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Dean White stands at a podium and speaks at the Dean E. Smith Center.

Speaking at a candlelight vigil for nanoscience researcher Zijie Yan at the Dean E. Smith Center. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Our fall semester started out in joyous normalcy, with students repopulating the campus after a summer away, filling our classrooms, labs and libraries with their energy and drive. Week two turned dark with a tragedy that made national headlines: Carolina spent three hours in lockdown with the report of an active shooter on campus; one of our faculty members was killed. Barely two weeks later, the campus endured another lockdown when someone brandished a gun in the Student Union; that incident ended without violence. 

We mourn the loss of Zijie Yan, an associate professor of applied physical sciences, and extend our sympathies to his family. His legacy and contributions are remembered in this story. I also want to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty our faculty and staff went through during both episodes. The news headlines have unfortunately conditioned us to brace for the worst in such circumstances. 

In the days that followed both events, I took comfort in witnessing how Tar Heels were looking after one another. That includes you, our alumni and friends. I was gratified that so many of you reached out. That was a source of strength I don’t want to underestimate. 

In the weeks since, campus operations and our teaching, research and service have resumed. Recovery takes time, and everyone is on a different path. But we are resilient. We are Carolina Strong. 


Jim White

Published in the Fall 2023 issue | Letter from the Dean

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