Critical issues projects have been funded on a yearly bases with rolling deadlines since 2017. Here are a few winning projects.

#FreeNseRamon: Human Rights and the Art of Resistance

Emily Burrill
Joseph Jordan
Victoria Smith Ekstrand
Angela Stuesse
Ingrid Smith
Tutu Alicante

Since September 2017, a global movement for freedom of expression and human rights has emerged through the digital mobilization of human rights defenders, artists and editorial cartoonists in countries around the world. That month, the award-winning graphic novelist and political cartoonist Nsé Ramón Esono Ebalé was arrested and incarcerated in his home country of Equatorial Guinea, West Central Africa, as punishment for his art criticizing the corruption of his nation’s leaders. In response, cartoonists from over a dozen countries coalesced into a virtual collective under the hashtag #FreeNseRamon, using the digital technologies of globalization to bring visibility to Nsé Ramón’s persecution. Hundreds uploaded original art demanding his release. Their efforts were instrumental in helping to secure his freedom in March 2018. This project sought to bring Carolina into conversation with one of Africa’s top political artists, as well as with a robust coalition of international organizations focused on freedom of expression, political cartooning, and human rights.

A Good Boy

Marc Callahan
Kathryn Hunter Williams
Lynden Harris
Dana Reason
Helga Davis
LaToya Lain
Ariana Wyatt
Rahsaan MacNeill

A GOOD BOY is an opera in progress with music by Dana Reason and texts by Lynden Harris–both in collaboration with Marc Callahan and Kathy Hunter Williams. The libretto is taken from Harris’s interviews with the mothers, sisters, and children of men who are living on Death Row–men with whom the creative team have formed relationships with, over the years. These stories unfold as the family members are waiting to visit their loved one in the prison.

Hear Us Now Lobby Activation Project

Kathryn Hunter-Williams
Vivienne Benesch
B.J Davis
Brian Moynihan

Based on the 1974 novel by E.L. Doctorow, RAGTIME tells the story of three families navigating the complexities of turn of the century New York City and confronting the dialectics inherent in the American reality: experiences of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair. In this story, woven together through the emerging sounds of ragtime music, the worlds of a wealthy Protestant white couple, a Jewish immigrant and his motherless daughter, and an African American couple intertwine; together, they discover the resilience of the human heart, the limitations of justice and the unsettling consequences of dreams permanently deferred.

Coupling what we believe will be a seminal production with a robust engagement strategy allows PlayMakers to ask questions integral to our mission and to ongoing conversations with our communities: what are North Carolina’s own immigrant stories, and how do they parallel or complicate the stories presented in RAGTIME? How do we fill in the missing pieces, today and over the course of PlayMakers’ next 100 years? And how do we, as citizens of this state and stewards of its stories, “make them hear us?”

The experience of coming to see RAGTIME and engaging in our lobby project Hear Us Now  will reach well beyond the passive consumption of a popular musical and instead feel like gaining access to a dynamic exchange wherein every guest plays both author and audience.

Jane Austen Summer Program: Pride and Prejudice and its Migrations

Inger Brodey
James Thompson
Suzanna Geiser
Kathryn Edelstein
Ashley Werlinich
Anne Fertig
Tatjana Zimbelius-Klem

The Jane Austen Summer Program (“JASP”) is designed to appeal to established scholars, middle and high school teachers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and anyone with a passion for all things Austen. The majority of attendees are members of the community, unaffiliated with any institution of higher learning. Our award-winning four day summer symposium has usually focused on one of Austen’s works. In addition to focusing on a novel, we explore the historical and social conditions of the time and the novel’s connection with other arts. We do so by engaging participants both in both rigorous intellectual settings (lectures and panels), more intimate and egalitarian sessions (discussion groups of 10-12 participants), and more playful and hands-on settings (quill-making workshops and the Regency ball). Our mission is to provide opportunities to engage in intensive humanistic inquiry outside of the academy and make sure that the study of classic literature and the historical period in which it was produced remains open to anyone. We have a special mission to train NC middle and high school teachers how to teach pre-20th century novels and make them accessible to their students.

Migration Stories: Linguistics and Belonging among Refugees from Burma


Photo Credit: Jen Griffin, from Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, Carrboro, NC

Becky Butler
Jennifer Griffin
Josh Hinson
Morgan Pitelka
Amy Reynolds
Rachel Seidman
Thadah Wah

More than 1,000 refugees from Burma live in the Triangle, migrants who relocated here as part of a U.N. resettlement program first instituted in 2005. Although often referred to as Burmese, this diverse group in fact includes a range of populations who speak different Southeast Asian languages depending on their family histories and migration patterns. Numerous local organizations have worked to support refugees’ adaptation to life in North Carolina, but many community needs remain, including improved access to and use of resources for physical and mental wellbeing. This project aims to amplify the voices of the diverse population of refugees from Burma based in the Triangle. Our interdisciplinary team of community leaders, historians, linguists, and social work professionals will collect and preserve oral histories and from the community, with special attention to past and present community needs. In the process, we will develop an ethical and empowering digital toolkit for the community—and other refugee communities around the country—to continue the work of collecting and preserving the voices of their friends and family members. The project interweaves the work of two campus projects. First is Southern Mix, a collaborative effort to collect oral histories from Asian and Asian American residents of the South, run by the Carolina Asia Center and the Southern Oral History Program. Second is the Burma Refugee Working Group, hosted by the Carolina Asia Center and including faculty from Asian Studies, Linguistics, and Social Work, as well as graduate students from Linguistics and refugee community members.


New Roots in Hyde County/Nuevas Raíces en el Condado de Hyde

Hannah Gill
David Tweedie
Gloria Benitez
Louis Pérez, Jr.
Amy Howard

“New Roots in Hyde County, NC” is a public history project that engages youth in documenting and celebrating community heritage in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, Mexico. The project is a collaboration between the non-profit organization Ocracoke Alive, the Festival Latino, and the New Roots/ Nuevas Raíces initiative of the Institute for the Study of the Americas, the Southern Oral History Program, and the University Libraries at UNC Chapel Hill. New Roots is an oral history and digital humanities initiative that engages migrant storytellers to inform public history and ancestral memory in the connected regions of the U.S. South and Latin America. The proposed project will advance New Roots’ long-term goals of engaging storytellers, scholars, students, and other global public audiences in the creation of these heritage resources in eastern North Carolina. Activities will include oral history workshops that engage high school students in storytelling activities with their families, as well as interviews with key informants to document the history of the annual Festival Latino and community connections to Hidalgo. We will work with the Ocracoke Preservation Society to curate a bilingual exhibition that will include digitized materials for its website and the New Roots bilingual website, which reaches public audiences, scholars, and students throughout the Americas. The activities will build cultural infrastructure in a local organization in an under resourced part of the state, provide skills training to local youth to document their Mexican heritage, advance participatory research of the New Roots initiative, and enhance UNC undergraduate education. Funding will support local non-profit organizations involved in organizing activities, as well as the travel costs of a faculty-led undergraduate student team of ten people for one week in Hyde County and a stipend for a graduate student assistant.

National High School Ethics Bowl BRIDGES

Dominique Dery
Jeanine DeLay
Steven Swartzer

The NHSEB BRIDGES Project aims to develop online tools and resources that facilitate knowledge-sharing and community-building interactions among the thousands of people involved in the National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) program nationwide. NHSEB is a remarkable youth program that uses friendly competition to promote respectful, supportive, and in-depth discussion of ethics. Modeled on the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, NHSEB hosts a series of competitions where teams engage in structured conversation that requires clear argumentation, examination of moral issues, and consideration of multiple viewpoints. With this program, there is tremendous potential for building a national community of ethically-engaged young people and educators. NHSEB BRIDGES seeks to help connect NHSEB students in different geographic regions in order to increase opportunities for civil and collegial conversations by establishing web-based discussion forum. This forum would facilitate information-sharing and collaboration among regional partners, and between regional organizers and teams. By helping to build bridges between high school teachers from a wide variety of institutions, this project will also increase access to high quality ethics-related educational materials, such as cases to be used in NHSEB competitions, and model case analyses. These materials would help broaden the range of interests and voices represented. Finally, this program seeks to foster the sharing of specialized ethics knowledge between universities and the broader public. By providing a set of high quality cases and model analyses, this project increases teacher and student access to ethics subject-matter expertise currently housed within elite university philosophy departments.


A Red Record


Elijah Gaddis
Brian Gibbs
Seth Kotch
Christie Norris

Initially driven by original, digital research and analysis by undergraduate students, A Red Record is a cartographic representation of historic lynchings in the Carolinas. This Critical Issues Project expands and develops A Red Record’s contribution to pressing public conversations about race, violence, and power through aesthetic reimagination, contributions from historians, expansion of the project’s scope to include the entire former Confederacy, and inclusion of lesson plans and training modules for high school teachers. Carolina K-12 and School of Education faculty will collaborate to help teachers bring this essential history into 11th and 12th grade classrooms. Phase I of A Red Record used open-source, open-access software to empower student research on lynching events in North and South Carolina. Phase II, while allowing for future undergraduate contributions, moves A Red Record beyond the Carolina classroom and into the public realm, combining the intellectual energies of teachers, education scholars, historians, and software engineers to create a digital resource hub that explores a history crucial to the story of migration and mobility inside and outside the American South before World War II. A Red Record proceeds with the awareness that lynch mobs and their allies used modern technologies—hand-held cameras, postcards, audio recordings, newspapers, automobiles—to accomplish their task and spread its trauma. Lynching’s terror was mobile, and its pervasive threat propelled a whole generation of African American migrants. In turn, this project uses its own contemporary technologies to redistribute these stories in the spirit of reconciliation, understanding, and critical examination of a still-understudied history.


Stories to Save Lives: Using Oral History to Improve Health and Medical Care in North Carolina


Biff Hollingsworth
William Kearney
Ritchie Kendall
Meg Landfried
Rachel Seidman
Sara Wood

Stories to Save Lives seeks to bring the powerful research methodology of oral history to bear on one of the critical issues facing our state: healthcare. Patterns of mobility and migration deeply shape North Carolina residents’ access to medical resources, their treatment at the hands of medical professionals, and their ability to engage effectively in their own health promotion. We know that health outcomes vary across the state, by race, ethnicity, class, gender, and region, but our quantitative measures cannot always explain why. In order to develop more effective interventions to save and improve lives, health care professionals need access to residents’ insights into their own beliefs about health and health care challenges in their communities.. Using digital tools to share these stories may profoundly reshape how policy makers and health care professionals approach these issues. The Stories to Save Lives project will undertake a pilot research study during the summer of 2018, gathering 40 in-depth oral history interviews focused on attitudes and beliefs about the health care system, and on community members’ own analyses of why health care challenges exist in their communities and how that has changed over time. These interviews will be archived at Wilson Library and made available to researchers worldwide. Students and community partners will collaborate to design and implement public digital projects based on research outcomes and on the needs of partner organizations. This project will provide valuable experience to the students who undertake the work, and crucial information to future researchers, practitioners, and community members.


Teachers, Artisans, and Entrepreneurs: Black Work and Community in a Southern Town

Lisa Gregory
Chaitra Powell
Kathy Atwater
Seth Kotch
Tim Stallman
Malinda Maynor Lowery
Danielle Dulken
Della Pollock

This project seeks to recognize and archive the ingenuity necessary to creating and sustaining a thriving economy in the historically Black community known as Northside, in Chapel Hill, NC. Initially a labor enclave attached to a public university, Northside is both unique and exemplary in its history of interconnected byways of work, labor, and economy. Through the digitization of documents that reflect the full spectrum of community life, this project will preserve and advance the legacy of work in Northside. The documents will be shared through a mobile public exhibition through themed visual displays coupled with listening stations, interpretive commentary by scholars, and story circles. These events will help us to understand more about sub-economies, desegregation, and the connections between business, school, church, and family that have long distinguished Northside and similar communities across the U.S.


Rubi Franco Quiroz
Ricky Hurtado
Todd Ochoa
Barbara Sostaita
Angela Stuesse

In collaboration with UNC DACA/Undocumented Resource Team and the Im/migration, Illegality, and Citizenship Working Group, UndocuCarolina has built upon and extended the resources of the Undocuments website into a set of workshops, film screenings, programs, and interdisciplinary learning opportunities intended to examine and better appreciate the contours of present day immigration policy and build community understanding of the causes and consequences of living undocumented. Through workshops with staff and faculty on campus, UndocuCarolina is also mapping the state of existing knowledges, attitudes, resources, and connections, in order to understand and improve the status quo.