West Franklin Street’s VibeHouse 405 draws “creative rebels”

By Caroline McKinley

Their eyes were level with his sneakers planted firmly on the black platform. The crowd craned their necks and looked up past his dark pants and denim jacket to rest on the microphone in his hand. They tracked the trajectory of the mic to his lips.

“More sauce, 506, more sauce,” he said.

Kevin “Kaze” Thomas addressed the crowd at Local 506, a bar and concert venue on West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The sauce? Well, that’s up for interpretation.

Thomas’ performance on Friday, February 23, was part of the second act of the grand opening of VibeHouse 405, a recording studio, art gallery and “home for creative rebels.” The concept evolved to fill a gaping void: Thomas needed a place to play music.

“I didn’t have anywhere to perform and it felt like…kryptonite,” Thomas said. “Like for real. I felt myself turning stuffy and dying. That was a thing that I needed, that I knew that other people needed.”

Thomas owns half of VibeHouse 405. The woman who claims the other half was one of the bopping heads on the dance floor beneath him.

Wendy Mann’s unruly black curls bounced as she moved with the bass. She shimmied next to her 19-year-old daughter, Adela. Mann wore blue jeans that she splatter-painted herself—she’ll make you a pair if you want. She lifted her phone to take a video of Thomas.

Cosmic intervention

They might be the most unexpected business partners. Thomas is a 40-year-old African American rapper whose album on Soundcloud is titled “Black Kennedy 2.” Mann is a 50-year-old white real estate owner who used to run a private counseling practice. A few years ago, no one would have guessed that they’d own a business together, much less finish each other’s sentences.

“Well hello universe for bringing us together,” Mann said.

Kevin “Kaze” Thomas (right) and Wendy Mann met in what seemed to be an act of cosmic intervention. A few years later, together they opened VibeHouse 405, a recording studio.

Thomas had just left L.A. and needed a way to pay the rent while he wrote rhymes, so he got a daytime gig at the front desk of Mina’s, a boutique salon across from Whole Foods. The day Mann walked in to make an appointment, Thomas handed her a CD.

“Do you listen to hip-hop?” said Thomas, extending the silver disc across the counter.

“Yeah,” Mann said, accepting the offering. “My daughter does. And I do too—if it’s good.”

She squinted at the print on the cover before looking back at Thomas.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Are you doing something at the Local 506? That’s my club.”

The duo has been inseparable since the cosmic intervention. The recording studio is their latest joint business venture.

“I’ve been trying to get a format like this for eight years now,” Thomas said. “Where it would be all genres of music, all types of people, all the artist community together on one level. Exchanging that energy. Friday night.”

“We saw it all come [together],” Mann said. “It blew me out of the f—— water. It was everything we have been envisioning.”

Open house night a success

The event was twofold: An open house in the gallery portion of the studio followed by live performances at Local 506. It began at 5 p.m. that evening, when the sun was clocking out with the working folks, and the glass door between Perennial Coffee and a vacant smoke shop was unlocked. A sign was placed out front.

Neon pink capitals swaggered across the slick, black billboard: ART GALLERY OPEN HOUSE. A man carried a metal tree hung with empty perfume bottles up the narrow stairs. ‘90s hip-hop buzzed into the front room from Thomas’ phone. Mann arranged the table under the window. Bowls of Oreos, chocolate-covered almonds and Twizzlers plunked next to a plate of deviled eggs and chicken salad sandwiches. Bottles of pink champagne sweated in a bucket of ice on the ground. These were just the final touches. Mann had spent the better part of the day arranging works from 11 artists in the gallery. She gestured to the purple walls with a bejeweled finger.

“It’s like white, super punk chick, to white older guy with black woman friend,” Mann said, pointing at each canvas and indicating the artist. “You know it’s just white, black, Hispanic, mixed.”

While Mann adhered the last wall labels, the first guests of the evening arrived. It was her 70-year-old neighbors, Eleanor Rutledge and her husband Dr. James Lesher. Lesher is a semiretired philosophy professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who couldn’t keep his hands off the chicken salad or stop talking about his upcoming trip to Greece.

Event-goers consisted of a range of demographic groups

As the night went on, the average age in the gallery declined. Young professionals, students and even Thomas’ 6-year-old son Quaran perused the artwork and peeked into the recording studio. For the timid first-timers, Thomas was their guide. He ushered patrons into the booth’s hushed padded walls and let the chorus of “wows” lap over him.

“It’s like I was giving tours of Disneyland,” Thomas said.

Around 8 p.m., the crowd in the gallery meandered down the staircase and out onto the pavement, veering left. The doors of the Local 506 opened and a bearded man with a septum piercing waited at the front to check IDs and stamp hands.

Initially, the bar was more popular than the dance floor. People were inquiring about India pale ales on draft or ordering mixed drinks from the chalkboard menu when Benjamin Clancy, also known as sea brain, took the stage. The lanky young white kid in a blue and white striped sweater half-sang half-spoke an eclectic set list self-described as “music for whales.” And the crowd was into it.

“How many of my homeboys that came there for just the rap part saw sea brain and they were like, ‘Man, yo, I like the homie,’” Thomas said.

Thomas’ humble beginnings turn into success

Thomas has a crew now, but it wasn’t always packed bars and neon lights. He remembers his time as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, standing in the Pit, getting laughed at while passing out flyers for Hip Hop Nation. He still remembers the chorus of naysayers’ voices: “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to make a rap club?”

Friday night’s third act was the UNC Student Hip Hop Organization—perhaps today’s iteration of the rap club Thomas was spurned for trying to form. Five young men in assorted baby blue jerseys took the stage and wooed the crowd with their hit “Venmo,” named after the money-sharing iPhone app.

The crowd pumped their arms up and down in a move Thomas describes as “gigging.” Onlookers in faux fur coats and pastel fraternity T-shirts alike removed themselves from the periphery and claimed spots at the edge of the stage. The lineup built to a crescendo—just as Thomas designed it. During the final act, Durham rappers Defacto Thezpian and Lil’ Bob Doe spit tracks from their album “Facts about Bob.”

Thomas bounced behind the rap duo. Even without the mic, his hands waved the beat into the crowd. And even when the stage lights cut out, he kept his sunglasses on.

“It just felt crazy; I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Thomas said. “It was like everybody’s in here glowing. It was crazy like that.”

Six hours after the gallery opened, the last stragglers slapped skin and called Ubers in front of the Local 506. Some embraced the mild February night and retraced their steps down Franklin Street.

“This town was always an artist community. Indie-based, rock, alternative—whatever. Just cool s— here,” Thomas said. “We didn’t want to see that die. This is a part of bringing that back—that energy back.”

The aftermath of open house night

Sitting together in the studio the next day, Thomas and Mann are still running on fumes of giddy energy. Thomas offers Mann a Blow Pop before he unwraps a cherry one for himself. He leans back into the windowsill to describe his takeaway from the night.

“I feel like it’s inclusive and open,” Thomas said, after the suction smack of the candy leaving his mouth. “It’s more like come get in the pool. Come get in the sauce.”

According to Thomas, more sauce means more energy. More swag.

“It’s getting in the flow of what feels good and amplifying that even higher,” he said.

Edited by Savannah Morgan. 

From “Flappy Yeet” to Linker Logic: Ritwik Pavan’s path to success

By Moses Musilu

Cary native Ritwik Pavan was a 16-year-old junior at Enloe High School in Raleigh when the must-have app was “Flappy Bird,” a simple one-button game in which you navigate a bird over obstacles by tapping the screen to make the bird jump. Around the same time “Flappy Bird” went viral, a Vine video of a boy, later named Lil’ Meatball, dancing in a circle surrounded by his friends yelling “Yeet!” was gaining popularity as well.

After watching countless tutorials on application development, Pavan thought he could create his own.

In April 2014, Pavan combined elements of the viral video with the concept of “Flappy Bird.” He built a game that featured a bird, too, but also Lil’ Meatball.

In the game, Lil’ Meatball sat on top of the flying bird, jumping over each obstacle as you tapped the screen. With every tap, Lil’ Meatball would yell, “Yeet!” Pavan called the game “Flappy Yeet,” and released it to the app stores.

For Pavan, it was just something to do for fun. But he had no idea that his own app would, too, go viral.

Going Viral

In the first couple of days, “Flappy Yeet” recorded over 80,000 downloads. After a couple of weeks, that number grew to 250,000. Soon, the number exceeded over 350,000 downloads. Ritwik says he became one of the first North Carolina residents to have their app on the top three charts for Apple and Android.

“Soon everyone wanted an app made. ‘Ritwik, I want this idea! Ritwik, can you do this?’ People started to reach out to me to make their apps when I literally used tutorials to make this game. It just went viral unexpectedly.”

Inspired by his success, Pavan saw an opportunity to learn more about app development. Many people were asking for help with their ideas, and Pavan saw a big market.

Knowing he needed help, he reached out to one of his high school classmates, now head of graphic design, Casey Riemann. Pavan heard Riemann was studying computer science and already knew how to build apps.

“It didn’t take that much to convince me,” Riemann said. “It was a good idea.”

And four years later, a party of two developers became a party of 30. Linker Logic Technologies Inc. was born.

Setting up Shop

Now the company provides clients with branding, marketing, web development, app development, software development, Apple Watch development and other services. The price to have an app made by Pavan and his team ranges from $25,000 to over $100,000. Pavan says his company is valued at more than a million dollars, and will only continue to grow. They’ve developed over 50 applications for clients, including Cary Cardiology, WakeMed and other startups.

One of the first big contracts they signed with was WRAL-TV. Pavan says his experience with them changed the whole mindset of Linker Logic Technologies Inc.

“WRAL saw an article about us on the News & Observer, and around that time the Apple Watch was just hitting the market,” he recalls. “They asked us if we could create an application for them on the Apple Watch, and we agreed to tackle their challenge. We created the first local news Apple Watch application for them. That got us to the next level.”

From there, many opportunities began to unfold for the team of app developers. Pavan says it gave them a new mindset. Being adjusted to the professional environment at such a young age gave him insight on what to expect down the road.

Playing as a Team

Pavan takes his employees out for weekly lunches or dinners to keep the team’s morale up. But when bigger deals are signed and completed, Pavan enhances the reward.

“If we win a big deal or contract, I’ll take the whole team out to a nice dinner spot,” he says. “Sometimes we travel. I’m definitely trying to get company retreats happening as we expand. We work hard, play hard.”

Every Sunday, Pavan spends the day in his Franklin Street office. Pictures of himself and past clients surround the walls. Meetings with the UNC Board of Trustees, shaking hands with Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman and even business entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk can be seen smiling back at you. In his phone, he has pictures of his trip to Portugal, and after a couple of swipes, you’ll see him meeting Portugal’s Prime Minister, António Costa. Pavan says all his encounters with successful people made him realize one thing.

“They were all normal people at one time,” he said. “They just had a vision or a goal. Now they’re just normal people who have met their goals allowing for them to be successful and famous or whatever you want to say. They’ve made me realize that the challenge and struggles will be worth it by the end.”

Pavan doesn’t intend on stopping any time soon. His team of developers continues to grow, while adding new projects every few weeks. He says they’re working on nine ongoing projects and expect more to come.

Thinking Ahead

So, what’s next for Linker Logic in the future?

“I see the company expanding rapidly in the next five years,” Riemann said. “We have just opened offices in Raleigh and India, and are in the process of building a dedicated, full time team to service the triangle area. I see only greatness coming our way, and I look forward to the road ahead.”

Pavan wants the company to expand on their own ideas.

“I hope to bring a lot of in-house developments for Linker Logic,” he says. “There’s a lot of good that can be done in this world with technology, and over the past four years, my team and I have gained the funding, connections, and experience to do that.”

Edited by Lily Stephens

The Daily Tar Heel faces financial troubles as it turns 125

By Danielle Chemtob

Tyler Fleming’s nerves were racing as he proceeded to the podium. In front of him sat hundreds of journalists who had built the Daily Tar Heel, the student publication he was now in charge of.

All around him, the newspaper’s alumni traded stories full of truths and exaggerations from their time at the paper. Stories that, in many cases, shaped their careers as they went on to achieve national fame at some of the top news organizations in the country.

They were all gathered in the ballroom of the Carolina Inn for a historic occasion: to celebrate the Daily Tar Heel’s 125th anniversary. They proudly wore — and lived — the motto on the event’s buttons: print news and raise hell.

As the celebration ensued, Fleming, the paper’s current editor-in-chief, prepared to tell the crowd that despite the paper’s illustrious past achievements, the next 125 years of its survival were far more uncertain.

The paper has lost an average of $200,000 per year in recent years as the decline of print advertising revenue sweeping the industry has hit hard. In fiscal year 2016, its total revenue was less than a million dollars. It cut print publication from five days per week to four, and this year to three.

Nonetheless, Fleming began to describe his hope for the publication’s future to the 250 people seated in front of him.

“My editors have sat through meetings talking about what happens if the DTH doesn’t have any more money,” he said. “But if editors and young staffers can sit through a meeting and discuss what are we going do if we have literally no dollars left and still show up to work the next day excited to put out a paper, I think as far as internally goes, we have nothing to worry about.”

Staff enthusiasm alone can’t save the paper from financial peril, though. But the alumni in that room, a number of whom had generous pocketbooks, could certainly help.

This was Fleming’s chance to keep the lights on at the institution he loved.

A year of changes

The paper’s 125th celebration that weekend wasn’t the first time Fleming had detailed its financial woes.

In September, Fleming brought his management team to Starbucks, where he broke the news.

Prepare for the worst, he said. Print would be cut. Staff salaries, too.

They brainstormed ideas, but there was no simple answer. The same month, Fleming stood in front of his section editors and assistant editors after a typical budget meeting and had the same conversation.

“What are we going to do?” he asked.

One of the editors asked him what he planned to do.

“When you respond, ‘I don’t know,’ it really emphasizes how hard of a solution this is,” he said.

All along, Fleming fought for the student journalists on his staff as the paper’s board of directors — comprised of Fleming, students from the general campus community, alumni and professionals — ultimately decided its fate.

On some battles, he had to compromise, even when it hurt most. He drafted a resignation letter after the board began seriously considering cutting all student salaries.

“You go into journalism to try to hold people to ethical standards and sometimes you have to hold yourself to it,” he said.

Ultimately, the board adopted a plan shortly before the end of the fall semester that reduced student salaries by 40 percent and shrunk the size of the print product. The paper terminated their lease early on their office on Rosemary Street, moving into a smaller space on Franklin Street in February.

And as Fleming prepared to take the stage in front of the alumni at the headlining event of the 125th anniversary weekend, the decisions he had made over the past six months weighed heavily on him.

He spoke of the paper’s importance in the community, and speaker after speaker reflected on the Daily Tar Heel as a formative experience for their career.

“Not all fraternities are defined by Greek letters, some are defined by lead stories,” Rob Nelson, now a co-anchor at WABC-TV in New York, said in an impassioned speech to the crowd. “It’s about being part of something far bigger and far more lasting than yourself. Having a chance to write just one chapter of an extraordinary book. Feelings like that cannot be engraved on a Pacemaker plaque.”

The support kept coming as the paper kicked off its $25,000, one-month fundraising campaign. A week and a half after the event, it had raised more than $14,000.

While the fundraising alone is not enough to sustain the paper in the long run — or even for a month — the event was the start of changing tides. For the first time, alumni knew the full extent of the institution’s financial turmoil, and many were willing to do whatever it took to turn the situation around at the institution that built their career.

“This paper will not fold,” Nelson said to the fired up crowd. “Period.”

A multi-generational effort

The weekend wasn’t just about the monetary support from alumni. It was also about receiving guidance from the journalists who had been forced to grapple with the same crisis themselves.

In her opening remarks for Saturday morning’s panels and events, Daily Tar Heel alumnus Robyn Tomlin, the recently appointed executive editor at the News and Observer, offered a vision of hope for the transforming media landscape.

“In local news, it’s not about selling a product,” Tomlin said later in an interview. “The DTH is free. It’s about getting people to want to invest in a service. That’s part of what the Daily Tar Heel has to do, is to define, what is the service it provides to the community?”

Hugh Stevens, a 1965 graduate and former co-editor of the paper, has witnessed firsthand the financial strain placed on newspapers in North Carolina. Stevens, a North Carolina media lawyer who served as general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association, has represented the Daily Tar Heel, among other local media organizations, for decades.

Stevens continues to have faith in the newsroom he’s devoted his life to defending.

“In a town and with an institution like the university where there’s such an appetite for information, there ought to be a way to have a sustainable business model that involves collecting, editing and supplying info,” he said. “Exactly what that model is is what the DTH needs to try to figure out.”

Figuring it out

Last year, the publication began a venture that could quickly grow into a significant piece of that business model. The 1893 brand studio — modeled off of similar outposts of news organizations — provides marketing and branding services for local businesses and organizations. The team has grown to over 30 people working in graphic design, web development, photo and video, social media and event planning.

The 10 clients the studio serves are funding their own staffs, most of whom are paid as freelancers. But the studio’s costs are so low that it’s generating additional funds to help support the newsroom.

“I wish we could scale even faster,” said Madi Coffing, a senior public relations and economics student serving as managing director of the brand studio. “Once we get big enough, we could be a significant revenue stream.”

The brand studio is just one piece of the puzzle, and it alone won’t save the paper. Creating a sustained fundraising effort is another piece.

But even if all of these ideas fail, Fleming doesn’t seem worried that student journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill will be lost.

“I do think that worst case scenario, the DTH shuts down and packs up the bags,” Fleming said. “I have no doubt there’s going to be students who saw the value. They’ll keep the tradition of the DTH alive even if it’s by another name.”

It may not be print. It may not even be called the Daily Tar Heel. But whoever the young journalists to come may be, they will still achieve the most crucial part of the paper’s mission.

They’ll raise hell.

 

Edited by Allison Tate

The uncertain future of kratom: herbal remedy or addictive opioid?

By Mitra Norowzi

By the time Friday rolls around, Candice Varnadore is tired and sore. She steps into Oasis Coffee & Tea House at Carr Mill in Carrboro for a pick-me-up. The coffee shop offers a wide assortment of coffee beverages, teas and smoothies. But those are not what she came for.

Although her steps are slow and calculated, weary after a hard week’s work of cleaning houses, she strides purposefully towards the counter. She greets the shop’s owner, Robert Roskind, with a grin, revealing a few missing teeth. Wasting no time, she tells him she’d like four bags, please. Roskind quickly fills her order, telling her her total will be $86, and that he’s thrown in a fifth bag for free. She thanks him profusely.

The 20-ounce bags she bought contain a little-known substance called kratom. Scientifically known as mitragyna speciosa, kratom comes from the leaves of an evergreen tree that is part of the coffee family. It is native to Southeast Asia and has been used as a natural remedy in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia for thousands of years to treat pain and various mood disorders, as well as to increase energy.

It is believed that immigrants from these countries brought the practice of using kratom with them to the U.S. Here, people most often ingest crushed kratom leaves mixed into beverages. The plant is not smoked, nor is it taken intravenously. Older generations tend to use the plant to relieve pain, while the younger generation tends to most often use it for mood enhancement as an alternative to prescription antidepressants, marijuana or alcohol.

Varnadore is one of those users seeking pain relief, which started when she was about 60, she says.

“I would wake up and my hips and my knees would be killing me and I couldn’t get any relief from any doctor,” Varnadore says. “I ate so much Aleve, my stomach was upset. It wasn’t helping me.”

The pain was adversely affecting the 63-year-old’s ability to do the laborious work necessary to make her living cleaning houses until a friend asked her if she’d ever tried kratom. When Varnadore said she hadn’t, her friend brought her to Oasis and bought her a cup, which is typically served there mixed in chocolate almond milk or orange juice.

“It tastes awful,” Varnadore says. “But I’ll be darned if it didn’t take the pain away.”

But Varnadore and the other five million Americans who use kratom may have to seek relief elsewhere.

Legal limbo

In November, Scott Gottlieb, commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration, announced that that the agency is concerned about kratom’s opioid-like properties in the face of the nation’s opioid epidemic.

This statement came after a 2016 statement by the Drug Enforcement Administration said it intends to schedule kratom as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine and meth. The DEA halted the criminalization process after an outcry from kratom advocates, agreeing to postpone the ban until further research by the FDA could be conducted.

On Feb. 6, Gottlieb released another statement further detailing the FDA’s worries about kratom, announcing that the agency was now confident in labeling the substances in kratom as opioids. This statement was based on computational modeling the agency conducted, and in consideration of reports of 36 deaths associated with kratom use.

But defenders of kratom are not satisfied with Gottlieb and the FDA’s evidence, and are especially displeased that their research is based off a computational model rather than practical trials.

Roskind criticized the FDA and DEA statements regarding kratom, pointing out that Gottlieb, who was appointed to the FDA by President Donald Trump, is a pharmacy industry insider. Indeed, Gottlieb has worked with drug companies in the past, making millions, an issue raised during his nomination.

Among the 36 deaths associated with kratom, just one individual had only kratom in his system—the rest either had other drugs in their systems in addition to kratom at the times of their deaths, or prior health conditions, according to FDA reports.

Kratom’s pharmacology isn’t well understood and few studies have been conducted on it. More comprehensive analyses, like those from researchers at Columbia University and the University of Oklahoma have found that kratom does contain alkaloids that bind to opioid receptors in the brain similar to the way morphine does.

However, the study conducted by Columbia University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that kratom only partially stimulates opioid receptors, more closely resembling the effects of drugs used to treat opioid addiction than that of opioids most responsible for overdose, such as heroin and fentanyl.

The problem is, none of these studies have been conducted on humans, so the tangible human effects of kratom are supported only by anecdotal evidence. This anecdotal evidence is abundant, especially at Oasis.

Different purposes for different people

Of the five people lingering in the shop at the time of Varnadore’s visit, four are drinking kratom, Roskind points out. One is a graduate student using kratom to increase his productivity while he studies. He wears headphones and has textbooks strewn about on his table as he bends over his laptop. Another two are a middle-aged couple visiting from Sunset Beach, decked out in Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys, in town for a hockey game. They noticed a sign outside Oasis about kratom, and decided to try it for the first time, hoping it might be something they can recommend to their daughter to help her depression. The last is a young woman in business attire who says she takes kratom for her anxiety.

Tina Rizzo, 55, one half the of the Penguins-loving duo, thoughtfully evaluates her first drink of kratom.

“I’ve noticed it a little bit since we sat down,” she says. “It’s definitely relaxing — it’s nice.”

Her companion, Jeff Hillwig, 55, doesn’t feel as much of an effect, but speculates that his significant daily coffee intake might have increased his tolerance to stimulant-like substances.

“I couldn’t see this affecting anything to do with driving or cognitive skills,” he says. “I could see it being a beverage of choice in the evening over alcohol.”

An herbal alternative

Roskind has been selling kratom for two years now at Oasis, alongside his standard offering of teas, coffee and smoothies, and says it is his top-selling product. He has customers of all walks of life taking it for pain, depression and even to aid addiction.

“I got people kicking heroin, alcohol, opiates,” Roskind says. “And they’re using it and all are having success.”

For opioid addiction, the FDA urges the public to seek help from a medical provider.

Roskind, who is known as a proponent of whole-body healing in the Carrboro community, is confident that kratom is overall a helpful substance, though he is not oblivious to its potential for abuse. For most people, he says, kratom may be habit-forming, much like coffee or sugar, but it is addictive for only a small fraction of users.

The potential for kratom dependence, and risk of an uncomfortable withdrawal, is higher for those users who take it in the form of extracts, rather than in plant form.

“Some of the ones that have addictive personalities like they’re using heroin or alcohol real bad, I would say they kind of abuse it,” Roskind says.

While the average person takes around 6 grams a day, these people might go through as much as 25-30 grams. “But they’re trading a rather benign habit for a life-destroying addiction,” Roskind says.

Roskind says there’s probably little to nothing that can be done at this point to stop a ban on kratom in the near future, but predicts that the FDA and DEA will wait a few months at least to implement a ban to allow users like Varnadore to find alternatives to kratom treatment.

“If they cut it off, they’re taking stuff away from people who are just trying to make a living and do their best,” she said. “When you get older, you need a little help.”

Edited by Mimi Tomei

The third annual Fairy House Festival: A fairytale fit for all

By Jess Gaul

A stone path leads to a small cottage dusted in purple, near a quiet pond at River Park North in Greenville, North Carolina.

Little girls and boys wearing sparkly fairy wings gathered sticks and leaves in a wooded area speckled with sunlight.

As visitors of the park hiked, fished and kayaked, several dozen children made preparations for the magical visitors—no smartphones, iPads or any other screens in sight.

At the third annual Fairy House Festival on Saturday, Feb. 24,—which had originally been scheduled to include a campfire and hot chocolate—the weather was so warm that most children wore short sleeves and shorts.

“We definitely took advantage of the time of year,” said park attendant Caethe Vance.

Real-life fairies

Sitting on round stumps, children listened to park attendant Andrew Wimsatt read “Fairy Houses” by Tracy Kane.

Just as the main character of the book sees a beautiful monarch butterfly in the forest, a toddler, wearing monarch fairy wings, tumbled forward.

The other kids were not distracted. They were captivated—by the story, by the sunlight and by the possibility that fairies might move into the homes built for them.

Child architects

At a drawing station, a blonde girl and her mother made textured designs on construction paper using rocks and crayons.

“It’s kind of just a cute way of getting kids into nature as we move into these warmer months of the year,” said Wimsatt. “It’s like the awakening of the park for spring.”

Each fairy house was uniquely designed, from towering teepee structures to tiny bungalows. Most houses leaned against trees as an effort to shelter their winged inhabitants.

5-year-old Beni Florero pieced together his fairy house of sticks and shells all on his own. Despite his accomplishment, his shyness prevented him from posing for a photo.

“I saw the posting on Facebook, and we’re always looking for stuff to do in Greenville,” Melissa Bump, Beni’s mother, said. “It sounded fun and the weather’s been good.”

The impact of the outdoors

Vance, one of the organizers of the event, said that getting kids to do things like creating fairy houses will help to continue the positive trend of a growing interest in outdoor activities.

“We want tomorrow’s children to get outside today, so they can encourage everyone around them,” said Vance.

Vance said that unsupervised nature play allows kids to get in touch with natural elements on their own.

Detail is everything

Parents made suggestions about which stick to use, how tall the house should be or if leaves will make a nice decoration.

7-year-old Raye Wade sprinkled her fairy house creation with green chalk as a finishing touch. Her mother and grandmother help her add pine cones for a fireplace and trees.

“It’s always fun to get out and do something outside—and it’s a beautiful day,” Raye’s mother, Liz Wade, said. “Fairy houses seemed like a really fun idea for her. She’s very creative so I think she’d like something like this.”

Does the colorful chalk dust attract potential fairy tenants?

“I don’t know,” replied the 7-year-old.

“She’s very practical,” Liz said with a laugh.

Wimsatt said learning how plants and animals interact in nature is valuable, and that not all learning can take place indoors.

“I think it’s important for kids to enjoy (nature) versus always just sitting in front of a computer, because not everything is going to be found there,” Wimsatt said. “You have to experience things.”

Park attendant Wimsatt confirmed the presence of magic at the park.

“Of course I believe in fairies!” he said.

Rumor has it that fairies moved into the houses during sunset on Saturday evening.

Edited by Liz Chen

Apps and attitudes illustrate the changing face of college companionship

By: Cailyn Derickson

At 3 a.m., Chapel Hill’s Homegrown Halloween festivities were dying down. The only two places open on Franklin were [B]Ski’s and Sup Dogs, and senior Rachael Scott and her friends were starving. They chose [B]Ski’s.

One of Scott’s friends had just broken up with her boyfriend, so the night was supposed to focus on girl time. Fate had a different idea.

The line was 40 minutes long, but Scott took one for the team. She waited in the line to get her exhausted friends, who snagged a corner booth, some food. A group of guys, dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stood in front of her. The red turtle, Raphael, noticed Scott, who was dressed in a bright pink Britney Spears costume.

“The guy, 20 minutes into the conversation, asks, ‘Can I take you on a date?’” Scott said. “I looked at him, thinking, ‘I just met you 20 minutes ago. You’re dressed as a Ninja Turtle. How is this going to happen?’”

Scott gave him her phone number, expecting to never hear from him again.

But she did. Her mysterious Ninja Turtle texted Scott asking to read some articles she wrote for The Daily Tar Heel.

“I thought, ‘Wow, he actually wants to know, maybe, about my life,’” Scott said. “He maybe wants to know me.”

Corey James, who graduated from UNC in 2014, did want to get to know her. The two have been dating ever since they met in [B]Ski’s in 2015.

Stories like Scott’s aren’t all that common in the college dating scene.

From hang out to hookup

The hookup­­—a catch-all phrase describing casual romantic or sexual activities—has altered how students are meeting.

“Significant relationship events occur in a different order for college students now,” Tatum Jolink, a graduate student in psychology, said. “It often kicks off with hooking up.”

Jolink studies the development of close romantic relationships from initial attraction to long-term commitment. She said physical intimacy used to develop after a date, but now it’s what initiates relationships.

Although the process has changed, Jolink said students still prefer meeting their significant other through traditional means, like going to dinner or meeting in class.

“People have these ideas and these goals for how they’re going to meet their partner,” she said. “If they hook up with someone and that’s not really in line with how they imagined meeting someone, they think, ‘I’m not going to date them because we hooked up already.’”

Sophomore Breanna Welles said going on dates in college is nearly nonexistent.

Changing dating traditions

“I’m very traditional,” she said. “I wish it was more prevalent in today’s society. It’s better if someone asks in person or actually goes on a date, like dinner or coffee. Instead of this ‘let’s hang out’ type of thing.”

Senior Chandler Starr said he takes a more relaxed approach to dating. He doesn’t have a certain idea of how he should meet his significant other.

“As long as you both meet in a place or situation where you were comfortable, then you’re doing something right,” he said. “If you feel comfortable with that person, you should keep talking to them.”

Although students idolize this traditional dating process, senior Maggie Berra said it never happens—reflecting what Jolink has observed.

“You hook up first,” she said. “If that goes anywhere, you’ll text for a while. You’ll start hooking up regularly. You’ll hang out more. You’ll meet their friends. Then, you’re talking. Then, you’ll be an exclusive thing and then, you’ll date.”

The introduction of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge have further altered the college dating scene.

“They have to learn what the norms are,” Jolink said. “Is Tinder more for hooking up or finding a relationship? What about Hinge? What about Bumble? Is one of them more respectful?”

These apps still don’t align with many students’ ideas of how they should meet their significant other.

“Technology has really altered dating,” Welles said. “[Men] will hide behind their phones by asking girls to go out with them. If she says no, the phone is a way to protect themselves from rejection.”

Berra said she had a success with Tinder. She matched with a friend on the app, who she had met before. The two began spending more time together, eventually dating for a semester.

Although Berra had a success on a dating app, she said her ideal situation still aligns more with a traditional scenario.

“I would love for someone to come up to me in the library and say like, ‘You look so nerdy cute studying.’ That would be awesome,” she said. “But that’s never going to happen because no one would ever do that in this day and age.”

In addition to desiring a traditional dating process, Jolink said students, in heterosexual relationships, opt to follow traditional gender roles—even though many claim they don’t need to.

Jolink said there is equal endorsement among men and women to initiate a date or define the relationship.

“However, it’s typically the men who do both,” she said. “Both genders are saying it could be either of them who progress the relationship along, but in reality, women aren’t active in those roles. It’s the men who are both proposing dates and defining the relationship.”

Sophomore Jose Espitia said he prefers asking women on dates, rather than women initiating them.

“There’s this certain feeling or connection to a person,” he said. “For me personally, I will know if I want to date a girl within a couple of moments of interacting with her. You just have this feeling of wanting to spend time with a person and if I don’t have that feeling, then I don’t want to date. If she asks me to dinner or to hang out, and I don’t feel that initial connection, then I’m more inclined to say no.”

“Matching” doesn’t always guarantee a good match

Rooted in the prevalent desire for a traditional dating experience, Scott said students come to college expecting to find their match. She said she had this expectation too, and though it worked out for her and James, she recognizes it doesn’t for most.

“Coming from high school, you feel like all of your market is saturated,” she said. “You’ve met the people. You’ve probably gone to school with them your whole life and you just want to meet people you’ve never met before. You think ‘there’s got to be someone for me.’”

Espitia said the larger array of people in college encourages students to date multiple people.

“There’s more opportunity here, so you don’t settle,” he said. “You have an image of a girl you want and you’re like ‘I’m bound to find her because there’s a lot of people here.’”

Juniors Marigny Strauss and Trent Martensen faced a similar challenge. The two began dating their first year at UNC. Although they spent a majority of their time together, Strauss wasn’t sure she wanted to be in a relationship.

“I thought that for the long run we should take the first semester and not date because we had just come to college,” she said. “I felt the need to have a good college experience.”

Martensen felt differently. He said he pursued Strauss for three months. He wanted to take the traditional approach by beginning their relationship as friends.

“I didn’t have money to go on really expensive dates,” he said. “We would go to the gym and shoot hoops during breaks because she couldn’t go home, so I would stay here too. There would be no one else on campus, which was nice. I remember spending hours passing the football in my room and just talking.”

Strauss said it’s challenging to date in college, but it’s worth it.

“It’s hard when you feel like everyone else is going out, flirting with people and having fun being single,” she said. “But I think a lot of people are looking for their person and they’re going out to hook up, so it’s nice knowing I don’t really have to do that because I already have my person.”

Scott said [B]Ski’s will always have a significance to her. Her boyfriend got her a necklace last year for her birthday before she went abroad. It was a plaque necklace with what he said were the coordinates of Chapel Hill engraved on it.

“When I got back, he later told me it was the coordinates of [B]Ski’s.”

Edited by Jack Smith

Questions of racism and equality over possible Carrboro name change

By Jess Gaul

In 1978, Randee Haven-O’Donnell looked down from the plane and saw the diverse North Carolina landscape for the first time.

After whipping past the Outer Banks, Haven-O’Donnell suddenly saw the lush Piedmont covered in pine trees.

“I said, ‘This is special. It feels like home,’” said Haven-O’Donnell, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

As North Carolina transplants, Haven-O’Donnell and her husband Gerry O’Donnell settled in Carrboro. The couple lived in The Chateau Apartments with their lab, Bessie. N.C. 54 had only two lanes. Each morning, they woke up with a view of idyllic Lloyd Farm.

“We’d wake up in the morning to cows, and it was perfect,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

Today, Carrboro is regarded as a beacon of progressivism and equality. In 1995, the town elected the state’s first openly gay mayor and the first lesbian police chief in 1998. It was also the first North Carolina municipality to provide benefits to same-sex couples.

But, like any other place, Carrboro has a past.

Exploring the Cities Controversial Beginnings

Some have called it Chapel Hill’s “even more liberal” neighbor. The unique atmosphere of inclusion and diversity is one that defines the town of Carrboro and makes its namesake surprising — because it’s named for Julian Shakespeare Carr, an infamous white supremacist and industrialist from the early 20th century.

Today, walking down Weaver Street on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you’ll be met with what appears to be an escape, an oasis, a community of completely individual and unique members.

The cow population has probably dwindled, but it still feels just as quaint and idyllic. Musicians plunk away for the enjoyment of the public. Young families enjoy local shopping and a healthy meal. And there are dogs — so many dogs.

 This isn’t the first time that Carrboro’s name has been a hot topic. Carrboro first existed as the unincorporated community of West End. The community was then named Lloydville in 1900, after Chapel Hill businessman Thomas F. Lloyd.

The town was also briefly named Venable, after University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chemistry professor, Francis Venable. But after two years, Julian Carr requested the name be changed to “Carrsboro” in exchange for electricity provided by the Durham Hosiery Mill, which Carr operated beginning in 1898.

June 2, 1913, was the erection of Silent Sam, the infamous monument of a Confederate soldier on the UNC-CH campus. Carr was famously known for speaking about whipping a female slave following the Battle of Appomattox.

Carr never lived in Carrboro. Like any historical figure, his identities were complicated — he celebrated a massacre of black people in Wilmington in 1898, was a private in the Confederate Army and endorsed the Ku Klux Klan.

But Carr also gave land for portions of Duke University’s campus, and supported the founding of what would be known as the African American-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. He also contributed money to the North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, which would become North Carolina Central University.

Richard Ellington, president of the Chapel Hill Historical Society and Carrboro native, said that this complexity is why it’s important to consider the context of Julian Carr.

“I see no reason to change the name of the town,” Ellington said. “The historical context is going to be forgotten. If you don’t have a past, you don’t have much of a future.”

Like any town, Carrboro has grown and shifted socially and economically. There tends to be a separation between young Carrboro transplants and the Old Carrboro community.

Celia Pierce remembers a segregated part of town, between Chapel Hill and Carrboro on Rosemary Street. She remembers separate water fountains. She remembers when her high school was integrated.

Pierce lives in “Old Carrboro,” in the home that she grew up in as a child — the same one that her mother and her grandmother grew up in, too.

“Roots go pretty deep here in Carrboro,” she said.

Pierce, while ultimately supporting a name change for the town, acknowledged that many of the young innovators in local politics tend to forget the lessons of the past.

“When you reach a certain age you come to realize that ‘OK, if we keep moving forward without nodding to the past’ … What we end up doing is kind of discarding the older people,” Pierce said. “And what I see in Carrboro is — it’s getting to the point to where older people cannot afford to live here because of the taxes.”

Changes in the makeup of Carrboro also reached its racial demographics.

“Carrboro, in 1920, was the most integrated town in North Carolina, I’ll bet,” Ellington said. And you know why? Because they were all poor, working class people. They couldn’t afford to hate each other! They had to worry about feeding their kids.

“They didn’t have the luxury of hate. It was just a fact of life — they had to help each other. It was a much smaller town, and it still had this ‘We’re all in this together’ attitude.”

Jim Porto served as the mayor of Carrboro from 1983 to 1987. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Porto moved to the Triangle as a young adult to attend Duke University.

In April 2016, Porto sent an inquiry to the Board of Aldermen inquiring about the possibility of a name change for the town.

In his request, Porto suggested the name “Paris,” partially due to his time spent teaching in the French capital and his admiration for the city’s livability. Carrboro was also jokingly coined the “Paris of the Piedmont” in 1970 by a local reporter.

“The goal of the town is to have a little community that’s at a scale that people can feel good about,” Porto said. “We start thinking about how we can emulate our namesake.”

For Porto, a name change is an important step in propelling the town forward to its goals for the future.

“By taking a stand like this, it basically enshrines that whole notion of progressive community,” he said. “I think there is a loss of opportunity in a way for us to go beyond even what we are now, and become a national statement for what we stand for.”

Part of what drew Board of Aldermen member and Texas native, Damon Seils, to Carrboro was its reputation for being a trailblazer of progressivism. He said he thinks that focusing on changing the name could distract from other steps toward racial equity, such as fair policing and equal treatment in schools.

“I think Carrboro and the people of Carrboro over many, many years have created a community that in a lot of ways, sticks it to the reputation of Julian Carr,” Seils said. “And to me, that’s a legacy we ought to be a part of.”

In August 2017, an unknown person started an online petition to change the name of Carrboro to “Unicornboro.” The petition garnered 53 signatures. Whether the petition was serious — or in jest, as Porto speculates — is uncertain.

Additionally, a Chapel Hill High School senior wrote to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in late January requesting that a name change be considered.

Porto, Haven-O’Donnell and Seils each acknowledged that if a name change was to occur, it would be because of a majority public opinion. The likely next step would involve some sort of community forum where citizens could discuss changing the town name.

“The work that would be needed and the attention that would be drawn to something like a name change for the town would, to be honest, distract us from what I see as the real work in advancing racial equity, which is hard and long-term, and requires a lot of energy and patience,” Seils said.

Edited by Brittney Robinson

 

Individuals with disabilities: a benefit to the workplace and workforce

By Chris Cotillo

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you happen to stop by the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop at the Timberlyne Shopping Center, the employee who may make the biggest impact on you will do it without saying a single word.

Owen Davis, a 23-year-old with non-verbal autism, has worked at the shop for about a year. He washes dishes, cleans tables and sometimes makes coffee or serves customers.

Working at Joe Van Gogh is one of Davis’ two jobs, with the other being a custodial position at Reality Ministries, a non-denominational Christian gathering space for young adults with intellectual disabilities in Durham. He works at least one of those jobs (and sometimes both) five days a week, establishing a routine that his mother, Patty Davis, says has been extremely beneficial.

“He has a routine, and it keeps him busy,” Davis said. “And I’ll tell you what, the work ethic on these young adults with disabilities… I would say 95 percent of them never miss a day of work.”

Owen’s job is an example of a growing trend in which businesses are becoming more likely to hire individuals with developmental disabilities. People closely involved with the special needs community, like students with UNC’s Best Buddies initiative, are working hard to raise awareness about the benefits of a diverse workplace, attempting to end the prevailing stigma about hiring employees with disabilities.

“I think people hear ‘disability’ and quite literally, the word means, the inability to do something,” said Caroline Folz, a UNC senior on the executive board for Best Buddies. “That’s not true at all. It’s just that individuals have different needs, difficulties and strengths.

“There’s the idea that individuals who have disabilities are worse employees and maybe wouldn’t be worth the investment of an employer, but honestly, that isn’t the case. Having individuals who have disabilities in the workplace actually has a ton of positive effects on the work environment,” Folz said.

Benefits of workplace involvement

For individuals with developmental disabilities, the benefits of having a job extend beyond receiving paychecks. Owen doesn’t make much money, but his mom says he likes having just enough to take his grandmother to lunch.

“That’s not what it’s about,” Davis said. “It’s about having self-worth. It’s just having money that you don’t have to ask for all the time.”

In addition, the social impact of employment for individuals with developmental disabilities is unmatched by other opportunities. Unlike schooling, which is largely segmented, being a part of the workforce gives these individuals a chance to make friends that have rarely existed in other aspects of their lives.

At Joe Van Gogh, the employees view Owen as a friend, taking him to the zoo, movies and other excursions throughout the last year. Although he is non-verbal, he’s able to communicate via sign language and writing, which his mom said isn’t a barrier once people get to know him.

“There’s no place that these kids get to meet people,” Davis said. “[Owen] wants so badly to find a girlfriend. I asked him today, what’s your favorite thing about your job? What’s the most important thing? And he said it was just seeing all the beautiful girls.”

Scott Lambeth, a clerk in the UNC mail room, is in his 19th year at his current job. The Chapel Hill native is a self-described hardcore Special Olympian. He competes in basketball, kickball, track, swimming, soccer and flag football. Lambeth says his job keeps him moving, even when he’s not practicing for sports or at one of his beloved Zumba classes.

“That’s a big reason why I don’t look my age,” Lambeth said. “No one would ever guess I’m 41. I have so much energy. I’m moving like I’m a planet.”

“It’s really important for the supervisor, or whoever the boss is, to be patient with whoever they’re working with,” Lambeth said. “People have different disabilities, as opposed to others.”

Performance, retention and perception

Research has shown that individuals with developmental disabilities aren’t the only ones who benefit from being in the workforce. Businesses that hire from this specific pool of applicants benefit in three specific areas – performance, retention and perception – according to UNC senior Cait Rosica, who is completing an independent study on neurodiversity in businesses.

According to Rosica’s research, employees with autism perform better at data-driven tasks and problem-solving than those who don’t have intellectual disabilities, largely due to their strong attention to detail. In terms of retention, the difference in average turnover rate is stark, with the average turnover rate for people with intellectual disabilities equaling just 7 percent in comparison to the national average of 49 percent.

The lack of turnover means businesses add stability and save money, as the cost of replacing employees can vary from $3,000 to $8,000. In addition, businesses benefit greatly from hiring those with developmental disabilities in terms of perception, with a staggering 92 percent of people surveyed stating that they “regard companies who employ people with disabilities more favorably than their competitors,” according to the “Return on Disability Group” report from May 2016.

Rosica said her passion for helping people with intellectual disabilities and the business world has made her see the gap between the services that people receive in the education system and getting to the actual job world.

“I think it’s beneficial for both sides,” Rosica said. “Many companies are taking advantage of the talent pool, but for others, I think the link is still missing. That’s what I’m trying to address some of it with my project.”

Demonstrating their ability

Locally, there are plenty of programs designed to help individuals with developmental disabilities enter the workforce. Project SEARCH, a national program that helps individuals transition out of high school with interview training, life skills and a job coach, was instrumental in Owen landing his two jobs. UNC has a similar program, called PATHSS (Project Achieve for Transitioning High School Students).

To create the link between individuals with intellectual disabilities and potential employers, organizations like Best Buddies are attempting to be more active. Folz, who serves as the Community Buddy Coordinator on campus, said that the organization is hosting a LinkedIn-themed art showcase at the Student Union on March 2 aimed at highlighting the individual accomplishments and interests of those associated with the program.

“We’ll highlight their hobbies, their interests and the work they do around Chapel Hill,” Folz said. “We want to show the professional side, but also the extracurricular side of what our buddies like to do.”

“The purpose is to showcase the important role that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities play in our community,” Folz said, “and also to give our members a way to be recognized for all the work that they do.”

Edited by Megan Cain

Dreams of helping others power UNC students through the MCAT

Jane Henriques, biology and anthropology double major, credits her knack for decoding the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT to her life-long love of literature.

By Jessica Abel

Sixteen years ago under the florescent lights of University Family Physicians in Charlotte, a little girl with dark blond ringlets rode her plastic tricycle around her mother’s office.

She waved at the nurses who gave her brightly colored lollipops as she passed the front desk. She smiled at the patients who were always glad to see her speed down the halls on her signature blue and yellow three-wheeler.

From age 4, she saw people in pain and sickness being loved by a community. From age 4, Jane Henriques was destined to be a doctor just like her mom.

Now a 20-year-old pre-med student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Henriques is following her destiny. She’s a biology and anthropology double major. She cares for sick children as a volunteer at UNC Hospitals. She’s a licensed EMT, chair of Carolina for the Kids charitable organization and frequents health care lectures through the UNC-CH club, The Medical Dialogue.

There are only four letters standing in her way.

MCAT.

The MCAT, or Medical College Admissions Test, is the standardized exam required by all medical schools. Broken down into four sections that cover the breadth of a pre-med education, the MCAT tests students’ knowledge and reasoning as well as their test-taking stamina. A perfect score of 528 is nearly unheard of.

“The MCAT is the barrier to becoming a doctor,” John Robertson, an instructor and tutor at the Princeton Review, said.

Robertson spoke on Jan. 24 at UNC-CH’s MCAT Info Session, a free event coordinated by the Learning Center and The Princeton Review. It was over an hour long, devoid of free food and filled with sobering medical school admissions statistics.

The room was at capacity 20 minutes before the session began.

Breaking it down

“The MCAT takes complex human beings and squishes them down into numbers you can compare on an Excel sheet,” Robertson said to the standing-room-only crowd. “They’re trying to write the questions so that you get them wrong.”

Henriques is well aware of the MCAT’s deception methods, but takes them as a personal challenge to succeed.

“They will purposefully take an article, switch the order of the paragraphs and add in a thesis that isn’t even related,” she said, thinking about the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, or CARS, section. “They are absolutely trying to trick you.”

CARS is recognized as the toughest section on the exam because it tests reasoning and focus instead of formulas and facts. Science and math-geared students often struggle.

But not Henriques.

Science meets fiction

Henriques credits a childhood filled with fiction as her secret weapon.

In elementary school, she relished the American Girl books, historical fiction stories about young women pursuing seemingly impossible dreams. She tore into intense series like Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter, navigating the tangled storylines with ease. Oh, and there was that intense vampire stage after “Twilight” was released. She laughs about it before tossing her still blond ringlets behind her shoulder.

These stories set the groundwork for Henriques’ understanding of nuance in narratives. Today, she uses those skills to decode CARS passages like a recent essay on the historical and symbolic significance of bears in North America.

“It’s not what you’d expect to find in the MCAT,” Henriques said, “but, personally, I find the passages really interesting. I think it’s what helps me do well.”

Opportunity costs

The exam’s masterful manipulation also drove Henriques and her 17 Princeton Review classmates to enroll in an MCAT review class despite the $3,000 price tag. That cost is on top of the $315 initial registration fee, travel expenses and anywhere from $100 to $500 for study materials.

But undergoing financial strain is just one of ways she has sacrificed for the exam.

Every Saturday morning while her neighbors in Townhouse Apartments are recovering from Friday night in a college town, Henriques prepares for three hours of grueling review. Her king-sized bed has become semi-permanent storage for over 40 pounds worth of biology textbooks, test prep guides and study sheets.

She rolls out of bed, throws on a sweatshirt and grabs some yogurt and granola from the fridge she shares with her roommates, Leah and Whitney. Then it’s a hilly, mile-long trek up Hillsborough Street to the office.

She does this four times a week.

The class’s intense schedule has left Henriques feeling a little alone at times. She hasn’t spent a weekend at home all semester.

“I get really homesick,” she said. “I love my family so much. My mom said I can come back any weekend I want, that she’ll just pick me up so I can do laundry and hang out. But I can’t. Not when I have class Saturday and Sunday.”

But for Henriques’s family, this level of commitment is nothing new. It’s just a sacrifice they’ve all made for her dream.

“There was never a time she didn’t want to be a doctor,” Dr. Anna Guyton, Henriques’ mother, said. “Never even an astronaut or ballerina phase. For whatever reason, it was always ‘I want to be a doctor.’”

Students who study without an official review course like Henriques’ Princeton Review class save $3,000, but often feel the same amount of academic pressure as students taking a course.

“It can feel like you’re stuck flipping through the same book over and over and over in search of the myths of organic chemistry,” joked Sean Adkins, an academic coach at UNC-CH’s Learning Center.

Anusha Doshi, a junior biology and chemistry double major with a French minor on the pre-med track, decided to save the money and brave the organic chemistry book, as well as a dozen others, on her own.

She completes one chapter — 30 pages of reading — each day and uses the weekends to catch up. She’s timed it so that her summer can be used for practice tests and final review. Sometimes she and her friend, Amanda, study together just to remember that someone else is going through it, too.

Hard work pays off

Like Henriques, Doshi works each day with the goal of joining a community dedicated to helping others. The stress, time and effort can be overwhelming, but, once in a while, there are moments that remind her it’s all worth it.

Last fall, she was dressed in her Carolina blue volunteer polo shirt in the art therapy room at UNC Hospitals.

She walked up to an elderly man and offered to make art with him. She learned he had stage IV colon cancer. It was terminal. His family hadn’t visited in months.

She gave him her time, her patience, an afternoon filled with conversation and creation. He turned to her to thank her when she had to leave.

“He said, ‘I am so glad you came here and sat with me. Today, you made a dying man smile,’” she said.

Edited by MaryRachel Bulkeley

Identity in process: an Asian American woman’s journey to acceptance 

By Michelle Dixon

“You’re a defective Asian.”

Britney Nguyen was struck by those harsh words from a boy in middle school band class. She didn’t excel in math or science, so she was deemed as defective. At almost every class assembly, her last name was mispronounced by teachers who didn’t care to learn it. Though she was Vietnamese, she was mistaken for Chinese or Mexican. From kindergarten to high school, her identity was marked by prejudiced statements and ignorance.

“I just saw myself as American,” Nguyen said. “I grew up here, so I am American, but I lost my Asian identity.”

Nguyen struggled to discover who she was and accept her identity as an Asian American woman. She was the only Vietnamese student in the rural small town of Whiteville, North Carolina.

“Most of the students in my class were white,” she said. “And then there was me.”

Nguyen was grouped under one ethnicity, Chinese.

“I think it was just disregarded because everyone saw Asians as the same,” she said.

In first grade, one of her peers had mistaken Nguyen for Chinese, so the girl rejected Nguyen’s friendship.

Nguyen said the girl told her, “I thought you were Chinese, so I thought you were weird.”

For a Christmas presentation in second grade, Britney wore her “áo dài,” the traditional Vietnamese dress, to school. She was showered with compliments, and for a moment she was proud of being Vietnamese. But an internal battle started. One side glorifying her distinction and the other side resisting it.

Middle school

This internal battle continued in middle school. Nguyen began to notice the prejudices of her Southern Baptist town. The desks in her middle school gifted class were mostly filled with white students, and it wasn’t her test scores that made her peers assume she would succeed. It was her race.

Nguyen said, “I didn’t excel in math class, so people would say ‘Oh I thought you were supposed to be good at this.’” She laughed with them agreeing with the bigoted statement.

“I just laughed everything off,” she said. “And I think that’s just because I didn’t really want to defend myself, and I really can’t trace that back to anything just that I was used to it for a long time.”

The model minority myth

Dr. Dana Griffin, associate professor in the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill, teaches a class on racial and ethnic identity. Griffin said it’s a positive stereotype to assume that Asians receive the highest test scores.

“That’s the model minority myth,” she said, “and this is something in the Asian culture only, where Asians are supposed to be smart in math and science, and if you’re not, then you are that ‘defective Asian.’” She said people who don’t meet those stereotypes can internalize it and believe they’re inadequate.

Griffin said it’s normal for people of color to experience “internal oppression” against their own ethnicity.

“It’s having pride in who you are versus how society views you,” she said. “If no one is there to validate who you are as an ethnic minority and the messages you receive are negative, you will start to believe that for yourself and try to distance yourself from that ethnic group.”

Saigon Market

Nguyen’s prejudices against her race were revealed most at the Saigon Market, the Asian market in Wilmington, North Carolina. Nguyen would eagerly wait to purchase her favorite snacks from the market — shrimp crackers and dried squid.

But her excitement eventually turned into embarrassment. She walked in the market with her head down, barely speaking to anyone.

Nguyen said, “I was cringing on the inside, but also really excited. It’s kind of like inner turmoil again with the whole I want to get all this stuff, but also being embarrassed that I was able to get dried squid or shrimp crackers or something weird like that. I just didn’t identify as Asian,” she said. “And I’m still not very comfortable with that. And I think it’s just because my whole life I was trying to get rid of that part of myself.”

Nguyen would fantasize about her dark brown hair turning blonde. She thought maybe then she could pass as American.

But Nguyen knew that was wishful thinking. Each time she looked in the mirror she was reminded that she was Vietnamese. She returned home from high school, speaking to her parents in English while her mother responded in Vietnamese. Each year she celebrated Chinese New Year. Before she ate dinner, her family prayed in Vietnamese.

Nguyen couldn’t escape who she was.

 Embracing your culture

Britney Nguyen’s mother, Tara Nguyen, said, “I told her you have to embrace your culture.”

Tara Nguyen wanted to share the language of her homeland to her daughter. She said when Britney Nguyen was a child she read bedtime stories to her in Vietnamese. She bought a DVD of a popular little girl in Vietnam who spoke Vietnamese, but it didn’t interest Britney Nguyen.

Tara Nguyen said she regretted leaving Los Angeles, which is where most of her family is. If she stayed there, she said her daughter could have been introduced to more of their Asian culture.

But in Whiteville, Tara Nguyen said “it’s lonesome.” Nothing in Whiteville reminded Tara Nyguen of who she was.

When she was younger, she came to the United States to escape the Vietnam War with her family, so she wasn’t able to learn much about Vietnam. Tara Nguyen and her siblings attended school in Los Angeles where they were teased by other students.

She said, “Everybody was scared when the children looked at you and point at you when you don’t understand what they are saying, but Britney has an advantage because she can speak the language.”

A story shared

Learning the English language as a child influenced Britney Nguyen’s passion for writing and civil rights. By 2016, Twitter was a civil rights platform where people shared their personal stories of bigotry.

Through Twitter, Nyugen saw that her past was similar to so many other stories. This sudden realization forced her to reflect on the times she ignored the remarks made against her.

But this time she didn’t normalize it. She finally put a name to the words and comments her peers and school administrators said to her about her race.

Their words were racist, and she was able to admit it.

“I should’ve said something,” Nguyen said. “And I should’ve defended myself better even though I was in elementary school or in middle school or younger.”

It was a recent realization for Nguyen. She spent most of her life ignoring the painful words thrown at her.

But now if you see her at the Saigon Market, you will see her interacting with other Asians and proudly buying dried squid. If you talk with her at Whiteville, she will speak more openly about her traditions. If you talk to her in class at UNC-CH, she might seem shy at first, but just ask her about her history, and she’ll open up.

Nguyen is still processing, but she’s making steps toward accepting who she is.

Edited by Janna Childers.