The 'something' that the athletic scandal stole from UNC students

While writing about the Wainstein report for The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s campus newspaper, there hasn’t been much time to step back and consider the emotional toll it has taken on campus. It has been easy to forget how difficult this shock has been to internalize, and perhaps the arms-length at which our craft requires us to keep these things has helped us cope.

After all, the letters people send us these days are great, and my job has never been more interesting. I feel as though I’ve rushed through the stages of grief, overlooking the denial, anger, bargaining and depression suffered by the larger university community, and made a beeline for “acceptance.”

We’ve busied ourselves poring over the report’s countless supplementary documents and crafting condemnations of the NCAA’s collegiate model. The assumption has been that whatever reshaping the university’s identity undergoes is justified in the name of illuminating greater truths and the need for reform. After all, the real victims here are the students deprived of a quality education, not the fans whose pride has taken a hit.

But there is also great sadness at UNC beyond mere injured fanhood, and that deserves to be acknowledged. I can’t speak for everyone at UNC, but I have perceived a sense of loss among those, myself included, who grew up identifying first and foremost as Tar Heels – especially among those of us who matriculated through the university as students. There is anger that this identity, so precious to our conceptions of self, has been compromised by macro-level forces beyond our control. It would not be unfair to describe part of our response as an identity crisis.

Maybe we had it coming. Perhaps we ought not to have so closely bound our identities to a university whose character is determined by an endlessly diverse group of people, most of them strangers to one another. But the trust that existed between the university and its adherents was not unique, and it is certainly practiced elsewhere by its detractors. All people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

At any school, bonds are formed over shared experience, of having enjoyed the same victories and suffered through the same defeats, of having walked the same campus or eaten in the same restaurants. Those bonds will hold, but this stark reminder that the Carolina experience is not as uniformly good as we would have hoped could jar others loose.

When I was younger, my understanding of right and wrong could have been explained in terms of what it meant to root for UNC and what it meant to root for Duke. That same fundamentalism persists in the “Carolina Way,” an ideal borne of the desire to believe there is something about this place that compels the imperfect beings that comprise it to act better than they would otherwise.

I no longer believe this to be descriptive of my school, although I see nothing wrong with a collective aspiration to be kinder to one another. Maybe I would have come to this conclusion anyway as part of my growing up. But something has been lost, and it hasn’t been easy. It’s only fair to ask that bystanders to the fiasco keep this in mind.

Henry Gargan is the opinion

editor at the Daily Tar Heel at UNC-Chapel Hill.