Alice Wilder is speaking from her own personal experience, and not on behalf of Emilio’s campaign team.
Hearing the results of last Tuesday’s Student Body President runoff election in Carroll Hall left me in tears. As I cried in the hall, Andrew Powell’s parents walked out of the room. I thought about the fact that Emilio’s parents would never be in that room, and wondered what kind of effect, if any, my tears had on the Powells. Even if they had said something to me, I wouldn’t have known how to reply. It’s hard to talk about how I feel a week after we heard the results. I’m angry and betrayed, but there’s hope there too.
The anger isn’t because we lost this election; it’s because so many of my fellow students—63% of those who voted—voted no on making Carolina accessible. They voted no on taking real, concrete action against sexual assault, and they voted no on fostering communication and uplifting the voices of their fellow Carolina students who experience oppression in various ways.
Team Emilio represents the Carolina that I love. The refrain that my sister and I have been repeating throughout the campaign is: “Carolina deserves better than this.” I know that all of this isn’t the most gracious thing to publish after losing an election, but I care more about the survivors at this university than I do about being polite.
I was jumping and screaming on Franklin Street last Thursday night after the Duke game like so many other UNC students, but it was hard to feel that wonderful “one Carolina” feeling when I knew that just two days before, the choices of my fellow students had reduced me to shaking with sobs in a dark corner of Carroll Hall. I knew that someone—maybe one of them—had replied to the ECON listserv saying that Emilio should be deported. I knew from experience that many students openly said that they wouldn’t vote for Emilio because he is gay. That is not my Carolina.
And yet, in the same breath, some people said that this election “wasn’t about identity.” Please. Emilio’s membership in various oppressed groups meant that everything he said was viewed as if he was promoting an “agenda.” Because of Andrew Powell’s privilege, he could walk up to a podium and immediately start talking about his platform without first having to excuse or explain his identities. Too often on this campus marginalized folks are discriminated against when they try to make campus a safer space for themselves and their peers.
A week before the election, I had to send my parents an email telling them that I’d be speaking really publicly about a situation I was in earlier this semester. Once I started to learn more in my classes about the way sexual assaulters isolate their targets before an assault, it all felt very familiar. Too familiar. It all reminded me of an experience I had at a party earlier in the semester with a guy who could have been trying to isolate me—single me out for assault. And it wasn’t just that he might have been trying to isolate me, it was that the threat of sexual assault felt so close—a threat made even more real because I have so many friends who are survivors. I’ll never know for sure what might have happened that night, and that makes looking back at the experience all the more traumatic.
Did the people who voted for Andrew Powell know how hard it was to send that e-mail to my parents, publish the story of my experience online, or even just to admit to myself that I, like so many of my friends, may have faced real danger that night? Andrew’s team may have said he was “strong on sexual assault” when campaigning in the Pit, but he ultimately failed to show me through his actions that he would stand with survivors. He might have included information on changing the Greek community’s approach to sexual assault prevention—which is commendable—but the problem of rape on campus is bigger than the Greek community. His platform addresses the prevention of sexual assault campuswide in just one sentence: “The recent Sexual Assault Policy Forum in September made clear the need for a personal and interpersonal wellness portion in LFIT classes, a goal that the Powell administration will strive towards.” His section on crosswalks is longer than the section on sexual assault prevention. That is not my Carolina.
And yet, despite my disappointment, I feel so hopeful and full of love. Even though there were tears, even though I was angry, there’s no one at Carolina I would rather have been with last Tuesday night than the rest of Emilio’s campaign team. I may be biased, but Team Emilio has the best goddamn organizers on this campus. I am so proud of all the work we have done so far. We knocked on every door, we fought the uphill battle, and we lost—but there’s not a thing I would have done differently.
That night, surrounded by folks baring their raw emotions, I remember thinking that this is what creates change. Not detachment—“oh whatever, what’s the point of the SBP anyway”—or coolly shrugging it off—“democracy is a sham anyway, why even try”—but passion and commitment. Being 100% invested and rooted to a community, a cause: this is what creates change. We have that here.
So I know it’s going to be okay. I’m angry because I care about this election, but I’m hopeful because we all care so much.
Everything that I said before about why I need Emilio’s leadership is still true. I still need an openly feminist Student Body President who understands how privilege, power, and oppression operate on our campus. The election may be over, but Team Emilio lives on, and I can’t wait to see the kind of change we’ll make together this semester as we continue to talk and plan. Want to join us on this journey? Sign up here.