Almost exactly 48 hours after a professor was shot and killed on campus, students, their family members and community residents gathered in front of South Building to advocate for stronger gun control laws.
“We are sharing our lived experiences and calling on our lawmakers to do better,” Sloan Duvall, the secretary for UNC Young Democrats, told a crowd that numbered in the hundreds. “Don’t let our reality be living in fear every day we go to school.”
The rally, This Is Our Reality, was organized by UNC Young Democrats, Students Demand Action and March for Our Lives at UNC. Speakers included David Hogg, who has spoken out against gun violence since he was a student during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people; North Carolina state Sen. Graig Meyer; N.C. Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton; and North Carolina state Rep. Allen Buansi ’15 (JD).
Behind the speakers, dozens of students held signs with slogans including “We can end gun violence” and “This is my second school shooting.”
Volunteers walked through the crowd asking students if they were registered to vote, and some students handed out flowers.
Students took turns telling their stories of what they experienced during the lockdown on Aug. 28, the day Zijie Yan, a professor in the department of applied physical sciences, was shot and killed in the Caudill Laboratories building. Tailei Qi, 33, a doctoral student on Yan’s research team, was later charged with first-degree murder and possession of a gun on educational property.
Students gathered on the steps outside South Building to call for stiffer gun control laws and mourn the loss of the perception of UNC as a safe place. Megan Chen ’25, president of March for Our Lives UNC, said Carolina is now part of the statistics on school shootings, and students have to “second guess our steps and count our blessings.”
Hogg, who co-founded the group March For Our Lives after the Parkland shooting, said his generation had been instructed to “run, hide and fight” when confronted with a shooter. He asked those in the crowd to raise their hand if they had been told that saying, and a majority in the crowd raised their hands. “There is no other country that has our level of income that has that many hands,” he said, referring to those who indicated they’d been taught the instructions.
Hogg called on young people to run for office. “If they won’t change the gun laws here in North Carolina, guess what, it’s time to change the government,” he said.
Clayton, Myer and Buansi emphasized to students the importance of voting for change, while expressing their condolences and saying shootings shouldn’t continue happening.
“When I was the age that you are, I didn’t have school shooting drills,” Meyer said. “I grew up in the generation that was in the Cold War. … But by the time I got to be an adult that Cold War had ended. Yet, here we are left in a war of our own creation, amongst our own citizens.”
First-year student Liana Evelyn was in the crowd listening to the speakers and said many of her friends did not want attend the rally, but she said she felt it was necessary. “I am really glad I got to come out here today and yesterday at the vigil,” she said, referring to a candlelight ceremony in the Pit the previous night. “It just makes me really happy there is a place I can go to air my feelings the way I want to.”
— Cameron Fardy ’23