#SpringCleaning: Cleaning Out the Monetization of UNC Traditions

We stood in the blazing sun, squished together like sardines, checking our clocks, never moving. My friend had already missed her morning class, the other had an hour before her shift at work and the crowd around us was getting angry. We were all angry. A day that was supposed to bring us together had become a class struggle in more ways than one.

Here at UNC, we are known for our traditions. We drink out of the Old Well on the first day of classes, link arm in arm to sing the alma mater after games and rush Franklin Street every time we beat Duke or win a National Championship. We are a school full of love for our university. Unfortunately, this love is getting exploited. This is especially the case for seniors. We may not have been a part of the college admission scandal, but there are still problems on our campus that should not be ignored any longer.

Senior Week has become a tradition at UNC, with the main event being the Senior Bell Tower Climb. It is on every graduation bucket list. Seniors climb the tower to sign their names on a brick and leave their mark. Seems simple enough, right? Nope. Something that should be a fun celebration has become something dirty. This event, like all of the others during Senior Week, is run by the General Alumni Association, or the GAA. Since the school does not technically run the events, there aren’t any real guidelines by the university on how these events should run. Because of this, the GAA has been monetizing UNC “traditions”.

This is seen clearly through the Senior Bell Tower Climb. The event was to start at 9 a.m. My friends and I woke up early and were in line for the event just before 8 a.m. There were fifty people ahead of us, some of whom had been there since 7:30 a.m. and earlier. We thought this would be like waiting for a basketball game. You get there early to get a good spot and get rewarded for your dedication. Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened.

You see, the GAA decided to have a fast pass lane. You pay a certain amount of money to skip the line and go straight into the tower to sign your brick. How do you get this fast pass? You have to donate $20 and have a GAA membership. And, of course, the GAA has a membership fee. For students, the cheapest option is $30 a year, with the fee being $50 a year after graduation. In total, the cheapest cost for a fast pass ticket was $50, but many paid $70. Many other senior events were not open at all to seniors who did not have the GAA membership.

Going in, we knew there would be a fast pass lane, but we did not expect the ridiculous treatment. We had to stand in line for hours as people who bought fast passes walked past the massive line and right into the bell tower, while no one from our line was being let in. The longer the wait and the hotter it became outside, the more people forked over $70 to pass the line to sign a brick.

My friends and I were in line for 4 1/2 hours before getting to climb. Others were there for over six hours before they made it inside. People around me talked about the classes they were missing, the paper they needed to write or the test they needed to study for, but we were all stuck waiting in an almost unmoving line because we wanted to take part in the “tradition” of the Senior Bell Tower Climb we were told was important. A "tradition" that has only been around since 2003.

The wait was frustrating, but what was angering was how the staff and our peers in the other line treated us. The system is elitist. It is as simple and sad as that. At 8 a.m., we started off in a line, but just before 9 a.m., we were told by staff to mush together in a large group to fit more people around the tower. We were shoulder-to-shoulder but excited for the day. But minutes became an hour, and we hadn’t moved. By hour four we had inched close to the front of the line. We could finally see the entrance. They finally started letting our group in, one or two at a time between the groups of fast passers, some of whom had been in our line in the beginning. Because we were put in a group and not a line, the front of the line became chaos. We inched closer and closer to the person choosing who was let in, begging them to let some of us inside. This is when real mistreatment started to happen.

Their security guard came down and told us we needed to back up, to make a line instead of the “mob” we were in. One of the staff claiming they would not let us in until we could back up, form a line and behave properly. We told them they had put us in this grouping and that we had no room to back up. They told us they would call campus police and not let us climb if we couldn’t follow their instructions. Wasn’t that what we had been doing for hours? Following orders, watching as people paid their way in. We squeezed tighter together, trying to make a smaller line. Senior Ambassadors came to talk to people in our line, joking that we had all “made the wrong choice,” before walking into the tower.

When we finally got to climb the tower, almost five hours later, we were exhausted, angry and disgusted at how our line of seniors was being treated by our alumni association and our peers because we couldn’t pay to be treated better. This isn’t a one-time thing. UNC traditions are being monetized to create an elitist system. It is a ridiculous notion that if you can’t pay, you can’t be a part of the tradition. Our campus is about inclusiveness, but our monetized traditions say otherwise. We can do better. We need to be better.