s March for her, like so many others in the United States, was a great way to connect the dots.

Tamar and I, along with her mother and two other girlfriends our age, spent the day marching and laughing and enjoying being a part of something so special. The day was chilly, but we didn’t mind, and in fact, we hardly noticed the weather at all.

After the march subsided around 3:30 p.m., we headed to Tamar’s family home in Maryland. Her mother, after leaving the march early, had prepared an enormous traditional Israeli feast for us to enjoy. It was a magnificent meal, and we all stuffed our faces with olives, hummus and ciabatta, eggplant dip, butternut squash and ginger soup, and a delicious roast in a red wine sauce.

At the end of the meal, Tamar’s mother served hot tea and biscuits. Tamar’s father, Benny, sat at the head of the table and led political discussions.

“I think that what you kids did today was really inspiring,” he said. “That’s what gives me hope for this world, that young people like you show up and really care.”

After chatting for an hour with Tamar’s family, about everything from capitalism to activism to the ingredients in the delicious soup, Tamar and I retired from dinner to get ready to meet our friends downtown.

Finding home

As we were dressing, I noticed a small tattoo between Tamar’s shoulder blades. It depicted a beautiful scene: a little house with trees, drenched in sunlight.

“Tamar, what does your tattoo mean,” I asked hesitantly, not looking to offend or annoy.

Tamar laughed and took a deep breath, preparing herself for the long explanation. “Oh, it’s a picture of home. Because for a time in my life, I didn’t know where that was for me. But more recently, once I became naturalized, I realized that home is where you make it. It’s different for me, being from two completely different places. But home is where you make it, and so I carry my home with me… I carry my home on my back.”

I carry my home on my back. Home is where you make it. What I saw the day of the women’s march in Tamar is something that is often forgotten. People from all different backgrounds came together that day, in the name of activism, in the name of doing something good.

I continued to ask more about the tattoo and about the march.

“After the election, I think my initial response was to run away- to go live somewhere else,” Tamar said. “Many people in this country joke about that, but as a dual citizen, it’s a pretty real option. But then I realized that I became a part of this country because I care about the values it represents- and it has become my home. So I resolved that I needed to stay, because I fully intend to carry my home on my back.”

Edited by Elise Clouser