UNC-CH student uses music to cope with pandemic, on-campus living

By Noah Monroe

As UNC-Chapel Hill junior Justin Watson relaxed on his couch, he reminisced about the day he was accepted into the university in 2020.

Watson described the feeling of getting into his dream school and the innocence of who he was on the winter day decisions were released.

He was unaware that in 49 days, his high school career would be cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this Concord, N.C. native, his first taste of college wouldn’t come for another 567 days.

Watson’s demeanor changed as he recalled how he had grown since that January day.

‘It was crushing’

Watson walked around his neighborhood to get his mind off the conversation he had just had with his parents.

He couldn’t believe it; he was staying home for his first year in college.

How could this have happened?

How did COVID-19 evolve from being an extended spring break to a global pandemic that forced him to miss out on his first year on campus?

“It was crushing,” Watson said. “I took time to process high school and COVID ruining things. I was just in college mode, and that’s where I put all my chips. And then COVID ruined that as well. It sucked.”

Several states away, Griffin Fuetsch, who was supposed to be Watson’s roommate, was dealing with the same dilemma in New York City.

The two met on an Instagram page designed to help incoming UNC-CH students find a roommate, suitemates and ultimately, make friends.

The two started talking because Watson thought it was cool how Fuetsch was from New York City. They talked more and more, and Fuetsch soon became Watson’s first friend “at” UNC.

“Watching those two weeks go by where everyone is meeting people was stressful,” Fuetsch said. “Knowing I had a roommate who was going through the same thing as me and was going to start at the same place I was, it meant so much.”

Still though, not being on campus affected Watson.

Two of his high school friends, Christian Thomas and Jordan Nance, noticed this when they interacted with him in Concord.

“He was frustrated,” Thomas said. “He was cooped up at his house, so he just felt like there was no escape. It was weighing down on him that he couldn’t be on the campus and interact with classmates.”

Once that disappointment wore off, Watson knew he had to make the most of the situation so that when he finally stepped foot in Chapel Hill, he’d be in a good spot.

He got more involved with fitness, buying a punching bag and dabbling in calisthenics. Though Zoom was not the ideal introduction to college classes, Watson honed in to continue his track record of making excellent grades.

“(Being stuck at home) sparked a drive in him, and he kicked it up a notch,” Nance said. “I remember he was extremely determined to get through the classes. He was saying, ‘Just wait until I get on campus,’ and he proved himself when he was able to get on campus.”

‘Everyone has to learn, and I learned a different way’

In a friend’s basement during the summer between his first and second year, Watson began to rap Lil Baby’s part in the Drake song, ‘Wants and Needs,’ a song he had familiarized himself with since its release in March 2021.

Music had always been influential in Watson’s life, but while at home during his first year, he listened to it more, often to manage his emotions.

When he moved into Morrison Residence Hall at the beginning of his sophomore year, he knew his transition from living at home to college wasn’t going to be all smooth.

His suitemates had developed skills the previous year, like meeting people and balancing academics with social activities. Since they had experience with college life, they were able to give him advice.

But even with help, there were still growing pains.

“I was still a little bit immature sometimes,” Watson said. “Sometimes I felt like I could’ve handled things better. Everyone has to learn, and I learned a different way.”

Watson needed a way to channel his frustrations, and found a familiar avenue his sophomore year – music.

“It calmed me down,” Watson said. “When I felt anxious, I’d put on my headphones, and I’d walk through campus. It was mainly music that got me through a lot of things sophomore year.”

Walking through campus without his headphones was a rare occurrence, but a symbol of his growth throughout that year.

In combination with his experiences on campus, music helped Watson adapt to college life and learn what to expect on a daily basis.

He advanced ahead of the curve and improved his time-management.  He knew his schedule and what it would take so that he could attend class, do his homework, have time to decompress, hang out with friends and attend social events.

He found time to start a website with a friend, giving students a platform to discuss improvements for their respective colleges. Watson even found time for a girlfriend.

By the end of his sophomore year, Watson was comfortable with who he had become. He’d walk through campus with his signature headphones, taking them off to talk anytime he ran into someone he knew.

“Seeing who he is today, it’s the best feeling a friend can have,” Nance said. “In high school it seems like we were all pretty young, not knowing what we wanted to do. When I’ve seen him, I feel a sense of confidence in the drive that he has and knowing that he’s doing well in college.”

Edited by Collin Tadlock and Caleb Sigmon

Veteran becomes first Green on NC ballot for US Senate

By Kyle Ingram

“I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on, I’ll be mad.” 

This quote from 13th century poet Rumi, a mantra learned after over a decade of working within a system at the expense of his own morals, is tattooed in a circle of Arabic over Matthew Hoh’s heart. 

Running as a Green in North Carolina (or anywhere in the country) is certainly not a prudent choice — but Hoh, disillusioned from decades of failures by Republican and Democratic administrations, is unwilling to pursue any other path.

After a highly public resignation from the State Department, intensive counseling for PTSD and the disastrous end to the war he lost so much to, Hoh is the first ever Green Party candidate to make it on the ballot for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. 

From Iraq to Afghanistan

Although he was active in leftist communities throughout his early adulthood, Hoh wasn’t always the anti-war activist he is today. When he joined up with the Marine Corps in 1998, he thought he could do good in the military. 

He rose ranks quickly and found himself working for the State Department in 2004 with a reconstruction and governance team in Iraq. 

Hoh was working on a project to rebuild athletics facilities and youth centers and was given a $20 million budget. But only a few weeks into the planning phases, he was told that money would be redirected to security. 

It ended up going to militias, just as the Iraqi civil war was beginning. 

“$20 million buys a lot of Kalashnikovs and RPGs,” Hoh said, grimacing. 

By the end of his first year, Hoh no longer believed in the government’s mission, but he thought he could at least do some good by saving lives as a commander. 

But after another year, Hoh was suffering from severe depression and alcohol misuse. When he was offered a job as a political officer in Afghanistan, he had no illusions that it would be any different than Iraq. 

“My attitude was like ‘it’s better I die over there than just die here,’” he said. 

Though the Obama administration had promised to handle things differently, Hoh saw the same pointlessness and political motivation.

“You had that type of arrogance and chutzpah, if you will, this hubris that ‘because we’re not Republicans, we’re going to do it better,’” he said. 

Then came the final straw that made him leave behind what could have been a promising career in civil service. In September 2009, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, he received an email from his dad. 

“If you don’t believe in this,” his father wrote, “then what are you doing?”

Over the course of several weeks, he drafted a four-page resignation letter.

“Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time,” Hoh wrote, “The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.” 

Nearly two weeks after submitting his resignation and resisting the government’s repeated attempts to convince him to stay, Hoh flew home. Upon his return, most of his possessions were still in storage, but his resignation letter was in his pocket. 

After the Resignation

While watching Monday Night Football at a Virginia bar, the bartender introduced Hoh to the man next to him, an editor at the Washington Post. 

Eight hours of interviews later, Hoh’s story, as written by Karen DeYoung, was on the front page of the Post. 

The following few weeks were Hoh’s “big celebrity moment,” as he remembers it. He appeared on The Today Show, spoke with Fareed Zakaria on CNN and fielded 75 media requests in one day. 

But eventually, the attention died down.

The war did not end, and Hoh was left to deal with PTSD, alcoholism and a traumatic brain injury. Those days, after the initial shock and media frenzy of his resignation died down, were some of the darkest of Hoh’s life. 

“It gets to the point where I’ve gone from trying to drink myself to death to I’ve actively got a suicide plan,” he said. 

Hoh’s then-girlfriend helped get him into counseling. He stopped his anti-war work and moved to North Carolina to be with his family. He spent a few years distanced from anything to do with his past life: working the front desk at a YMCA or spending a few months as a car salesman. 

He couldn’t stay away forever, though. 

Turning Green

By 2014, Hoh was a member of Veterans for Peace, protesting the war. His activism expanded — a few years later he was arrested protesting the construction of the DAPL pipeline through indigenous lands. He was losing his faith in the ability to make any change via conventional means. 

“I started to have the understanding that you really have to be outside to effect change, and you have to put that pressure on a system where it hurts,” he said. 

It takes a mindset like that to decide to run for the U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate. 

The N.C. Green Party had a massive uphill challenge ahead of them just to get on the ballot in 2022. Tony Ndege, the party’s co-chair, said they needed a candidate who could energize people — 13,865 people, to be exact — the amount of petition signatures required to make the Greens an official party in the state. 

“I was hoping that with his background, he would be able to bring in another layer of recognition, but also excitement about getting on the ballot,” Ndege said. 

It worked, though not without a series of well-funded legal challenges from the state and national Democratic party. 

Hoh is aware the race is more than a long shot. 

“If someone like Matt really wanted to increase his political ambitions, there were better ways to do it than this,” Rose Roby, Hoh’s campaign manager said.

It’s not really about winning, though. For Hoh, this may be the first time he’s ever been able to act fully in accordance with what he believes, the first time he can make the things he cares about front and center without equivocation. 

“I’ve disavowed my principles, my values, I’ve allowed my agency to be used for others’ purposes  — even when I didn’t fully agree with it,” he said. “I think that’s brought me here.”

Edited by Emily Gajda and Annie Gibson

‘Rooted in truth’: UNC’s Modshakes offer a different theater experience

By Matthew Ng

Trigger Warning: mention of suicide and childhood abuse

“Everyone, please rise for our national anthem,” echoes throughout the Hanes Art Center auditorium at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As an audience begrudgingly stands at attention, Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” suddenly blares from the overhead speakers. A roar of laughter washes over the crowd, which begins to sing with the same conviction that a baseball game might have for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A first-time guest might be shocked by the sight of people saluting the bikini-clad rapper projected onstage and by the headline “The Modern Shakespeare Society Presents: 30 Dead Queens in 60 British Minutes” on a whiteboard standing stage right. (The late Queen Elizabeth II had passed away just one day earlier.) 

For longtime fans of the theater group The Modern Shakespeare Society, a neo-futurist theater group of UNC students known colloquially as the Modshakes, this brazen display is hardly a departure from the ordinary.

“This type of theater focuses on the tenants of truth and performance that we attempt to recreate with our own artistic visions,” said Mia Lerner, a member of the Modshakes since her freshman year at UNC.

Lerner, who is from High Point, North Carolina, has a traditional theater background and acted in productions throughout high school and college. However, she found herself drawn to the misfit theater group once at UNC. 

“I had heard about the form of theater when in high school and I was looking for a community that would fulfill a need for creativity and friendship,” Lerner said. “I found an incredible community in Modshakes.”

Variety as the standard 

Several times a year, the Modshakes attempt the harrowing task of performing 30 plays in 60 minutes. These short plays are different from what a casual theatergoer might expect. Rather than scripted works of fiction, shows might consist of monologues, slideshows, or silence—anything that the Modshakes can conceive. 

“The Modshakes are a unique performance group that can reach people outside the traditional theater scene,” said Thomas Davids, a senior at UNC and a longtime member of the group. “We offer original and truthful plays based on our lived experiences.”

Lerner, now entering her final year at UNC and as a Modshake, said “For us, each play has a different goal that we hope to achieve. The beauty of this art form is that every two-minute play is telling a story.”

A wide variety of plays is a defining characteristic of a Modshakes show. The spectrum of emotions these plays might evoke can be jarring for some; because of this, the Modshakes include content warnings for potentially traumatic topics on their “menu” of plays. At the troupe’s most recent show, plays ranged from a monologue about suicide to a slideshow inviting the audience to name several of the Modshakes’ sex toys. 

One Modshake performed a piece depicting their childhood abuse, leaving the audience speechless. Not long after, Davids was given a makeshift car boot and stood onstage forbidden from moving for the rest of the night.

Connor Culpepper, a former UNC student, was introduced to the Modshakes by mutual friends and has attended their shows since last year. “I am constantly surprised and amazed at how they can show such creativity within the restrictions that they impose on themselves,” said Culpepper, citing the unpredictability of the shows as a reason for his continued attendance.

Drafting the unexpected

Planning a Modshakes show is as frenzied as the performance itself. 

On the Sunday night of performance week, the Modshakes pitch their shows to one another. As a group, they decide on 30 of their best pitches to arrive at their signature blend of humor and vulnerability. For the next week, the Modshakes gather at Hanes Art Center and spend two hours each night vigorously writing, creating, and rehearsing in anticipation of their Friday or Saturday evening show. 

This rather brief process, which begins and ends in the span of just one week, is unthinkable for most traditional theater groups. For the Modshakes, this short time frame is a deliberate process. 

“It matches the brevity and honesty of what we do,” Lerner said.

Each member of the Modshakes, as well as those who watch their plays, may have their own interpretation of what inspires such a raw, bizarre, and emotional brand of theater.

For Lerner, it is clear where her own inspiration stems from. 

“Modshakes is rooted in truth,” she said. “In place of traditional theater that takes on a character and story, Modshakes and neo-futurism are based around vulnerability and honesty from its performers. This allows for a heightened connection between performer and audience member. It’s short, real, and exciting. It’s different in every way.”

Edited by Ryan Mills and Clay Morris 

Sophomore finds home on the water: a look inside UNC women’s crew

By Ivy Young

An alarm goes off. Sophomore Chloe Schneider rolls over in bed. Her twinkle lights come on, and she forces herself to put her feet on the floor. Above her, in the top bunk, her roommate, Lydia, groans. It is 5:30 in the morning. 

After scarfing down a granola bar and changing into navy spandex, Schneider is out the door and heading to Carmichael Gymnasium. She checks her watch, only to realize that she’s running a few minutes behind. If she doesn’t run, she won’t make it.

An hour later, she is in the middle of the boat with eight other girls watching the sun rise over Jordan Lake. 

Six days a week, Chloe Schneider is up at 5:30 a.m. to practice with the University of North Carolina women’s crew team. Starting at 7 a.m., the team rows for more than an hour before returning to campus. And, after a day’s worth of classes, she will have practice again, this time lifting weights in the basement of Carmichael Gym. 

Beginning her athletics journey 

A year ago, she was an ordinary college first-year. Now, she is a Division 1 athlete at one of the top public schools in the country. 

Last fall, Schneider was walking back from a campus ministry event when she started talking to the girl walking beside her. The girl told her that the women’s crew team took walk-on athletes, and that tryouts were the week after Christmas break. 

“I said that she should let me know if she heard anything else,” Schneider said. “But I never saw that girl again.”

Prompted by the exchange, she emailed the new coach, who sent her a recruiting questionnaire and told her how to prepare for tryouts. 

Although walk-ons usually try out in the fall, the team had just gotten a new coach, Erin Neppel, the former assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Because of the change in leadership, the team’s schedule was thrown off and tryouts were held in the spring. 

Walking onto a college sports team is no small feat, but Schneider felt that she had a good chance. Because she was tall and muscular, people were always asking her if she was a rower or a swimmer. 

“I just thought it would be so cool if I could finesse my way into becoming a D1 athlete,” she said, laughing. 

Seeking community

But beyond the glamour of becoming a college athlete, Schneider was looking for something on the crew team that she was having a hard time finding anywhere else: a real community.

Her sister, Emma Schneider, graduated from North Carolina State University last year and loved every second of college. Although she lived in the same dorm as a number of her close high school friends, Schneider was having a hard time getting that same experience. 

She said that because UNC is so big, it does not always feel supportive. It seemed like students were being pitted against one another and forced to compete for limited resources and opportunities. Her mother, Lynn Schneider, said something similar. 

“N.C. State is very collaborative, but it feels like Chapel Hill is more fragmented,” said Lynn Schneider.

One benefit of being a student athlete is that UNC pays special attention. Student athletes have access to tutors, advisors and academic coaches, often without the student having to seek them out.   

There are also all the side benefits of playing a sport. Athletes walk around wearing special gear and navy backpacks, instantly recognizable. Schneider does not have to go to Lenoir Hall anymore, because she can get food from Loudermilk Hall, the dining hall specifically for student athletes. 

“I think being able to go to the Fueling Station is my favorite perk,” she said. “I get like four points a day, and every snack is a point.” 

Sitting at a picnic table outside the Student Union, Isabel Inman, one of Schneider’s best friends, said that she wishes Chloe still ate at the regular dining hall but understands why she made the change. “I’ve heard the ham sandwiches from Loudermilk are to die for,” Inman said.  

‘Courage doesn’t mean not being afraid’

Before Schneider tried out for the crew team, Inman didn’t even know that it existed. After all, women’s rowing has only been an official UNC sport for about 20 years. Before Title IX, both the men’s and women’s teams were club. Now only the men’s team is. 

The UNC women’s rowing team is one of the only D1 rowing teams that does not have its own facility. Typically, the team will practice on erg machines on the basketball courts in Woollen Gymnasium, where there is no air conditioning. Recently during practice, two girls passed out from heat exhaustion. 

The team also cannot host regattas, or rowing competitions, because it lacks the capacity to host them. Kathyrn Cummings, a sophomore on the team, said that this is one of the reasons people assume women’s rowing is just a club team. 

“There’s kind of a stigma against us, because people think that it’s not a real sport,” Cummings said. 

Lynn Schneider remembers her daughter’s high school fear of public speaking and recalls how the thought of a presentation would keep her up at night. She said that Chloe chose to pursue student government, a position that would force her to speak in public and represent her high school class. 

“She refused to let it defeat her,” Lynn Schneider said. “She’s always made me think of the saying that says courage doesn’t mean not being afraid but being afraid and doing it anyway.” 

Despite all these difficulties, Chloe Schneider has earned a spot on the team and is respected as a strong rower. Cummings said that Schneider typically sits in the middle of the boat, a place reserved for the more powerful rowers. 

And even though the other students in her ECON 410 class might not know she is on the team, Chloe likes it that way. Sitting on a bench in white tennis shoes and patterned shorts, she said that her experience in college athletics has never been about the glamour. 

“I like that I do hard things and no one else has to know that,” said Schneider.

Editing by Brooke Dougherty and Hannah Collett

 

‘A very stressful cycle’: Eating disorders on campuses rise amid COVID-19

By Morgan Chapman

Alexa Casciano is a vibrant and dedicated student at UNC-Chapel Hill, who appears to have everything together. However, she fights internal demons every day regarding her body image.

At 16, she was diagnosed with an illness that led to a double lung reconstruction and brain surgery. Her recovery came with consequences. While in the hospital, Casciano lost her appetite and was losing weight fast.

Her relationship with food after leaving the hospital was forever changed. In the fall of 2021, Casciano was diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

“It was the triple whammy,” Casciano said. 

After waking up at 7 a.m. to work out, she wouldn’t eat all day. Then at night, she would binge.

“After I had a really big binge, I would go on a scale to weigh myself,” she said. “Then I would freak out when I saw the pounds I gained and would make myself lose it the next day.”

Last year, her parents sent her to a nutritionist after noticing her struggle with eating disorders. The nutritionist was worried about Casciano’s condition and recommended an eating disorder specialist.

Her heart was failing. Her hair was falling out. Her Vitamin D levels were low, and the osteoporosis in her back was getting worse.

“My body was functioning, and I looked fine; but I was slowly dying on the inside,” Casciano said.

Typically, people diagnosed with an eating disorder are sent to a residential treatment facility. Casciano’s treatment plan was unique, because she didn’t spend her fall semester in a treatment facility. Instead, her parents stayed with her for two months in Chapel Hill.

“As a junior in college juggling the pressure of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, I was stressed out about having my classes in person after a year being virtual,” she said. “I would eat all my meals with my parents, making sure that I was putting enough food into my body.”

The earlier you catch an eating disorder, the easier it is to get out of it, Casciano said.

“The last thing you need to be worrying about in college is gaining 5 pounds,” she said.

‘Unspoken pressure’

The college routine of studying, exercising and partying obstructs an important need for a healthy lifestyle: eating.

Courtney Lewis, a clinical instructor at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, said college is a pressure cooker for developing eating disorders, especially for teenage girls.

“Going away to college is probably the first big change for a lot of people,” Lewis said. “You are faced with many pressures like setting your own structure, supporting yourself, eating on time, getting to class and studying.”

Wake Forest University’s student body has higher than average reports of disordered eating, according to the University Counseling Center’s latest Healthy Minds survey and American College Health Assessment data.

“There was unspoken pressure,” said Olivia Yabroudy, a UNC-CH student who transferred from Wake Forest. “It depended on how you perceive yourself. There are a lot of people walking around that are very skinny, wearing revealing clothes that make it evident they do not weigh a lot.”

Yabroudy said it is easier to fall victim to the mindset of trying to look like everyone else. She watched female students eat just a piece of toast or an apple before events to get drunk quicker and avoid looking bloated.

The University Counseling Center at Wake Forest did not advertise its services for eating disorders, which perpetrated the campus-wide problem. Yabroudy even said she wasn’t aware of eating disorder support on campus.

Lewis said the negative internal talk stems from the fear of gaining “the freshman 15.” 

“This fear is doing more harm than good, because it distorts how people view their health and body image,” she said. “It becomes a very stressful cycle that many find extremely difficult to break.”

‘Spirals into a compulsive obsession’

During the COVID-19 pandemic, eating disorder diagnoses in teenage girls have skyrocketed. The UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders received a 40 percent increase in calls since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, some of those with preexisting eating disorders experienced worse symptoms.

Many found themselves eating more while isolated and gaining, as Casciano calls it, “pandemic weight.” Eating disorder treatment depends on distractions, especially in the beginning. Lewis said the pandemic robbed people of those common distractions.

Many turned to social media as a coping mechanism during the pandemic, but the standard of beauty it promotes is often unattainable and unrealistic.

“I would post pictures of myself on Instagram while I was struggling with disordered eating. If someone said, ‘Oh my god, you look so skinny,’ then that would trigger me to keep myself looking that way by not eating,” Casciano said.

Jean Doak, psychologist and clinical director at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, said increased social media consumption is a cause of eating disorders in teenage girls.

“When I ask someone what the onset of their eating disorder was, many people say they were on TikTok or on YouTube watching videos on how to exercise and lose weight,” Doak said. “It starts pretty innocuous but then spirals into a compulsive obsession.”

‘You can’t sacrifice your health’

“Your body is the least important thing about you,” Casciano said. “You have to emphasize that there are so many other qualities that make you a great person.”

Alexa Casciano is grateful to be alive and healthy. She took away vital lessons from her eating disorder recovery. She encourages those struggling with eating disorders to reach out for help.

“You can’t sacrifice your health, happiness, or quality of life,” Casciano said. 

 

Edited by Samantha Driscoll and Zachary Crain

 

The student behind UNC’s flourishing fashion page

By Hannah Rosenberger

Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide

 

Annabelle Brown was on her way to a Halloween party, all dolled up as Medusa in a dark green minidress and a gold snake headband, when an unfamiliar student sat down next to her on the bus.

“I know it’s you,” the student said.

Brown’s eyes widened. It wasn’t unusual for people to recognize her when she was out and about, although in this case she was wearing heavy eye makeup and a mask. She can never tell if she gets noticed because of her Instagram page or because of the economics classes they have together.

“Are you out scouting right now?” the student asked.

Yep, it was definitely because of Instagram.

Brown runs @tarheelthreads, an Instagram account that highlights fashion and self-expression with posts of the bold and intentional outfits she spots around campus. She tries to stay anonymous, but there’s been enough traction on the account – which has more than 2,500 followers – that many people now know her face.

“The biggest thing that is always one of my pet peeves is people being like ‘You’re Tar Heel Threads!’” Brown said, shaking her head. “No. No. I run Tar Heel Threads. Tar Heel Threads and me are two separate entities.”

 

How Brown Found Fashion 

As much of a social butterfly as she may seem when out snapping fashion photos, Brown deals with what she describes as a whole alphabet of mental health diagnoses’, including anxiety, depression and panic attacks. She once cried in her therapist’s office because she thought she was having a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 10. Obviously, in her 10-year-old brain, that meant she was going to die before she reached her 21st birthday.

“I was like ‘No, I’m not going to be able to go to college, I’m not going to get married,’” Brown said, barely containing a fit of laughter. “And she was like, ‘Okay, so that’s not how that works.’”

Comedic relief aside, at the center of that “midlife crisis” was her dad. He took his own life before she was out of elementary school.

“I had no concept of what depression was, what mental health was,” Brown said. “And so I struggled a lot in my younger years to kind of feel like myself.”

Dressing herself was her one outlet. Wearing outfits like her Easter dress with jeans and sneakers to school, Brown luxuriated in the sense of control she got from selecting her clothes each day. It was the only thing she felt like she could control amid the chaos in her life.

But she was always told that she’d have to “cut the shenanigans” eventually and ditch her frilly fashions in favor of leggings and oversized t-shirts; the typical college-girl uniform.

She refused.

“I was like ‘No,’” Brown said. “I’m going to show them. Because there are other people where this is their way of expressing themselves too.”

Self-expression is self-care, she said. And more than that, it’s community.

Brown said her dad’s death put into perspective how important it is to not be alone, especially in a high-pressure academic environment like UNC.

Her dad was a smart guy. He held dual bachelor’s degrees from N.C. State and a medical degree from UNC. He practiced as a family physician because he wanted to help people, but he never shared his struggles with anyone.

“We want to feel like we have a lot of power, but none of us really do unless we’re strong as a community,” Brown said. “People feel alone or unseen or just like another number, and how do we change that on a campus that’s this big, and with so many stellar individuals? How do you feel like you’re not swept under the rug?”

And for her, that’s Tar Heel Threads.

 

Founding Tar Heel Threads

The first photo on the @tarheelthreads page is of first-year Sofia Casini standing outside of the now-closed Franklin Street bar called The Library. She was wearing a jean jacket over a tight black romper and bright gold statement jewelry.

Brown spotted her riding the bus one September afternoon and, after complimenting the outfit, the two got to talking about their shared views on fashion as both risk-taking and self-expression. When they got off the bus outside of Time-Out, Brown asked to take Casini’s picture.

“It made me feel secure in the fact that I do know what I’m doing when it comes to dressing,” Casini said. “The things that make us feel beautiful inside and out are being recognized by someone else.”

Now, fashion-inclined minds dress up specifically to get Brown’s attention. First-year Sarah Zhang said she and a group of her friends had the goal of all getting on the page by the end of the spring semester.

“The culture is like, ‘Oh, I’m going to put on a nice outfit to be featured on Tar Heel Threads,” said Jaleah Taylor, a first-year who’s heart-patterned sweater vest was highlighted in Brown’s Valentine’s Day post.

 

Instagram Versus Reality

Brown went and cried in the Halloween party bathroom after that encounter on the bus.

Sometimes people put her on a pedestal of almost celebrity-like status, she said. She would be in the middle of conversations, and when the other person finds out she runs Tar Heel Threads, they would start subtly posing, trying to get her to snap a photo. Other times she would hear that people were complaining about a post because they thought they had worn better outfits, but she didn’t post them.

“I try not to let that get to me, because I know [the account] makes a lot of people happy,” she said. “It makes me very happy, but it does create a lot of inauthenticity in my personal life, because I can’t tell who wants to be on the page and who wants to get to know me.”

Brown doesn’t even have a particular interest in working in fashion once she graduates. She’s currently majoring in economics so she can go into nonprofit work. After graduation she specifically wants to support the children of domestic violence survivors while the victim-parent finds a way to leave the relationship.

But she thinks her two passions — fashion and nonprofits — come from the same heart.

“Everyone’s just trying to make their imprint wherever they can,” Brown said. “And I think that’s Tar Heel Threads for me. It’s not like a tabloid. It’s not a hot-or-not. You’re expressing yourself and you’re getting on campus every single day. You’re trying to be true to who you are.”

 

Edited by Nick Battaglia

Rage rooms can help you demolish your stress without consequence

By Patricia Benitez

Adelina San Miguel is gripping a sledgehammer, her weapon of choice. In front of her, six glass plates sit on top of an oil drum.

“Just let it all out,” she thinks to herself.

She grits her teeth and pounds the sledgehammer against the plates, sending shards of glass flying and crashing onto the concrete floor.

“Oh yeah!” she yells with a smile flashing across her face.

The microwave is her next victim. She grabs it and slams it on the floor. She swings and pounds and thrusts the sledgehammer against it. Miley Cyrus’ cover of “Heart of Glass” blares to the beat of San Miguel’s throbbing pulse. Within minutes, the microwave resembled a flattened car in a junkyard.

The wooden walls around San Miguel are coated with red and black graffiti. She bounces around the small room, demolishing objects one by one, shattering Christmas ornaments, cracking a car windshield and smacking more plates with a bat.

The cacophony of shattering glass and clanging metal should make San Miguel cringe. But here, breaking things isn’t only allowed, it’s the objective.

Paying to Rage

San Miguel is in a rage room, a place where people pay to destroy items such as plates, televisions, windshields and more to unleash their anger or relieve stress. A rage room session can cost customers anywhere from $25 to $300, depending on how much time they want in the room and the number of objects they wish to destroy. Some people bring in their own items while others let the business owners provide them with the community’s donations of unwanted objects.

After putting on goggles, gloves and an industrial suit for protection, customers can choose from an arsenal of tools or “weapons.” Then, they destroy everything in the room. And the best part? No consequences and no clean up.

Rage Rooms: An Unproductive Outlet?

Jonathan Abramowitz, clinical psychologist and professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, had never heard of rage rooms until recently, but is open to the concept as a temporary stress reliever.

“It can’t hurt,” Abramowitz said. “It might make the person feel better in the moment, but it also doesn’t take care of the problem that’s causing the anger.”

For San Miguel, her decision to try a rage room was inspired by a conversation with her psychologist.

“I need to smash a microwave,” San Miguel said to her psychologist who later encouraged her to actually smash one in a rage room, which provides a safe and fun environment.

San Miguel felt as if the isolation during the pandemic had changed her in the same, forceful way that a sledgehammer disfigures a microwave. She was also experiencing heightened anxiety and frustration due to someone owing her money for weeks.

San Miguel is a pole vaulter, so she needed something more stress relieving than lifting weights in the gym. She figured that smashing objects with a sledgehammer for 30 minutes would be intense enough.

That’s when she booked a session at Wreck it Rage Room in Durham, North Carolina. Customers can play their own music in rage rooms, so she spent days adding motivational songs to her “Hard Hitters” playlist before her session.

Now, after 25 minutes of slinging the sledgehammer, her back muscles beg for mercy. But San Miguel isn’t done yet. She bangs her head to the beat of Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire” and puts a couple final dents in the microwave. Then she drops the sledgehammer, done with her session.

All that remains is a battlefield of smashed metal, shattered glass and an industrial jumpsuit soaked in San Miguel’s sweat.

As Abramowitz inferred, San Miguel knew her rage room session wouldn’t solve any of her problems. It didn’t put the money in her hand nor did it end the constant feeling of isolation during a pandemic. But in the moment, she felt light and euphoric.

“You will definitely see me again soon,” San Miguel said to Kasey Taylor, owner of Wreck it Rage Room.

An Unconventional Business Idea

When San Miguel left, Taylor and her two brothers cleaned up the debris with rakes and snow shovels. Taylor doesn’t mind cleaning up after her customers. She knows the importance of releasing anger without worrying about the mess.

After being on dialysis for six years and parenting as a single mom, Taylor longed for a way to psychically release her frustration. She’s not a talker when it comes to her emotions, so she tried a rage room and was fascinated with the concept.

“Where can you go to just shatter a bunch of plates and not get in trouble for it?” Taylor said.

After researching the logistics of owning a rage room, she opened her own. While some of her customers such as San Miguel book solo sessions, others bring their friends to collectively smash objects. Rage rooms can usually host as many as 10 people.

Rage Bringing People Together

Kate-Eliza Dean was invited to a rage room session with two of her friends on a Sunday afternoon. During the session, Dean’s friends stood back as she used a crowbar to smash a car windshield.

“Yeah girl, get it!” one of her friends yelled.

“Smash it!” the other added.

 She felt as if she was living her fantasy of destroying an ex-boyfriend’s windshield.

After they each took a turn hitting the windshield, they annihilated the white microwave together. The room began to smell of thick sweat and chaos.

“We’re women against microwaves!” Dean said. They all bursted into laughter as they attacked the microwave from all angles with their weapons.

When they finished, sweat and relief oozed out of them from every pore. “It’s like a level up from a workout,” Dean said, “Just a huge stress reliever.”

Whether people are breaking items solo or with a group, they can at least say they have demolished a microwave once in their lifetime.

“If you have never smashed a microwave,” San Miguel said, “It will change your life.”

Edited by Katie Bowes and Jorelle Trinity

 

Three vibrant vendors: Who’s behind the booths at The Raleigh Market?

By Alice Hayes

The Raleigh Market bustles to life well before 9 a.m. when it opens. Almost every Saturday and Sunday since the 1970s, vendors have laid out their goods on folding tables, blankets or permanent booths at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

Then come the customers, as varied as the goods offered. Wearing everything from a raincoat, bulging with a dog snuggled inside, to a jean jacket emblazoned with an eagle and worn with a cowboy hat. Children rush with the same excitement and energy as their guardians, just a few feet lower. So much to see, so much to smell, so much to buy.

But it doesn’t matter if you’re a college student in hip clothes or an old man leaning resolutely on his walker. The flea market doesn’t judge — there’s no way it could. The vendors are as diverse in attitude and life experiences as the customers. The vendors have been here for months, years or even decades.

For some, the flea market is an addiction. For others, it’s just business. And for some, it’s about putting food on the table.

Jack

An American flag flies from a makeshift flagpole behind one of the vendors, Jack. He is 77, and he’s lived in North Carolina his whole life. Those years have made him bitter, like sweet tea left out too long. Wearing an old baseball cap and a thick jacket, he tends his booth, made up of mostly furniture: a grand old mirror, a red set of cast iron patio furniture, a solid wooden dresser.

The flea market has gotten worse with time, he said.

“People don’t spend the money on collectibles like they did 15, 20 years ago —nobody collects anything no more,” he said.

After Jack sold his first truckload at the flea market 28 years ago he became “addicted”. But he’s close to moving on.

“Two more years, then I’m a turn my saddle in,” he said.

In the back of Jack’s booth, there’s a picture of former president Donald Trump in a homemade frame perched on an easel. A cryptic caption declares it art regardless of whether the viewer think it’s good or bad. It’s unclear what Jack thinks of the picture.

Jack has help selling furniture from his “partner in crime,” Ray. Ray looks a little younger than Jack, but still has a worn face and said his last name is “not for sale”. He wears an ushanka, a fur cap with ear coverings, and he sits at a tiny table displayed with jewelry cases. Ray’s been helping Jack “on and off for 20 years”. Ray didn’t originally sell at the market. He started off as a customer — that’s how he met Jack.

Boss Barbee

Not everyone at the market is as dour as Jack. Boss Barbee, who sells tie-dye at the market, wears all tie-dye clothing, even down to the underpants, he said. He has a scruffy white beard and a jovial demeanor. All sorts of things — weed, crazy clothes — it’s all coming back into fashion, he said. He seems to like it that way.

He’s serious about his business. He keeps tie-dye business cards in a leather case in the pocket of his white jeans. The case isn’t tie-dye, but the jeans are. The jeans are 50 years old, with a few inches worn off the cuffs.

Barbee thinks people should do what makes them happy. Like the woman who bought tie-dye underwear from him. Or his mother and her boyfriend, who he rolled a joint for. He supports marijuana with the passion of a man who was never told the ’70s ended.

Debs Barton

Across the market, Debs Barton sits with her hands in her pockets behind a small wooden table. Barton has been selling here for 14 years, ever since she moved to North Carolina.

Every weekend, weather permitting, she drives from her home 70 miles away and unloads “about twenty-thousand pounds” of jewelry and antique hardware. She’s been selling jewelry for about four years and has been in the hardware business for about 25. Before that she worked with mantels and fences in Philadelphia.

Barton smiles sincerely and is excited by what she sells, especially the antique glass doorknobs.

“They made it with manganese, which gives it strength,” she said. “It’s too expensive now to do it, they won’t do it, they can do it, and it’s also the thing that allows a knob that’s clear to turn purple in the sun.”

Her tables are covered with plastic buckets and wood bins, but even that isn’t enough. Each table has another smaller table stacked on top with yet more piled on. On one set of tables each bucket or bin is dedicated to a specific category, such as doorknobs, hinges, drawer pulls, metal handles or another niche form of hardware.

Many of her wares are rusted, beaten down or otherwise look more like junk. Still, people need what she sells, and they know where to find her.

“They’ll try to match things,” she said. “I had a gal who bought a piece of furniture and she bought hardware.”

On the other table sits jewelry and “interesting smalls,” referring to the miscellaneous items found among the jewelry. And as to why she sells jewelry and hardware at the same booth?

“We have jewelry for your home, and jewelry for your body,” she said, with a laugh.

Jack, Boss & Debs

Everyone at the flea market is there looking for something. Doorknobs, furniture, customers, money.

The vendors and the customers all want something. And at first glance, it can be hard to tell them apart. Jack, Barbee or Barton could easily be mistaken for another customer slowly perusing through the piles of treasures.

Sometimes it’s easy, when the vendors sit behind their table or write prices on pieces of tape. Other times it’s harder, when the vendors stand by.

Just as aimless as their customers.

Edited by Maddie Ellis

Change the Type: North Carolina A&T junior fights racial stereotypes with her nonprofit

By Brianna Atkinson

At the age of 15, Sydney Ross experienced what she recalls as a “flip the switch moment” in her high school’s library. As she sat studying in the mostly-empty library, two girls sat across from her. At first, Ross couldn’t understand why they decided to sit with her when there were plenty of other empty tables in the building but she now sees the moment as a sign from God. 

Unbeknownst to Ross at the time, the conversation between the two girls would ignite her passion for a project that would grow with her through high school and college. 

As Ross was studying, one of the girls told her friend how her sister, who just had a baby, was left by the baby’s father.

“What do you expect? All Black men leave their families,” the friend replied.

When Ross heard those words, she was immediately overcome with emotion. She couldn’t believe they felt comfortable saying that in front of her, a Black woman.

“I feel like it was God’s way of telling me this project is something that needs to be done,” Ross said. “My dad has been in my life for all 15 years of [it]. And both my grandfathers were in my parents’ lives their whole lifetimes as well. I wanted to combat that narrative. We are above these stereotypes.”

‘An Idea Was Born’

In 2016, Ross started an initiative called Change the Type, short for Change the Stereotype. The nonprofit shares uplifting messages about people of color to combat negative stereotypes in society. Now, it has grown into an LLC.

Although the impetus for her nonprofit started within the library of Garner Magnet High School, Ross took inspiration during her sophomore year in the personal project class. According to Middle Years Programme Coordinator Amy Bennett, the class is a student’s opportunity to focus on something they are passionate about.

“ I could see [Sydney’s] passion from the day she walked into my classroom,” Bennett said. “She seized the opportunity to take a project that was required, but she actually put her personal passion into it. To see that it has taken her this far in her life is pretty extraordinary.”

Ross’ initial plan was to do something related to dance, theatre, or Black history. But it didn’t feel right.

One day after school, Ross was sitting with her grandparents watching the evening news, and story after story after story was infused with negativity. People of color in jail, shooting, looting, mug shots and Ross thought, “That’s not who my people are. There’s more to us than that. I’m a Black woman but I’m not always angry, I’m not always loud, I’m not always mad at the world.” 

“I was like, what can I do to change that narrative?” Ross said. 

And Change the Type was born.

Ross, now 20, is a junior studying multimedia journalism at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She works at the student-run A&T Register newsroom as the culture editor and loves to write feature stories. 

During her senior year at Garner High, Ross brought her love of journalism to Change the Type while enrolling in her school’s optional Diploma Programme.  

According to Career-related Programme Coordinator Gerald Siemering, what Ross did was unusual. Most students finish out their middle years project and move on to something different for their senior year, but Ross kept Change the Type as her senior project.

“Sydney was definitely an exception for that one,” Siemering said. “[She] was always very passionate in school and with community outreach.”

‘Through the Years’

Whereas her sophomore year project was about doing something she was passionate about, Ross’ senior year project focused on doing something that impacted the community. As an aspiring journalist, Ross knew that she wanted to bring some aspect of writing into her project and chose her favorite genre– features.

“I wanted to continue to make Change the Type grow,” Ross said. “We had the name, we had the message, we need people now.”

Her first “spotlight story” was on Malique Hawkins, a high school senior whom she met during N.C. A&T admitted student day. At 16, Hawkins founded a clothing company called The Movement Clothing to stand up against bullying, racism, suicide and violence. From there, Ross interviewed various youths who had started their own cosmetic lines, charities and even a 12-year-old who had designs in New York Fashion Week.

These spotlights were for the young people of color of Change the Type and had one simple goal – inspiration. 

“If they see people that look like them, around their age, maybe even go to the same school as them then it makes them believe ‘well okay, they’re doing it, so maybe I can make a difference in my community too,’” said Ross. 

‘Change the Type during the Pandemic’

Ross’ work with youth in her community didn’t stop when she entered her senior year of high school. Before school started again last August, Ross donated school supplies to other nonprofits and East Garner Magnet Middle School, a school she attended when she was younger. 

She also donated 50 Change the Type themed drawstring bags filled with face masks, paper, pencils, pens and other school supplies to two community centers. Each bag was designed by hand using her mother’s Cricut machine and had an image of a shining light bulb.

“I wanted them to have that idea that they are a light and to not let anyone’s opinion of them dim that light,” Ross said. “Don’t let anyone deter you from your goals and your dreams. Your light should shine whenever you walk into any room.”

Biltmore Hills Community Center Director Kenneth Lyons said Ross’ generosity helped parents get necessary supplies for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic so they could have a positive start to the school year. 

“It was a financial relief. School supplies are expensive,” Lyons said. “Everything she did, it’s been very impactful on the community and for the kids… especially with her being a former [summer camp] counselor.”

Now in 2022, Ross is in the process of getting a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status for Change the Type and is still thinking about how to expand its reach to even more people with her message. 

“It has grown beyond the four walls of Garner Magnet High School, but I would like to continue to see it grow,” Ross said. “We, as people of color, are doing tremendous things in our community. We can stand out. We can make a difference. We can impact others.”

Edited by Ellie Crowther and Simon Tan

21-year-old entrepreneur brings new late-night food option to Chapel Hill

By Rachel Crumpler

Will Gerstein is anxious and exhilarated. His whole family flew in from Wisconsin to witness his big moment — what he spent countless hours of the past year working toward.

With emotions high, he’s thinking, “What if it doesn’t work, and I’ve just wasted a year?”

But he’s also confident that this is something Chapel Hill, specifically UNC-Chapel Hill students, need. Being a 21-year-old sophomore at the university, he would know first hand. 

What do all college students need? Late-night food to satisfy both savory and sweet cravings.

Gerstein’s pop-up restaurant, Buckets at Chapel Hill, provides just that. 

It’s 9 p.m. and customers start to arrive at Buckets. The public food hall with multiple vendors is located on Franklin Street outside the Blue Dogwood Market. Guests scan a QR code that takes them to an online menu, and they place their orders right from their phones.

Inside, Gerstein and his employees cook and assemble orders of chicken and waffles, boneless wings, chicken sandwiches, and waffle sundaes. Food is brought out hot in styrofoam boxes adorned with a sticker of a basketball net.

Some people take their food to go, while others stay and enjoy their food sitting at one of a dozen outdoor patio tables lit overhead by string lights. It’s an energetic environment with music, chatter, and laughter.

As long as the food is served promptly and customers are satisfied, Gerstein says even five orders a day is a success. But he has done a lot more orders than that. And in the weeks since opening, it’s only gotten better.

“Every single night is busier than the night before,” Gerstein said. “We are on a straight upward trend right now.”

Bringing his restaurant experience to Chapel Hill

From the day Gerstein got to campus in fall 2020, he dreamed of opening a restaurant in Chapel Hill. But this wouldn’t be his first venture in the food industry.

Behind Gerstein’s youthful face and smiley disposition is the experience and business acumen ordinarily seen in someone much older.

In his senior year of high school, Gerstein founded Bucket Wings in his home state of Wisconsin amid the pandemic. He got the idea for his business after he placed an order at his local pizza place and a worker told him it wouldn’t be ready for three hours — a long wait time driven by the COVID-19 shutdown of most restaurants in his small town. 

Gerstein decided to quit his minimum wage job at Subway to start a takeout centered wing joint using a few thousand dollars he had saved. He rented a commercial kitchen, which allowed him to tap into the marketplace demand.

Why chicken wings? Because it’s Gerstein’s favorite food, and he considers himself the “wing king.” Plus Buffalo Wild Wings, the closest wing restaurant, was a 40-minute drive away.

Now, he’s drawing from his prior experience running a restaurant to bring another late-night dining spot to Chapel Hill.

He started seriously pursuing the idea of opening a place in Chapel Hill toward the end of his freshman year. After being on campus, he realized how few late-night dining options existed. And the ones that did — Time-Out and Cosmic Cantina — did not satisfy his cravings for wings.

“I have a huge advantage because I am the target market,” Gerstein said. “I am a college kid. I am who I am selling to and that is why if I want something, usually it sells pretty well because every other college kid thinks kind of similarly.” 

Buckets exceeds the expectations

Gerstein hasn’t let his prior business success blind him from the harsh realities of opening a new restaurant. He says he is acutely aware that, “Franklin Street is where restaurants go to die,” particularly those without an established reputation.

The street’s high turnover rate has recently claimed restaurants like Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, Lula’s, Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza, and Peño Mediterranean Grill. Determined to not have his venture become another lost restaurant, Gerstein created a very intentional plan for his business.

He put a year’s work into developing his menu, finding suppliers, designing the branding and marketing, and finding the perfect location. 

Most location options required a permanent, long-term lease with high rent rates. But then he discovered Blue Dogwood Market, which would allow him to use the same model he used in Wisconsin of renting out a commercial kitchen. 

One afternoon, last fall, on the outdoor patio, Gerstein met with Blue Dogwood Market owner, Sarah Boak, and presented his plan, a late-night pop-up that would operate from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. three days a week.

After being sold by Gerstein’s competence, planning, and experience, Boak was immediately on board. Gerstein’s young age never concerned her. In fact, she was thrilled to provide an opportunity to a student entrepreneur and for the first student-run business at Blue Dogwood Market.

They worked out an arrangement for Buckets to operate at Blue Dogwood Market for a five-week trial period that began on Feb. 11.

“Buckets has been cool because it’s brought in brand-new clientele — a lot of students,” Boak said.

The past weeks have shown Gerstein there is demand for his food, and he’s seen a high customer return rate. Buckets fulfilled around 200 orders in one night, for an average of an order a minute — a pace Gerstein said his staff can keep up with and should expect as normal volume. 

Anjeline Lynch, a senior at UNC, has visited Buckets twice in two weeks and there’s still more on the menu she wants to go back for.

“I wish Buckets had been around for more of my college experience,” Lynch said.

Wings with a purpose

With the trial period nearly up, Gerstein plans to extend Buckets’ time at Blue Dogwood Market until the end of the school year and collect data to see if the demand remains stable. 

In addition to students, Buckets also has the support of a few UNC athletes participating in Buckets’ “Athlete Giveback Program,” such as sophomore field hockey player Kiersten Thomassey. 

Without knowing how successful Buckets would be, Thomassey jumped at the opportunity to use her name to give back when Gerstein approached her with the idea over winter break. For every buffalo chicken meal named after her that is sold, 8% of the revenue will be donated to Thomassey’s chosen charity.

Whether or not Buckets becomes a permanent restaurant in the fall, it does have the support of one particularly well-known figure, UNC men’s basketball coach Hubert Davis. Davis even agreed to have a Buckets meal named after him. Gerstein said Davis was the quickest to respond and said what Buckets was doing was incredible. Davis answered Gerstein within five hours of him sending a request for him to get involved, and before Buckets was even an official restaurant.

“If Hubert Davis believes in me, that says something, that means that I’ve got something good,” Gerstein said.

Edited by Sabrina Ortiz and Julia Rafferty