Campus Y

The campus chapter of the Young Men's Christian Organization was founded in 1859 as a religious organization for students and was initially housed in South Building. The Y was a popular gathering place and by the late nineteenth century began to administer nonreligious programs. Many student services were run through the Y, including the campus bookstore. For a brief period the Y even ran student athletics. The YMCA Building, designed by Frank Milburn, opened in 1907 and quickly earned a place at the heart of student life. The YMCA published a student handbook, organized a freshman orientation program, offered career services, and hosted a popular soda fountain. A campus chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) was founded in 1936 to support the growing population of women at UNC. The two organizations worked closely together and merged in 1964.

In the 1920s the Y began to look beyond the campus, sponsoring the Institute on Human Relations (later renamed the Symposium on Public Affairs), bringing prominent speakers to campus to discuss national and international issues. The outward-facing role of the Y grew as other campus organizations began to take responsibility for student services and as religion played a less prominent role in student life. The Y's active role in community life increased under the leadership of Anne Queen, who came to Carolina in 1956 to lead the YWCA and later served as the director of the combined Campus Y from 1964 to 1975. During this period of great change and protest, Queen was a mentor to student activists and placed the Campus Y at the center for the struggle for social justice at UNC—Chapel Hill. Students affiliated with the Campus Y were active in protests against the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights and racial justice. Ending its formal affiliation with the YMCA in 1978, the Campus Y, now administered by UNC Student Affairs, hosts programs and provides services for student groups working on community engagement and social justice.


Date Established: 1859

Date Range: 1859 – Present

The YMCA Building, shown here with signs for student government elections in April 1942, was the center of UNC student life for decades. Photo by Hugh Morton. Hugh Morton Photo Collection, North Carolina Collection Photo Archives, Wilson Library.