Written by Kristen Snyder
On August 30th at 1:02 p.m., the Bell Tower rang three times. Time seemed to stop when the Tar Heel symbol of triumph became a memorial.
Some students waited in silence, while others held hands and prayed. Some students put their arms around each other, just thankful to still have each other. All remembered Professor Zijie Yan, the loss of the Carolina Community, and the even greater loss experienced by his family. That was the day we knew we had forgotten.
We’d forgotten we were not untouchable.
Sirens blared across campus. Flashing lights took over South Road as swarms of police officers moved in. As the helicopters circled above, anxiety-filled parents received goodbye texts from frightened students.
“I think everyone was really on edge because we didn’t know where he was in the building,” Sunita Agarwala said.
Agarwala was in Caudill Labs when the shooting took place. She sat in the dark among other frightened students, breathing quiet, shallow breaths. She noted that she had just completed Air Force ROTC Field Training, which allowed her to take charge and operate under pressure.
“Everyone was very stressed and scared. I think I was able to operate because I had experienced high-intensity training. I was telling people to get away from the door, to get away from the window, to be quiet and get down…” Agarwala said.
After the events of the shooting, many students demanded answers. Before the Bell’s last toll, on August 30th, the UNC Young Democrats could be seen crossing the street, holding signs and posters, making their way to the foot of the stairs of the Chancellor’s building to protest gun violence.
“The Republicans in Raleigh right now are not taking what happened here seriously,” Anderson Clayton said.
Clayton is the North Carolina Democratic Party Chair. According to Clayton, Republicans have failed to protect students by repealing the Pistol Permit statute.
Her reference to the Pistol Permit regards the former North Carolina regulation that all pistol permits be signed by a sheriff. This statute was repealed within the Guarantee 2nd Amend Freedom and Protections Bill passed in a party-line vote earlier this Spring.
Republican representatives passed the bill in hopes of broadening the rights of gun owners. Specifically, North Carolina concealed carry permit owners can now carry on certain school campuses.
“There has to be a reckoning in our state Capitol right now, y’all. The Republicans need to know that we are coming for them just as people right now are coming for us on our campuses and our classrooms and our lunchrooms and everywhere else in between…” Clayton said.
Clayton’s words reached a crowd of UNC students, faculty, and staff members, hanging onto her message and meeting her call to action with thunderous applause.
This event fueled the UNC Young Democrats to spread their message by protesting with March For Our Lives at the NC General Assembly against limited gun restrictions.
“We’re tired of thoughts and prayers; that’s really across the board we’ve been hearing from the GOP delegation in North Carolina… there’s no solutions coming from the other side in a time when we really need action on gun legislation,” TJ White, UNC Young Democrat President said.
UNC College Republicans expressed similar frustrations and called the outcome of the shooting a tragedy on campus.
“The most sensible approach, and in this case, I think that it’s my position, especially that you should increase security presence and make sure that tragedies are mitigated as soon as possible after they occur because you’re not gonna stop them all from happening,” said Jacob James.
It seemed that while many of the students settled back on campus, many never believed that such an invasion of security would take place again. Until, once again, on September 13th, another Carolina Alert message struck fear in students and faculty.
Armed and dangerous persons alert on Campus.
Students walked across the campus unknowing of the danger before them. One student on a bike fled from the PIT.
“Get inside!” he yelled.
Students ran to buildings as others pulled them inside. Professors opened their classrooms and began lockdown procedures. It was just a few minutes before the sirens sounded.
And just like that, the Quad was empty, and Carolina was no longer safe.
“This week whenever everything happened again on Wednesday, it was definitely more of a frustration more than anything else that we have to do this again and we are going to be stuck in here again,” Serah Culler said.
Serah Culler is a Junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her experience was unique to those at Carolina due to her homeschooling. She had never been through any form of lockdown training or situation like this before.
“I don’t want to feel like a sitting duck everywhere I go,” Culler said.
Culler is a UNC student and a contributing member of the Carolina Community. However, she is also part of a smaller, less vocal community on campus, the quiet minority of UNC conservatives.
With the outstanding presence of the Young Democrats and UNC Republicans refusing to make a statement, UNC conservative and Republican students have become scared to share their opinions… afraid that they might be alone in their worldview.
Culler said while she felt supported by her professors, she often felt unsafe sharing her perspective with fellow students, as many students have already made negative comments regarding conservatives and Republicans.
“I get it; this has been a really tough situation… I’m not denying that at all, but I don’t think the correct response is to make people more unsafe by limiting how they can protect themselves,” Culler said.
Culler argued that when her safety as a student was put at risk, she needed a way to protect herself. In the classroom, she was a sitting duck, simply hoping that the assailant wouldn’t be determined enough to break into the room she was in.
If he had, he would have certainly made it through a makeshift barricade, and she wouldn’t have been able to protect herself. It is for this reason that Culler finds a different solution to the same problem being solved by the UNC Young Democrats.
“It’s a tool; it’s just a tool. It can be used for protection; it can also be used for harm, but it can mainly be used to protect you in a situation when things get really scary sometimes, so it’s better to have the training and the knowledge…” Culler said.
Although the incidents were unrelated, two armed personnel on campus in less than three weeks have many within the Carolina Community concerned and to come back on campus.
The Carolina Community is still healing. It may be a long time before we truly feel a carefree sense of safety on campus as we once did before. Perhaps this is a wake-up call. Perhaps, we take another glance at an exit map to the buildings we enter. Perhaps, we take alerts more seriously. Perhaps, we look at each other with respect, remembering how lucky we are to still have each other.
There are many ways of looking at a problem, but it is necessary to remember that we have many voices within UNC. We all wear the same shade of Tar Heel blue. We grieve together, we heal together, we grow together, so we never forget again.