Staff, students hold town hall to voice concerns over UNC System reopening schools during pandemic


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Local university staff and students gathered for a virtual town hall on Thursday called “Safe Jobs Save Lives.”

The group said returning to in-person learning this semester is going to cause more harm than good.

Community members and lawmakers listened in to the discussion. Speakers represented campuses within the University of North Carolina System.

“I’m currently just in this grieving process of how epically this system has let us all down,” said Mo Kessler, a graduate assistant from Western Carolina University.

The group said money is being prioritized over protecting lives.

“We must realize that it is not if people get sick and die when we reopen but when,” said Andrew Freedman, an N.C. State University employee.

They said the UNC System and accompanying universities haven’t shared enough details about how in-person learning and campus life is going to safely work, especially if positive COVID-19 cases pop up.

“I’m frustrated and I am mad. I’m ticked off because we ask questions. We don’t get answers,” said Lakisha Morgan from N.C. State.

“UNC on every detail, every detail big and small, is playing extremely close to the vest. If you have a plan, a workable plan, why not share it?” asked Tracy Harter, a housekeeper at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Harter said an example of the system not being transparent is when the dozens of UNC athletes tested positive for COVID-19. She said they only knew about it from the news, even though she and others worked in close proximity to them.

“Who knew it? When did you know it and why didn’t you tell us? That is the perfect evidence you do not care,” said Harter.

Their town hall covered four goals: To be kept safe, to keep their jobs and incomes safe, to end institutional racism, and to give members of the American Association of University Professors and NC Public Service Workers Union a seat at the table.

“Essentially, all the lowest-paid, most vulnerable workers in the UNC System are being coerced, economically coerced, back into an unsafe working environment and that should shame the chancellor of UNC,” said David Branagan, a groundskeeper at UNC-Chapel Hill.

They said they’re going to keep fighting for safe jobs with the hope to save lives. Click here for more information.

CBS 17 reached out to the UNC System and some of our local universities to get their response to this town hall. Most did not respond.

N.C. State referred us to its “Protect the Pack” website for reopening information.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.