The Pit : The University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill
The Pit at UNC is, without question, the center of campus society. It's the free speech zone where students talk with their friends, bask on its alternately shaded and sun-drenched steps, buy used books, class rings and lattes all while checking e-mail from wireless laptops, and being asked if they have a minute for the environment or 30 seconds to help stop hunger in a third-world nation.
It was also — nearly 40 years ago — the scene of a murder and, more recently, a violent vehicle attack that some labeled terrorism. That's quite a resume for an area that is, essentially, a three-foot-deep, brick-lined rectangle added to campus in the mid 1960s.
The Pit's construction was part of a larger plan that included the construction of the Daniel House Undergraduate Library and the Frank Porter Graham Student Union. Prior to its construction, the courtyard next to the Campus Y on Cameron Avenue — called Y Court — served a the central outdoor gathering area.
Students routinely congregate in and around the Pit to chat as they pass between classes. Along the Pit's eastern edge, student groups set up a line of tables from which to push causes, sell tickets and recruit members. Large wooden cubes near the Student Union are colorfully painted with messages promoting various events, and speakers of every stripe deliver their sometimes colorful monologues to the onlookers.
Over in the corner, near the newer Davis Library, middle school playground vendettas are given new life as contestants throw down on a lazily-lined four-square court, or scribble political messages and poetry on the brick in chalk.
In the center of the pit, in front of the Student Stores, students hold more events such as hunger lunches beneath two giant pin oaks, which date from the Pit's construction. The plan that led to the Pit's expansion was part of a systemic response by the university to the enrollment explosion that followed World War II.
Tragedy has been part of the history of the Pit and first struck on Nov. 21, 1970, during an all-night dance at the Student Union. A racially-motivated fight broke out in the Pit between local African-American men and members of a motorcycle club in Durham. When the dust settled, one of the local men, a Graham Street native, had been fatally stabbed.
More recently, in March 2006, UNC alumnus Mohamed Tehari-Azar drove a rented SUV through the Pit in an admitted attempt to kill people. He only injured nine, none critically. He planned to plead insanity. Since the Tehari-Azar attack, just as after the stabbing, students have continued to throng to the Pit — albeit with scrutinizing campus police never far from its edge — finding in it a bustling place to catch, take a break and ponder what's up at Carolina.