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Leadership Spotlight: Courtney Staton

November 19, 2018 • Erin Reitz • No Comments

Throughout her Carolina career, Courtney Staton has applied her curiosity and creativity to combatting injustice in the community. Learn how her experience as a photographer, spoken word artist, and her roles as Y co-chair and co-president have fueled her desire to make a social impact.


What drew you to the Campus Y as a first-year student?
When I was in high school the death of Trayvon Martin greatly affected me. His death caused a national stir about the way black youth, especially black men, are treated by police and others in roles meant to ensure safety or enforce law. I decided I wanted to get involved with social issues in college and saw the Campus Y as the place to learn, but also to act.

During orientation, an attendee asked how to find a committee at the Campus Y since they didn’t know anything about social justice or how to narrow down their choices. The person presenting said “just pick a committee.” This was helpful advice for me. I quickly learned that when you work on one social justice issue, you end up learning about other issues as well. So I picked a group, learned from them, and kept working until I figured out the work I liked best. There’s a lot to learn and unlearn, and that can feel overwhelming. To push through that, I’ve committed to continue learning.

Could you describe the transition from serving as co-chair of CJAA (Criminal Justice Awareness and Action) to running for Campus Y co-president?
I didn’t consider running for co-president until others brought it up! As a co-chair, I learned how criminal justice issues connected with so many other social justice issues, so I began reaching out to other committees to learn about potential intersections we could focus on together. After building these relationships, I felt committed to the Y and its future. The Y is outstanding, but there is a lot of work to be done to make sure UNC’s center for social justice is a place where others feel like they can engage with social justice. By running for co-president, I hoped that I could act on the work I’d started as CJAA co-chair – to try to make the Y a space that is even better for members of diverse groups, especially black and brown people and members of the LGBTQA+ community. In talking with my running partner Alexander, I realized we had similar concerns. Our co-presidency campaign wasn’t about us, it was about the Y and what was best for the Y.

What’s one lesson you learned as a co-president that will stay with you post-graduation?
One thing that stuck with me is the realization that if you call, people will come. None of the work we did last year would have gone as well as it did without the people who pitched in to help. Since the beginning with the Campus Y co-president election, people showed up for us. The people are the reason why we were able to serve as co-president and that type of community support never stopped. If we needed banners created or volunteers to help, we would put out a call for help and people would offer their skills and pitch in. That was the first time I’d experienced community support on that scale in a leadership position.

What are you investing your time in this year?
This year, I’m enrolled in a Capstone to pursue documentary work. I’m working on a poetic documentary about the journey of trying to find yourself through your family. In addition, I want to teach kids how to use documentaries to heal themselves or create change in their community. I’ve been looking at narrative therapy and exploring how documentary work is a form of narrative therapy.

Courtney represented UNC at the 2018 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

What advice do you have for students interested in social justice at UNC?
First and foremost, watch your mental health. When you’re involved in social justice, you want to make sure you monitor your own mental health as you try to help others. In addition, remember that social justice isn’t just about you personally. It’s an attempt to correct a systemic problem, and it can’t be fixed with one generation of work.

What does the Campus Y mean to you?
The Campus Y is all about hard work and opportunity. The morning after the 2016 presidential election, we were supposed to have an awareness meeting at the Y and when I arrived, I found some other club members there. Together, we processed the election. As a co-chair, I could see in the members’ faces they needed hope. As a leader, sometimes you have to find your strength a little faster. All through my time as co-president, we struggled. We struggled through the boycott; the movement to remove Silent Sam; the act of caring for the advocacy and service work of our committees; and the cleaning of the basement of the Y.  But the Campus Y has felt like a home through it all. It is the place where, when I walk through its doors, I know I can find hope and strength.

This November, we’re spotlighting current students and alumni who exemplify the Campus Y’s commitment to creating positive impact locally and globally. Please consider a Giving Tuesday donation of $5, $15.80, $158, or $1,580 to help us continue supporting students as they make a difference during their four years at Carolina and beyond.

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