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

By Mitra Norowzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on Nowruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guests flood into the Great Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The celebration begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fostering understanding

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

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

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

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

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

The welcoming dance floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

His one disappointment?

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

Edited by Adam Phan

UNC Chapel Hill’s Phillips Hall: redeem, renovate or ruin?

By Jess Gaul

It is the height of World War I, and tensions have risen in North Carolina.

The future of UNC-Chapel Hill is uncertain as students receive on-campus military training. It hardly seems to be the time for major campus investments, let alone the construction of a permanent building.

But UNC-CH President Edward Kidder Graham is resolute — now is not the time to ignore the university’s higher purpose of learning, and classrooms are needed to meet this mission.

At his insistent pleading, the North Carolina General Assembly gives UNC-CH $500,000 toward permanent improvements at the university. The first building to appear is Phillips Hall with a bill of $138,589.78.

And with this act, the enigma of Phillips Hall begins.

Something about Phillips attracts feelings of distress among university students. Perhaps it is due to the presence of the building’s math and physics departments or the confusing navigational experience the building provides.

Designed by Charles Christian Hook, a renowned architect based in Charlotte, Phillips is a building on the cusp of collegiate gothic architecture. Its regal face and arched entryway give it a look of importance and mystery.

Phillips is named after three men in one family who each taught at the university — James, Charles and William Battle Phillips.

Exploring the interior

Home to UNC-CH’s physics department, Phillips Hall houses hazardous materials used in student labs. “DANGER” signs alert students to the presence of these materials (Jess Gaul).

Throughout the dim hallways of Phillips Hall, bright red signs alerting “DANGER” cover doors and warn entrants to the possibility of hazardous materials.

Teal tiles line the tops of the hallways of the biomedical engineering labs and seem to mark the place of a time passed.

Completed in 1919, the basic structure of Phillips Hall has stood through almost 100 years of campus transformation, from racial integration to the full inclusion of women in the student body. It was home to UNC-CH’s first computer in the early 1960s.

In many ways, it feels like an old gentleman who has been shuffling slowly for way too long. Many students think it’s about time for that the old guy to take a breather.

In his calculus recitation, sophomore Evan Grimes experienced an uncomfortable atmosphere.

“It would either be ridiculously hot or ridiculously cold,” Grimes said. “It was like 85 or 87 degrees in this room. And the teacher was visibly sweating.”

“(Phillips is) an old man in the final stages of life in the nursing home.”

Phillips used to be the pinnacle of modern architecture. In its prime, it was home to male students of applied science, engineering and physics.

All in all, the face of the building is not objectively ugly. Made of stable brick and limestone, the university would likely pay millions to construct Phillips today.

Upon entering Phillips Hall, students can see a sign that reads in capital letters “QUIET WHILE CLASSES ARE IN SESSION” (Jess Gaul).

Clara Schwamm, a junior math minor, first encountered Phillips Hall while on a tour of UNC-CH before entering college. Knowing her interest in math, she decided to explore the building.

She was immediately intimidated by the arched front stairway and the prominent entryway sign silencing hall dwellers – “QUIET WHILE CLASSES ARE IN SESSION.”

“It didn’t feel super welcoming,” she said.

Schwamm said she found herself questioning if she really wanted to pursue math in college.

“You walk in, and it’s immediately bleak in there,” she said. “Math is not a subject that people tend to be excited about.” And the moody vibes of the interior may not be helping things.

The not-so-modern interior of Phillips stands in stark contrast with newer, brighter buildings such as the FedEx Global Education Center on campus.

Despite its physical attributes, sophomore math major Stanley Sun has positive feelings about Phillips based on his personal experience.

“The building physically is kind of a wreck, but I love it just the same,” he said.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Sun struggled to adjust to North Carolina during his first semester. He thought of home often and was trying to make connections in his new environment

“One of my friends remarked to me that (Phillips) looked like an Oregon high school in the 50s, and that’s when I really fell in love with it,” Sun said.

After declaring his major, Sun began to make friends with people in his department and see improvements in his social and academic life.

“At that time, I felt like Phillips was my only home away from home,” he said.

A building of its time

In 1919, many students lived in north campus dorms such as Old East, Vance and Steele. Much of what is located on today’s central and south campus did not exist.

“(Student life was) just much more central in terms of the experience of the campus,” Wendy Hillis, a former historic preservation officer for UNC-CH, said. “Campus kind of ended on Cameron Avenue.” Cameron Avenue is the street that runs in front of the Old Well.

Hillis, now the university architect at Tulane University, said that it is important to understand what campus life was like in the early 20th century in evaluating Phillips’ character.

“For 100 plus years of the university’s founding … so much of the early development was on the Franklin Street quad,” she said. “It took so long to build that out.”

Across Cameron Avenue, students had meals at Swain Dining Hall, cheekily nicknamed “Swine Hall.” Education students flocked to Peabody Hall to the west of Phillips and attended commencement at the original Memorial Hall just steps to the east.

Hillis also emphasized the importance of considering the time in which Phillips was built and the transformations its walls have witnessed. It was the early 20th century when women were still not allowed to fully enroll in the university, personal computers were an unknown concept and modern comforts like air conditioning were not included.

“The way students work now and the way students learn is so different than when these buildings were built,” Hillis said.

David Owens, chair of the building and grounds committee, sat in math class on a Saturday afternoon in Phillips Hall, watching people walk to football games.

Owens said that Phillips is an older building that probably needs renovation.

“It’s just a very old building that has good bones in the sense that the basics of the building are in good shape, but the interior space is very old and tired and probably needs a significant rehab,” Owens said.

The building and grounds committee is a faculty advisory group appointed by Chancellor Folt that makes recommendations to the Chancellor about when to construct or demolish a building.

Owens said that sometimes a decision is made to keep a building due to its architectural significance, such as the Campus Y. It doesn’t match the symmetry of the rest of Polk Place, but it is important enough to the community to keep it.

“We try to renovate, rehabilitate, restore where possible,” Owens said.

Today, building plans prioritize open space, natural light and large gathering spaces. Phillips doesn’t have a lot of these characteristics because they simply weren’t a priority when it was designed.

Urban legend proclaims a blueprint mix-up between UNC-CH and another school is behind its confusing design. It is unclear whether this is true, and Owens said it is likely not the case.

The survival of Phillips

In March 2016, The Daily Tar Heel reported that a committee met to discuss the closing of Phillips based on constant complaints.

Owens says, however, that this meeting was separate from the building and grounds committee and was likely part of updates for the campus-wide master plan. The lack of word over the two years following this meeting indicates that these suggestions were not incorporated into the official university grounds plans.

Despite its physical problems, recent improvements such as new math and physics help rooms show the potential of Phillips’ interior.

Schwamm compared Phillips to Lots-o, the antagonist stuffed bear from Toy Story 3.

“It was abandoned and then became evil,” Schwamm said. “But it can be redeemed!”

Edited by Megan Cain


Durham’s Bull City Escape challenges, entertains with escape rooms

By Heather Prizmich

A group of seven Duke University students gathered inside a room designed as a study from the late 19th century. A tall man walked into the room wearing a deerstalker, which is commonly associated with Sherlock Holmes. In a fake Cockney accent he said, “Dun Dun Duuunn!”

He continued after a pause, “Billionaire Chester Covington has been murdered and the police need help solving the homicide. You all have 60 minutes to figure out who the murderer is and escape the room. Good luck.”

Hetherton walked out of the room, slammed the door and locked it.

Just yards away from Duke University’s East Campus is Bull City Escape, an escape room business owned and operated by Alice Cheung.

The business, currently ranked No.1 in “Fun and Games” in Durham on TripAdvisor, is giving people a chance to exercise their minds through thematic puzzle solving.

“We provide real life escape rooms, where a small group of people are locked in a room,” Cheung said. “They need to search the room for clues, they need to solve a series of puzzles, riddles, combination locks. And their ultimate goal is to unlock the door and let themselves out.”

The rooms are all themed and given different difficulty ratings. The current rooms are (in order of easiest to most difficult): Lunar Lockdown, Enchanted Kingdom and A Study in Murder.

Cheung is a native of Long Island, New York, and graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education. She became an escape room enthusiast while traveling across the country when she worked in marketing and recruiting at the University of Pennsylvania and then Duke University.

“I traveled a lot, so I would see if there was an escape room around, and the more I played the more I grew to love this concept, and I knew that Durham and the Triangle at large would just eat it up and love the idea of an escape room,” Cheung said.

Grant Hetherton, the British imposter from the Study in Murder escape room, said he applauds Cheung for her dedication, because she takes on a lot of tasks to keep the business going strong.

“Well, I think you have to be a sort of nexus of an interesting Venn diagram to own a business like this,” Hetherton said. “Not only is she a boss, not only is she the owner of the business, but she’s designing all the games, too. I know I couldn’t do it. I’m not sure how she does.”

The room where it happens

“We need our first clue,” said the student in charge of the walkie-talkie helping the group communicate with Hetherton, who was watching their progress on a monitor in a back room.

He cleared his throat, preparing his character’s accent, and talked into his walkie-talkie.

“Time is precious,” he said. “You have 35 minutes left.”

From the monitor, the group could be seen looking at one another and talking out what the clue meant. There were multiple forms of time—a clock, pocket watch and an hour glass filled with sand—and they seem confused as to which item they should look at.

Outside looking in

Hetherton chuckled at the monitor.

“They were just so close to their next clue, but the person it seems they’ve made their leader just pointed them to the wrong part of the room,” he explained. He’s waiting for them to ask for their second clue.

The place grew noticeably noisier as more customers came in. The next appointment was a birthday party for a 12-year-old girl. The sitting area was filled with purple balloons, presents, preteens and their parents, who were waiting for the go-ahead to leave.

Cheung’s other employee, Sheryl Howell, went into the cramped sitting area to talk to the kids. She seemed to have a hard time drawing their attention away from their smart phones, but after one kid after the next nudged one another, Howell finally had their attention.

She told them what to expect in Lunar Lockdown and then handed the lucky parent, who needed to supervise them, a walkie-talkie.

Cheung said that they allow anyone 12 years old and older to participate, but they need at least one adult with them until they’re 15 years old.

“These puzzles were created by me with adults in mind,” Cheung said.” I test all puzzles on my employees, so if it’s hard for them to solve, then it might be too hard for young teenagers. Only about a third of people are able to escape the rooms, and not one of the all-teenager groups have escaped successfully yet.”

Running out of time

With 15 minutes left to escape, the Duke students asked Hetherton for a second clue.

“Set up another case bartender,” Hetherton said, quoting comedic actor W.C. Fields. “The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of scotch,”

“Thanks,” replied the student.

“It’s going to be close, but I think they might just get it,” Hetherton said. “They’re on a good pace.”

Cheung, passing by, looked at the monitor, too, to see which clue they were on.

“I give them another five minutes,” she said.

First, they solved who the murderer was and then, with just 90 seconds left, they managed to escape the room.

Some of them walked out with their hands over their head like they had just finished a race. Hetherton had said that the rooms are like a mental marathon.

The group took signs off the wall that said “We escaped!” and “Yay!” before scrunching up together in the sitting area and taking their victorious group picture.

Bull City Escape, located at 711 Iredell Street, is opened Thursday and Friday nights and on Saturday and Sunday. Games are $25 plus tax per person with a minimum ticket purchase requirement to book a room. Enchanted Kingdom and Lunar Lockdown each require a minimum of three people to book and A Study in Murder requires a minimum of four. To book an appointment, click here.


Edited by Allison Tate


Courtney’s Cookies creates vegan, gluten-free treats – with a story

By Michelle Dixon

Courtney Kohout, owner of Courtney’s Cookies, has a voice that stands with pride and confidence of who she is and what she has to offer. She knows not every customer who tastes her gluten-free organic cookies will love them, but she believes most people will.

The many days spent learning how to bake from her grandmother are evident in the soft, fluffy texture of her cookies.

But her ability to educate her customers on healthy eating comes from a different experience.

Learning from recovery

Kohout was once a teenager who ate ice cream sandwiches and cheesecakes. Out of guilt, she stuck her finger in her throat to force herself to throw up the cheesecake she ate.

“That’s twisted to say,” Kohout said. “But it tasted good after I threw it up. It was sweet and creamy.”

Kohout struggled with an eating disorder from middle school to college. But after overcoming the disorder, Kohout used her knowledge of healthy eating and baking to create Courtney’s Cookies, a business that uses organic ingredients to create vegan gluten-free cookies.

At 8 years old, Kohout was diagnosed with precocious puberty, a condition that caused her bones to overdevelop. Once a month, her dad’s mother, who was a nurse, injected her with hormones to counteract the growth of her bones.

Over time, she gained weight from the symptoms of the injections, but, at that age, she wasn’t bothered by her weight. When her attention directed to boys in middle school, her size mattered.

Like many other girls, she spent her time drawing hearts around the names of cute boys in her diary. But she believed her weight prevented any boy from noticing her.

So, she would eat one ice cream sandwich for the whole day and tell her mother she ate dinner at school. Desserts and treats replaced her meals, while her size remained the same. Kohout said she weighed 140 pounds and was overweight. Her thick curly hair was the only part of her that was thinning.

She found a new diet in high school that required her to eat 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs and 30 percent fat. Her size went down, and boys, who once saw her as invisible, started to notice her.

But her health was still unstable. Kohout was now obsessed with memorizing nutritional facts and counting the amount of calories in her food.

“Do you know how many calories are in a cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory?” Kohout said. With her eyes widened, she said over 800 calories and 100 grams of carbs.

“Knowing what I knew about nutrition, I was just like ‘I can’t keep that inside my body,’” Kohout said.

Kohout would throw it up any junk food she ate. At one point, she didn’t need to use her fingers to vomit. “I could just make it happen,” she said.

Returning home

When Kohout attended college in Miami, her emotional health declined even more. After graduation, she returned home to Ohio and searched for a holistic way to achieve a healthy lifestyle. For an entire summer, she learned about different diets and decided her version of a healthy lifestyle would be eating what she wanted in moderation.

“I spent all of those years being restrictive, and I just couldn’t live like that anymore,” Kohout said. “I couldn’t be afraid of food anymore.”

When she moved back to Miami, she worked as a health coach for Liana Werner-Gray, author of “The Earth Diet.” Kohout said Werner-Gray asked her to promote a Spanish flour called tigernut.

Kohout used the baking skills she learned as a child to experiment with this new flour. Kohout’s mother, Susie Kohout, said Courtney spent hours cooking with her grandmother. Kohout said her grandmother lives in the house behind her parents’ home, so she would invite Kohout to make cookies with her. She said her grandmother was like Mother Teresa in the kitchen, always patient with her as a beginner.

Her grandmother passed on the knowledge of cooking to Kohout’s mom and her aunts. “I think my grandma has this idea of ‘You’re part of this family, so you’re going to cook,’” Kohout said.

A healthy twist on an old recipe

Under her grandmother’s guidance, Kohout learned how to bake chocolate chip cookies with basic ingredients: white flour, white sugar, eggs and butter. But Kohout wanted Courtney’s Cookies to be different from traditional chocolate chip cookies and the flavorless taste of gluten-free cookies. So, she used the tigernut flour as a substitute for white flour and mixed together oat flour, vanilla, chocolate chips and other ingredients to create a smooth, thick dough.

Regular dough is thinner and has no substance because of refined ingredients, but her dough retains its wholesome consistency, she said. The finished product is a nutrient-packed cookie that leaves behind sweet subtle traces of vanilla and chocolate on the tongue.

Marley Palmer, Kohout’s former roommate, said she needed only one cookie to experience full satisfaction. Palmer said the rich smell of Kohout’s cookies would infiltrate every corner of their apartment. She said her friends, who lived next door, could smell the cookies from their apartment and would ask Palmer to bring some over.

Most people who tasted her cookies urged Kohout to start a cookie business, but the intense labor of starting a business discouraged her from trying. Meanwhile, her fiance, Frank Leon, was also considering the risks of helping her develop the business, but he trusted in Kohout’s cookies and decided to go all in.

A business is born

Leon quit his job at Carnival and began filling out paperwork to start the business in May 2016.  Five months later, Courtney’s Cookies was established.

When the business started, it took up to 14 hours to produce 400 cookies in Kohout’s oven. Fights and emotional breakdowns erupted between Kohout and Leon during bake days, she said.

Then, a customer recommended a commercial kitchen for them to use, and they were finally able to have order during their bake days.

When Kohout arrives, Leon has an 80-quart bowl ready for her to mix ingredients. “He prepares the numbers, and I just bake,” Kohout said.  “I just honestly throw everything in the bowl and bam, they’re just good.”

Kohout said their cookies are now in five local stores in Miami, and she hopes to expand. They sell six different flavors: chocolate chip, chocolate raspberry, chocolate mint, chocolate coconut, peanut butter chocolate and sunflower seed raisin.

When she sells her cookies at events, some of her regular customers are already familiar with their favorite flavors, some ask for direction on what to choose, some ask for health advice and others seek conversation. But each customer is welcomed with a self-assured smile and a simple question by Kohout: “Would you like to try a free sample of gluten-free cookies?”

Some of her favorite customers are the ones who dislike the taste of vegan products. After they try it, she said they can’t believe her cookies are vegan and gluten-free.

“That’s like my mission with Courtney’s Cookies,” Kohout said. “To get rid of that stigma that healthy food can’t be delicious.”

Edited by Mimi Tomei

Chapel Hill pets: Waging, slithering and smiling their way into our hearts

By Trent Brown

Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Negan’s baseball bat named “Lucille” from “The Walking Dead” aren’t usually mentioned in the same breath. However, in the white house on the corner of Lindsay Street, they’re talked about together all the time.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Lucille, a Havanese dog, is one of the many pets owned by a UNC student that you might come across while walking through campus on a sunny afternoon, taking a trip to the outdoor patio at He’s Not Here or even in classrooms. She makes her own case for being one of the most special pets in Chapel Hill.

Jackie enjoys walking around UNC’s campus. (Photo by Hannah Bultman)

Physically, Jackie doesn’t hold a lot of common characteristics with her namesakes. Standing less than 1 foot tall and no more than 4 inches wide, the tiny mound of fur greets anyone who enters the door with her toothy smile and a bark (or two!). However, it only takes about 10 seconds—or even less if you pet her fast enough—for Jackie to become a friend of yours. She likes to skip the acquaintance stage.

Jackie is affectionately referred to as “little cow” by her owner’s friends, due to her white fur covered in black inkblots on both of her ears and down her back. She roams around the room like she’s on a mission to find something—probably attention—abiding by her attention-seeking namesake Jack Sparrow. It’s easy to see why Hannah Bultman, the owner of this bright little pup, keeps her around.

For the past year or so, Jackie has kept Bultman company in their crowded two-story house, after her brother bought the dog and found that he could not take care of her. Bultman decided that she would gladly take in and support the dog; but support isn’t just what Bultman does for Jackie—it’s what Jackie provides for Bultman.

Bultman registered Jackie as an emotional support dog this past year, because the puppy does exactly that for her. “I’m a very introverted person, and I like being alone,” said Bultman. “But Jackie makes it a little more possible to be alone. She’s been really good for me.”

According to the American College Health Association, nearly one in six college students struggle with anxiety. Although there are many ways to cope with anxiety, for Bultman, a chemistry and Spanish major, there is no better way than the presence of a dog, big or small, that just wants to get attention, and maybe give a little back.

And that’s Jackie. She doesn’t like to fetch balls, but instead mashed-down plastic Mountain Dew bottles, or really whatever she can fit her mouth around—even if she really can’t. Occasionally, she will take things from Bultman’s roommates’ rooms and bring it to her Butlman’s door, as a gift. She also finds herself at almost every chapter meeting at UNC’s Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, making it more enjoyable for everyone there.

Don’t bring out a balloon though, or you’ll have to coax her out from under the bed. It won’t take too long for her to get her to bounce back to her normal exuberance—a blissful bounce at that.

 Mac, the snake charmer

“I told my mom I wanted a pony or a snake,” said Mac Harrison, now in her third year at UNC, recalling what kind of pet she wanted for her birthday five years ago.

The 4-foot long albino corn snake named Tyrell finds his home in a large tank at Harrison’s house. He’s a good boy, or girl, in Harrison’s eyes, who, due to the ambiguity and difficulty of determining a snake’s sex, has relied on a gut feeling that her pet is a Tyrell and not a Tyreisha.

Unlike a Jackie, or most any kind of furry friend for that matter, Tyrell doesn’t have a conventional personality. However, Harrison is certain that he does have one, and it’s one that loves to spend time with her.

And although you may never see Tyrell getting taken for a walk through McCorkle Place on campus, you might find Tyrell at home watching television with his owner, because that’s his personal favorite pastime. Snuggled inside her hair or arms, because snakes don’t like to sit—they like to hide.

Harrison and Tyrell love to cuddle. (Photo by Mac Harrison)

Beginning next year, Harrison will have her snake with her in Chapel Hill at her apartment, because her current dorm does not allow tanks like Tyrell’s, and she cannot wait. The slithery not-so-little guy with orange skin, who only requires food once per month in the shape of a frozen mouse, and shows his affection by simply laying on you, will surely be treated like a king during his time in Chapel Hill.

“I wrap him around my neck like a little scarf and he just hangs out,” said Harrison, as her eyes glistened, longing to be back with her boy.

Capturing cuteness

It started with a fun idea between two friends.

Alex Kormann and Isabel Donnolo asked each other: “Why don’t we start one of those dog Instagram accounts?” The @DogsOfUNC Instagram account began during FallFest in 2016, and now has over 1,700 followers, mostly comprised of UNC students.

The Instagram account’s process is fairly simple. Kormann or Donnolo will notice a dog in the quad, or somewhere else on campus, and they’ll ask the owner: “Hi, can I take a picture of your dog?” Recently they have even begun taking requests for short photo shoots on campus with dogs.

Kormann noted that, interestingly enough, he has yet to be turned down after asking to photograph someone’s dog. He always gets an excited “yes.”

Each dog portrait is then posted to the Instagram account, usually with a short caption of their name and their age, and accumulates over 400 likes at a time. It’s not about the internet fame for the photographers, but more so the catharsis of the process.

In the mix of being a photography major and doing other work, Kormann said that taking pictures of dogs is a “therapeutic way to keep on keeping on.”

Simba strolling through UNC’s lower quad. (Photo by @DogsOfUNC)

The photos come with a bit of fun, too. The picture of Simba, one of the account’s most “liked” puppy, was likely the most memorable photoshoot for Kormann. The little 8-week-old golden retriever ran around for over 20 minutes in the campus’ lower quad, with Kormann trailing behind, never stopping to offer a still shot for a picture. Finally, the puppy stopped, squatted and peed, before finally laying down and submitting to all photography needs.

“The memorability is definitely in the cuteness,” Kormann said, with a laugh.


Edited by Liz Chen

Hard work and humility lead to gardening greatness for Cacci Green

By Lauren Moody

“As a child, my dad let me drop the beans in the rows,” Catherine Green said with a soft and sweet Southern twang as she recalled memories of growing up on a tobacco farm in Alamance County during the 1930s and ‘40s. “I got the privilege of dropping a bean every couple inches and covering it up, and that was just fun for me.”

Alamance County was a small farming community where families worked in the fields under the sun during the day and enjoyed one another’s presence on their porches during the cooler evenings. There was a main street where teenagers could be found sipping Coca-Colas at the soda fountain, but what sticks out to Catherine — at 91 years old — is the time spent with her family on the farm.

She is the youngest of six brothers and sisters, and from a young age, she helped her mother in the garden or the kitchen cooking and canning the foods their farm produced.

A little hobby sparks a big tradition

For Catherine or “Cacci,” pronounced like khaki, as family and close friends call her, her passion for gardening turned into a lifelong hobby. It’s a passion that passed to her granddaughter Catie, and also unites Cacci’s retirement community with an annual tomato sandwich party for which Cacci grows tomatoes and hosts each year.

Cacci is the oldest person in her retirement community with a garden plot. She plants 11 different types of tomatoes each year with a plan to share them with her 35 neighbors. The tomato sandwich party is the annual event that they plan their vacations around, and it has become a tradition that began 10 years ago and won’t stop as long as the tomatoes keep growing.

“A tomato that you’ve grown yourself has more flavor,” she said. “I don’t buy tomatoes in the winter. To me they taste like cardboard. But it’s just the sweetness—the longer you leave them on the vine to turn and ripen, the sweeter they are.”

The idea for the party came to be when Cacci’s dining room table, which seats 12, was overflowing with containers of ripened tomatoes because, as Cacci says, “You never put a tomato in the refrigerator.” One day, a neighbor came over and said, “Make me a tomato sandwich,” to which Cacci responded, “We’ll just have tomato sandwiches for everyone.”

To please the abundance of opinions at the party every July, Cacci ensures there’s lettuce and an array of breads, although her classic sandwich is composed of white bread and Duke’s mayonnaise. Due to the debate over mayonnaise between her neighbors, she also buys Hellmann’s and a gluten free brand. Another neighbor argued you can’t have a tomato sandwich without bacon, so they provide the bacon and someone else brings a dessert.

“I didn’t realize it would amount to anything,” she said. “It was just something that I enjoyed doing for the court and they all pitch in and help, and they look forward to it every year.”

Cacci’s love of hard work and busy days

Doing something for others isn’t a once-a-year event for Cacci. Her entire life has been devoted to helping and serving others.

“Her nature is one to always work,” her son Rick said. “We visited Catie, and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time. Her personality is ‘I’m going to contribute via my work effort.’”

During the week, Cacci volunteers her time at her church and the local hospital in Burlington. She also attends five exercise classes a week, including Zumba, core and a high intensity “workout-of-the-week” class.

Her dedication and work ethic inspires her family and everyone who knows her. Last Christmas before her 90th birthday, she held a four-minute plank in a planking contest against her grandchildren.

Cacci passed her “gardening gene” to her granddaughter 

The tomato doesn’t fall far from the vine. The work ethic and gardening gene passed to Catie, who lives on a farm in Monterey, Virginia. She and her husband, Jim, got into the chicken business and plan to have over three thousand chickens this summer. Her passion for gardening developed in college when she decided to go out and dig up the backyard to plant a garden.

“I would definitely say Cacci was my role model when I was younger,” Catie said. “We would talk about gardening and be able to connect even that much more, and I felt like I had more than just the name in connection with her—I had this passionate hobby that we both loved.”

Cacci visited Catie and Jim at their farm in Virginia this winter. She held chickens, drank raw milk, walked their property and saw how they trade with neighbors to ensure freshly sourced food.

Cacci remembers her roots by observing her granddaughter’s future

“She was connecting in all of these great ways that I know is therapy for her,” Catie said. “I know that all of that kind of stuff is therapy for somebody in an older age range to bring back those roots and childhood memories.”

Just as Cacci provides fresh tomatoes to a community who doesn’t have access to a garden or the skills to grow them, Catie and Jim provide chickens to a community that lacks in the poultry department. One day, they hope to bring their community together to host a chicken barbecue just as Cacci throws the tomato sandwich party.

“It’s amazing that she’s chosen to do this,” Catie said. “She pulls together more than just her community—she really tries to get people involved. I love that she’s not just trying to age through life, but she’s actually trying new things at a later stage in her life and she’s continuing very strong.”

The tomato party will go on this year as Cacci’s neighbor offered to help her with the garden by completing the manual labor of digging up the holes. Her strict exercise routine may be re-prioritized behind gardening, or in Cacci’s determined yet humble words, “Either that or get up early and work late.”

Edited by: Savannah Morgan

Balancing books and beats: UNC students make music between classes

By Moses Musilu

Late Tuesday night, Wesley Simmons sits alone at his desk, under a dimmed blue lamp, buried in his laptop.

With a few more taps on the keyboard, the Charlotte native finally finishes his assignment for class and closes his laptop to check the time on his clock: 1 a.m.

Slowly he collects the books and notes spread across the desk, neatly separates what he needs for class and puts it in his book bag. Picking up the clock, he adjusts the alarm for 9 a.m. the next day, and turns off the light in his room.

But instead of getting in his bed, he goes back to his desk and increases the brightness on his lamp. He pulls out his headphones, pen and notebook and begins to write. Countless songs and poems consume the pages, dating back to when he was in eighth grade.

For Simmons, it’s the perfect time to make what he loves: Music.

And there are times when you’d find him wide awake until 5 a.m. deep in his notebook.

“Most of my writing comes between that time,” he said. “That’s when it starts to click for me. There’s nothing else I have to think about. Being up that late doesn’t feel like I’m forcing myself to do it.

“During the day, I’m always thinking what I have to do, whether that’s class or meetings. But at the end of the day, it’s just me and what I want to do with my time. That’s music.”

“The College Dropout” or “Graduation”?

With a growing hip-hop community, students find themselves trying to balance the books with their music. For some, the weight is too much. Raekwon Williams, a 22-year-old rapper from Raleigh, North Carolina, dropped out of UNC-Greensboro his sophomore year to pursue a music career.

“I felt that school was distracting me to the point where I wasn’t putting my all into my music,” Williams said. “I wanted to devote everything I had to it. So now I’m here.”

Williams wasn’t the first to drop out in search of musical fame. Successful hip-hop artists such as Common, Sean Combs (P. Diddy) and Kanye West dropped out of college to pursue a career in music. Kanye West’s journey led to his record-breaking “The College Dropout” album.

Dropping out of school isn’t a decision that’s encouraged by most. In an interview, Kanye West told high school students to stay in school for the opportunities it provides and that his road to success was harder because of his decision to leave school.

Simmons goes by the name “Wes” in his music. Influenced by his parents, Simmons enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill as an exercise sports science major in hopes of one day becoming a doctor.

But his desire of becoming a doctor slowly faded away, and by sophomore year he knew he wanted to turn his musical hobby into a profession. School seemed to be a waste of time.

“I began to realize I didn’t like school in high school,” Simmons said. “But once I got to college and had all the freedom, it solidified it. My mindset became more independent. Back at home, we’re so influenced by our parents, but they’re not living your life. You have to do what’s right for you.”

Simmons came to the realization when he was walking through campus on a Wednesday night. Every Wednesday, there would be a group of students freestyling in front of the Student Stores. He was impressed, but knew he could do better. After making friends in the group, he was introduced to other artists who showed him where he could record and make music.

But for Simmons, balancing music and school has always been a problem.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times, one or the other suffers,” he said. “If I have an exam one week, my writing suffers. Sometimes I get carried away in my writing and a test suffers.”

Amara Orji, another hopeful artist attending UNC-CH, agreed that although balancing music and college is difficult, it’s better to have a degree in case it doesn’t work out.

“Having a music career would be amazing,” he said. “But I know that there are millions of aspiring artists who work and try just as hard and don’t make it. Staying in school, I’ll always have something to fall back on.

“Also, my parents might kill me if I dropped out,” he quickly added.

Orji, who also studied exercise sports science, goes by the name “N19E.” It took him until his senior year at UNC-CH to realize he wanted to become a rapper, but he says his late revelation was probably for the best.

“I wouldn’t have dropped out but I might have started to question whether the work I was doing was worth it,” Orji said.

“I might not be famous, but I’m still an artist.”

Now on the verge of finishing his senior year, dropping out of college to pursue stardom was never a serious thought that crossed 22-year-old Simmons’ mind. He said when he starts something, he wants to finish it.

And it’s always good to have a backup plan.

Simmons said some people forget some famous artists weren’t discovered until they were older. He sees no reason to rush to stardom and is embracing his music journey.

“If Kendrick Lamar called me up, told me to fly out to California right now and sign me to a record deal, of course I’ll drop everything and go,” he said. “But that hasn’t happened, and I know what I learn from the connections and people I’ve met here are going to help me change the world through music.”

And if he doesn’t make it?

“Then I don’t make it,” Simmons said “I might not be famous, but I’m still an artist. I’ll still be able to make an impact on some people’s lives. It just won’t be as many.”

Simmons plans on becoming a teacher after graduation through Teach for America. He said teaching is what he wants to do through his music, so it made sense to become a teacher because of the major impact they have on people.

Simmons wants to change the world through his music the way Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West have by relating to a lot of people.

“Whether it was love or the struggle of growing up in bad environments, people used their music to help themselves in good and hard times,” he said. “I want people to have my body of art and transform the people who hear it like they did. I want it to be something they can carry in their lives forever.”

Simmons has released two albums in the past year on his SoundCloud page and will soon release music videos. He performs at local open mic nights around Chapel Hill with other hip-hop artists from UNC-CH whenever he has the chance.

“I performed at a show with 30 people the other day, and compared to Kendrick, of course that’s nothing,” he said. “But, that meant the world to me. I enjoyed everyone in there, and I know this is just the beginning. You have to crawl before you can walk.”

Edited by Ana Irizarry

Many students embrace support roles for peers in the wake of DACA repeal

By Jackeline Lizama

The day after Donald Trump was elected president, Rubi Franco Quiroz, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, was in a class where the professor was speaking about the election. He discussed how people lashing out on Trump supporters would not help anyone.

Quiroz was in tears during the discussion. She knew that the election would affect her life negatively. The professor saw how upset Quiroz was but continued speaking on the issue and openly asked the class, “How can we move forward and do things to support students like Rubi?”

“When she said that I was completely caught off guard and I couldn’t stay in the classroom any longer, and I left.” Quiroz said. “I didn’t feel like I had a place to go.”

From embarrassment to empowerment

After this experience, Quiroz felt it was her responsibility to make sure that nobody would have to experience the embarrassment and discomfort she had felt, or that anyone, especially DACA students, have a place to go to within the university.

For many people, the day after the 2016 presidential election meant end of the talk of politics for another term, but for others it meant their life could potentially change. Less than a year after the election, the Trump administration decided to repeal the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.

Thousands of “Dreamers,” as DACA recipients are called, including Quiroz have expressed fear and worry about what will happen in the upcoming months now that DACA no longer exists.

“There is just so many people, so many brilliant people, so close to the end line and I feel like it is my job to really advocate for them and for myself,” Quiroz said.

Quiroz organizes many events at UNC-CH to raise awareness about DACA, and speaks on behalf of other DACA recipients. She also serves as a mentor and family instructor for Scholar’s Latino Initiative, an organization that helps Latino and Latina high school students excel in their academic careers.

She has been working very closely with the administration at UNC-CH for nearly two years to try to implement resources for undocumented students.

“Obviously with DACA being rescinded there’s a huge urgency around gaining more support for undocumented people in general, now more than ever,” Quiroz said

Scholarly success does not always translate to security

Quiroz came to the United States from the border town Reynosa in Tamaulipas, Mexico when she was 6 years old. She grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and has lived in the town for 15 years.

During Quiroz’s senior year of high school, she was in the top five percent of her graduating class. She was active in her school and her community, and did everything she was advised to do to get into a good college.

After everything she did in high school, she felt betrayed when applying to colleges was her biggest struggle. Quiroz applied to 27 colleges out of fear she was not going to get into any of them because of her immigration status.

“I never imagined that it was going to be that difficult for me to be sure that I was going to continue my education, which is all I had ever wanted,” Quiroz said.

Even though she has lived the majority of her life in North Carolina, she is still expected to pay for out-of-state tuition at UNC-CH. DACA has allowed Quiroz to work jobs within the university and receive the tax refunds that were being withheld from her before she had a social security number. Quiroz is able to have everything she owns and that her parents own under her name, but could essentially have it all taken away now that DACA has been rescinded.

Kristen Gardner met Quiroz during her first year at UNC-CH as a part of the Carolina Hispanic Association, where Quiroz was director of communications.

“She is a driven individual that has fought through various personal battles, but still makes fighting for others her first priority,” Gardner said. “I deeply respect her for her work especially in advocacy concerning immigrant rights.”

Quiroz also worked on the One State, One Rate campaign with Gardner to advocate for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. “Advocacy work is always taxing and frustrating, but Rubi has been a dedicated leader over the years, never stepping down from the challenges,” Gardner said.

Devotion to the dream

Barbara Sostaita, a second-year UNC graduate student in religious studies, hosted an event with Quiroz called “DACA in Crisis” on September 18, just a few weeks after the DACA program was rescinded. It was meant to raise awareness and provide a safe space for undocumented students. The event filled the auditorium, with over 500 people in attendance. The event hosted a panel of speakers including a current undocumented student, an undocumented alumni student, and two lawyers from two different firms in order to educate and properly support DACA students.

Quiroz is dedicated to helping her community in any way she can. What keeps her motivated to continue speaking on this issue is the hope that perhaps someday she could help her own parents.

She has seen all the hard work and sacrifices her parents have made for her and she would feel like she would be failing them if she did not speak up. “As I have always told everyone, they are truly the heroes in this story,” Quiroz said.

“I feel like it’s now my duty to protect them and make sure that their lives aren’t at risk, and I can’t do that if my own is. I can’t protect them if I have no grounds to protect myself.”

Quiroz is graduating in May of 2018, and will be working at a job she is very passionate about at the Student Success Agency. She is committed to advocating for her fellow Dreamers now more than ever.

Edited by Jack Smith

Body positivity, intersecting identities and mangoes: a UNC event opens up dialogue

By Mimi Tomei

Anum Imran wore a scarlet hijab and a pinstripe sport coat, sleeves pushed up, with skateboard-style sneakers and high-waisted black jeans. She paced across the stage.

During her spoken word performance, she wove a narrative addressing racism, sexism and Islamophobia with images of cooking spicy dishes, juxtaposing identity and flavor.

Imran was joined by performers from cultural organizations like the UNC Arab Students Organization and performance-based groups like Blank Canvas Dance Company for Body Politics, an annual event in its fourth year that brings together performances to foster a conversation surrounding self-esteem, body image and identity.

Imran combined phrases of despair with hopeful ones, crafting metaphors that showed the conflicted relationship between parents and children through images like mangos. The snaps it elicited from the audience, responding to moving moments in the spoken word piece, roared with emotion despite their muted volume.

The event took place in the auditorium of the Sonja Hanes Stone Center for Black History and Culture. It was an evening of dance, music and discussion, but more than that, it was an evening of moving moments for people of many identities.

Imran wasn’t the only performer who addressed her many backgrounds. Harmonyx performed a set comprised entirely of covers of songs by black artists, from Michael Jackson to Andra Day. The performers, an a Capella group founded by UNC’s Black Student Movement, wore t-shirts with a black power fist grasping a microphone printed across the back.

Missing voices 

Though both of these groups were diverse in backgrounds and gender, the three panelists of the event acknowledged the importance of recognizing one major identity missing from both the panel and the conversation of body image as a whole – men.

Nicho Stevens, a member of UNC’s Student Hip Hop Organization, was a male performer in a program that featured more male performers than it drew in audience members. Stevens’ piece, interrupted only by the occasional siren-like screams of the oft-malfunctioning microphone, charted a course that included the impact of racially charged comments, identity and masculinity.

Stevens said hip-hop allows musicians to express emotions with something not found in other forms of expression such as conversation – freedom. This freedom in style, verse and rhythm lends itself to engaging conversations on emotional topics.

“It’s like reaching into your soul,” Stevens said.

Stevens discussed how challenging it can be for men to recognize and talk about vulnerability when society expects them to be strong, confident and unemotional.

Gillian Fortier, who helped organize the event, said intersectional identities can affect self-esteem and make it harder for people with mental health challenges to seek treatment. Fortier recognized that her gender makes her participation in these discussions more socially accepted.

Unpacking issues 

Attendees submitted questions throughout the performances via Poll Everywhere, an app more familiar to UNC-Chapel Hill students for its use in taking attendance at lectures than for an extracurricular event.

Caroline Holcomb, Emily Hagstrom and Marissa Butler, the three panelists, facilitated a conversation following the performances that meandered through issues, including self-care while being an effective advocate for others, as well as personal stories from both the audience and panelists.

With only one panelist of color, though, the group had to come to terms with privilege in their discussion of self-worth.

“I feel it is particularly important to consider identity and privilege when it comes to exploring body image because we all have different bodies, receive different messages from society, culture, etc. and have different experiences in childhood and in relationships that may affect how we see our bodies,” said Holcomb, a social worker with UNC’s Counseling and Psychological Services. “And we must consider the unique intersection of all of these influences in order to reach a healthier, more accepting place within ourselves when it comes to body image.”

Remember to marvel

The evening started out with a Spotify playlist of empowering songs like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star,” Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” But these messages of self-love can fall on deaf ears when people don’t feel they can love themselves. Panelists, event organizers and audience members noted that body positivity can often involve telling people to be proud of their bodies and not take any grief from anyone who says otherwise – even if that person is themselves.

“Something in particular that struck me was the concept that you don’t always have to love your body,” Alexandra Smith, who attended the event, said. “You can just be content with it and that’s perfectly fine.”

Regardless of your identities, it’s important to marvel at the human body at a most basic, anatomical level, said Fortier, who is photo editor for Embody Carolina, an organization that trains students to support those with eating disorders.

Sometimes in the wave of body positivity, this appreciation for the innumerable chemical reactions, neural connections and cardiovascular processes it takes doctors four years of medical school to understand gets left behind – but Fortier summed it up in three one-syllable words.

“It does stuff.”

Edited by Janna Childers. 

‘Spreading a social venture for the campus’: Vintage Blue proves it’s more than just a company

By Mimi Tomei

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Two hundred forty-seven dollars is a lot of money to spend on one piece of clothing – especially for a college student.

It’s an even more staggering figure when it’s spent on an old windbreaker, even if that windbreaker is Carolina blue and has the UNC-Chapel Hill logo on the flap of the pocket. But that’s exactly what one customer paid after an intense bidding war unfolded on Vintage Blue’s Instagram page.

By giving the customer who lost the bidding war a free piece of gear, they built a relationship.

Vintage Blue is a purveyor of vintage Carolina paraphernalia from area thrift stores and various online sources. The group connects with its audience through Instagram, their main business platform. Other students model for photo shoots around campus and surrounding areas, fostering relationships. The photos serve as advertisements on the company’s Instagram feed.

Vintage Blue’s crew and models arrived with hangers of clothing at 1789 Venture Lab. Among the clothing was a blue windbreaker featuring the UNC-CH mascot Rameses outlined in yellow. But one item didn’t fit on a hanger: a pair of worn, white basketball shoes.

Marketing director Jessi Zhou springs into action, putting the sneakers on model Katy Dettmer, coming up with a way to lace the shoes so the laces can remain loose a la Jay-Z but will still stay on Dettmer’s feet.

As Zhou works, Dettmer and Connor Von Steen, also modeling for the day’s shoot, chat with the team..

Once the shoes are on, content and creative director Rodrigo Bustamante takes over.

Bustamante and Zhou set up on the steep stairs that lead into the entrepreneurship space from Franklin Street a level down. As Zhou styles Dettmer, Bustamante furiously clicks his shutter.

The whole operation has to pause occasionally when someone needs to walk up or down the creaky, paint-chipped stairs.

Nearby, technology and analytics director Kenny Barone sits at a folding table with his MacBook open, perusing Instagram. Barone calls his business partners over, consulting them about which athletes the group’s feed should follow.

Of course, all the basketball players are a given.

The company is run entirely on Instagram, a choice that was made due to the popularity of social media in the venture’s target customer base: college students.

“If it’s in front of your face, you’re going to click on it,” Zhou said.

Convenience is a big draw for Vintage Blue’s customers. The team scopes out and acquires items online and in local thrift stores, saving their customers the effort of having to traverse greater Chapel Hill area to find the perfect piece of gear.

During this time of year when much of UNC-CH is focused on basketball, it comes as no surprise that Vintage Blue is focusing on athletic wear.

“We definitely try to match the energy of the school,” Jemal Abdulhadi, finance and strategy director, said.

The entrepreneurs give the garments they sell creative names. Some of them coincide with upcoming games, such as a basketball warm-up shirt dubbed “Juice ‘cuse” in reference to the then-upcoming game against Syracuse.

Others include a sweatshirt featuring the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons dunking a basketball clad in a UNC-CH jersey entitled “Tazzz,” which Von Steen modeled in front of an old PacMan video game machine.

Why do they do it?

They all get real-world experience in fields they hope to pursue after graduation in a profitable business. They’re a part of the vintage fashion scene in Chapel Hill. They express their creativity by telling multimedia stories. They get to work with items so unique they sometimes struggle to let them go when they’re sold.

And they get to learn more about the people they go to school with.

“I like the idea of spreading a social venture for the campus,” Zhou said. “I like how we’re venturing out and doing the stories, because I think it’s very important whatever you do to have a social impact in some way, and selling vintage clothes isn’t a social impact. But by connecting people in the community – I would really love to learn more about my peers that I can’t reach out to.”

The company uses “originals,” which are journalistic profiles written by Bustamante and Barone, to promote their products on their website. So far, Bustamante and Barone have published three “originals,” accompanied by photos of the subject in the clothing.

“We’ve been working on how we can bridge this gap – like how are we going to make stories and vintage clothing work?” Bustamante said. “But we just realized that we can use the model, or the person that we’re doing the story on, to model the clothing. We do the story one day and then the next day drop the item that is associated with their story.”

So far, juniors Psalms White and Scott Diekema and senior Aaron Epps are all profiled on the originals page.

The company came together quickly at the beginning of the spring 2018 semester. The first profile appeared online February 6 – less than three weeks after the group’s first photoshoot.

Where did it come from and where is it going?

Originally conceived as In With the Old in fall 2016, the startup rebranded to Vintage Blue shortly before the semester began under the guidance of Bustamante and Abdulhadi.  Two weeks in, the business began turning a profit.

Photos of the items, shot by Bustamante, are posted on the feed, along with a starting bid and an ending time for bidding on items. From there, customers place bids through the comments section. Each bid must be at least $2 higher than the last. Customers pay through PayPal or Venmo and then arrange a time to meet with a Vintage Blue team member to pick up their item.

“In the first few weeks, we definitely were careful of what and how we spent money on because we weren’t (generating) significant revenue,” Abdulhadi said. “Since then, we’ve primarily been reinvesting profit in the website, gear and future offerings.”

The group has goals for the future, including an official launch party slated for next month. But these new developments come with logistical challenges the company will have to face, like delivery methods.

Vintage Blue hand delivers all their items to help continue connections with its customers beyond the sale. It helps the customer incur less cost, too, since they don’t have to pay for shipping – but that might not always be the case.

“I think we’re going to have to change our model towards shipping and e-commerce,” Abdulhadi said.

“I think as we grow our following nationally, since there are a lot of Carolina fans nationally, it’ll expand to a ton of people who want to buy stuff.”

Edited by Ana Irizarry