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Inauguration Day 2021: Promoting democracy through Carolina Next

"As Americans, regardless of political viewpoints, we share a steadfast responsibility to defend and promote that democracy, to uphold the values of truth, freedom, equality, and the inherent dignity of every person."

An American flag flies above the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
(Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

Like many of you, I’ve been gripped by the events in our nation’s capital the past two weeks. As I’ve said before, the violence that day was a vicious attack on our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power that defines our nation. It was unacceptable and, as a University, we unequivocally denounce those actions, the people who instigated them and all ties to white supremacy. Today, we will watch the presidential inauguration and witness a vital part of our democracy. As Americans, regardless of political viewpoints, we share a steadfast responsibility to defend and promote that democracy, to uphold the values of truth, freedom, equality, and the inherent dignity of every person.

In the days following the attack, many people, including myself, had the urge to say, “this is not who we are as Americans.” But unfortunately, the rhetoric and history surrounding disenfranchisement targeting African Americans and other underrepresented groups is not new to this country. This is not who we want to be, or who we believe ourselves to be, but it is part of who we are, and we have to look at that honestly. Our University has mirrored the struggles and successes of our nation. The democratic values that are the fundamental bedrock of our academic mission did not always include every North Carolinian. As the leading global public research university, we must come together to build a community that values and maximizes the potential of all its people and empowers the next generation of leaders to preserve our democracy. We will rise to the call and promote democracy through our teaching, research and service.

We are championing these values in our classrooms, in our research, in student, employee and faculty spaces, and especially through our strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. The fifth strategic initiative emphasizes our duty to Promote Democracy locally, nationally, and beyond. We are committed to faculty research that examines the best practices of democracy and emphasizing the importance of listening to those with different perspectives. The Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life is tackling difficult questions around the impact of the internet, social media, and other forms of digital information sharing. The Hussman School of Journalism and Media is training the next generation of journalists about the importance of standing for debate and the free flow of information when our democracy is challenged. Our Program for Public Discourse aims to build our capacities for debate and deliberation, enabling us to be better citizens, civic leaders, and stewards of our democracy. There are many others across our campus and more to come.

During this difficult time, I encourage you to be there for one another and to give yourself an opportunity to process your feelings. If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, help is available. Visit the Healthy Heels blog for tips and tools for coping with daily stress. In addition, students can contact the Office of the Dean of Students, Counseling and Psychological Services, or Student Wellness. The Employee Assistance Program is available for faculty and staff. Wellness resources to support employee physical and mental well-being are also available on the Work Life section of the Benefits page.

On Monday, we celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. During the MLK Banquet on Sunday, Orange and Chatham County Chief Superior Court Judge Carl Fox said, “Resistance to change is still strong. There is still denial, and we must continue to lead.” That call is important, in the midst of resistance and denial, we are called to follow King’s example of nonviolence, speaking truth, and building community.

I am grateful and honored to be part of this endeavor, and in this community, with each of you.


Kevin M. Guskiewicz