Student government is the mechanism for self-governance that Carolina students have managed in one form or another for the university's entire history. Today it consists of an undergraduate division and a graduate and professional student division, both of which have executive, legislative, and honor system branches. All students pledge to follow the Honor Code, which includes ideals of academic honesty, personal integrity, and responsible citizenship. Members of both honor systems are responsible for hearing and adjudicating alleged Honor Code violations. The respective legislative branches oversee the management and disposition of student fees to approved organizations. By state law, since 1972 the undergraduate student body president serves as a full voting member on the UNC Board of Trustees.
For the first 100 years or so the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies made laws governing the conduct of their members on and off campus. In 1875 the university required every student to join one of the societies, so that they would all come under a governing policy. Student government got its start in 1904, when class representatives organized a committee —later the Student Council —to preside over cases of hazing, cheating, and other violations of the Honor Code. The first student body constitution, adopted in 1946, established a Student Council, a Men's Social Council, a Women's Social Council, an Interdenominational Council, and the Women's Council. In the 1960s the student body grew more diverse and administrators became more involved in adjudicating student conduct, especially over the issues of dorm visitation rules, participation in protests, and drug use. In 1969 a committee appointed jointly by the chancellor and the student body president considered the issue of reform. Their work resulted in the creation of the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance, passed in 1974. The instrument has been amended since then but is the basis for the current governing system. The Graduate and Professional Student Federation was founded in 1971 to represent those students' interests within student government and university administration. In 2017 students voted to separate the two, creating the dual system that exists today.