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From the Dean to alumni and friends on the tragic event on Carolina’s campus

TUESDAY, SEPT. 5, 2023

Dear UNC School of Social Work Community

We appreciate your calls, emails and text messages.  

This past week has shown what the School of Social Work is really made of as a community.   

As many of you know, on Monday, Aug. 28, we experienced a tragic shooting death on campus. At 1:02 p.m., UNC Police received notification that shots were fired on campus. The suspect was apprehended around 2:30 p.m. Police issued an “all clear” to campus at approximately 4:15 p.m. 

Many of us sheltered alongside students who were in Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building that afternoon until we received the “all clear.” I am grateful to all who cooperated with our Emergency Operations Center, UNC Police and local law enforcement partners as they worked to restore safety to our campus. 

At a press conference on Monday evening, Chancellor Guskiewicz and UNC Police Chief Brian James announced that one faculty member was killed in this incident. At a candlelight vigil in the Dean E. Smith Center on Wednesday, Aug. 30, an estimated 5,000 members of the Carolina community honored the memory of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences at the College of Arts and Sciences. I ask you to hold his two young children in your heart. 

As I told our immediate community in an email message to students, faculty and staff on Monday evening, I am deeply appreciative of the support I saw unfold on Monday within our School of Social Work community. Our facilities manager and other staff members worked alongside me seeking to secure and comfort anyone in our locked-down building. We will continue to draw strength from one another as we process this tragic event and grieve for the victim and all who are left behind. 

Several of you are practicum instructors and are supporting our students as they re-enter practicum this week. Thank you for all that you are doing. Please know that Director of Practicum Education Andrea Murray-Lichtman is available to speak with you as needed. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Beth Mayer-Davis, dean of The Graduate School, reached out to all graduate students — including our MSW and PhD students — to share information about student counseling resources available to all students. 

Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 29 and 30, were a Condition 3: Closure for this campus. Becci Menghini, the University’s vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance, encouraged all UNC employees to prioritize caring for themselves and for one another. As Becci wrote, “Events like this affect each of us differently, and no one has to experience this alone. We stand together in support of our entire Carolina community.”  

The School hosted a Zoom gathering for faculty, staff and PhD students on Tuesday, Aug. 29, in order to listen, share Employee Assistance Program resources and begin to process our collective experience together. We invited our MSW students to attend a separate Zoom gathering with myself and Associate Deans Mimi Chapman, Sarah Naylor and Evi Taylor on Tuesday afternoon. We shared Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and other relevant information and gave our students a chance to process what they are feeling and experiencing. I am proud to note that CAPS director Avery Cook, MSW ’04, is a graduate of our MSW program. 

We know that this tragedy has impacted some of our international students in significant ways. As such, Associate Dean for Global Engagement Gina Chowa and her team are in contact with these students and made a concerted effort to meet with them in person on Wednesday, Aug. 30. 

Mimi Chapman offered all PhD students an invitation for breakfast and a supportive gathering the morning of Thursday, Aug. 31, when they returned to class.  

Robin Sansing, our director of wellness, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Coordinator Alicia Freeman and Director of Behavioral Health Springboard Sarah Reives-Houston provided a similar opportunity for MSW students who returned to class on Friday, Sept. 1. The trio is hosting a series of MHFA-informed drop-in sessions to invite students to gather for refreshments, fellowship, journaling and supportive activities and as an informational resource about mental health support services provided by the University. Additional drop-in sessions are scheduled twice per day on Friday, Sept. 8, Monday, Sept. 11 and Tuesday, Sept. 12 (students have a Well-Being Day today following the Labor Day holiday).   

Alicia, Sarah and Robin provided similar in-person and virtual drop-in events for faculty and staff on Friday, Sept. 1. Additional in-person drop-in sessions for employees are scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 7 and Tuesday, Sept. 12. 

We are checking in with all students one-on-one via personal notes and emails from their faculty and advisors.  

At the University level, I’m grateful that several of our faculty who are licensed clinical social workers and those trained in Mental Health First Aid are helping to run support groups for faculty who work in schools and centers across Carolina’s campus.  

Other faculty developed guidance and assembled resources to support faculty as they re-enter the classroom space and support students in their healing journey.  

We will continue to support and seek healing and solace for our community while we grieve for our Carolina colleague’s family and loved ones.  

Earlier this week, the University set up a hotline for students, parents, staff, faculty and the community to address concerns and questions. It can be accessed by calling 919-918-1999. It now goes to a regularly checked voicemail account. Please click here for an FAQ with more information from UNC. 

At times like these, we appreciate the support of our larger UNC community. Thank you for holding us in your hearts as we move through what will be a difficult time in the aftermath of this latest and very local act of senseless violence. It has meant a great deal to me personally to hear from so many of you during this difficult week. 

The Chancellor and campus leadership have selected The Heels Care Network as a place to direct alumni who seek a means to support the University at this time. The pan-university initiative is based in Student Affairs and supports mental health, resilience and well-being of our students, staff and faculty. 

If you are in touch with a faculty or staff member from your days at UNC, please reach out to check on them and encourage them to seek help if they need it. If you know a Carolina student, please share the link to CAPS and encourage them not to go through this alone.  

Like social workers in general, our school showed strength, courage and compassion. The days ahead will also require social work know-how as we harness the lessons learned and work to fortify all that has been unsettled. We appreciate your unwavering commitment to the School of Social Work and your support of your alma mater. 


Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson