Western Carolina University

Republican Madison Cawthorn and Democrat Moe Davis, candidates for North Carolina's 11th Congressional district seat left vacant by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have both agreed to appear at a two-day joint forum hosted by three of the district’s largest media outlets, Blue Ridge Public Radio, Smoky Mountain News, and Mountain Xpress.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Seventeen residents of Harrill Hall at Western Carolina University have tested positive for COVID-19. The cluster is the first during the fall semester, according to Jackson County Public Health.

“We expected there to be cases related to our campus as more than 9,000 students returned for residential in-person instruction this fall,” says Kelli R. Brown, WCU chancellor in a press release. “We have extensive protocols in place and will continue to execute our quarantine and isolation procedures.”

Resúmenes para la semana del 24 de agosto

Aug 27, 2020
Illustration by Luis Martinez

Racismo en la Universidad


La universidad Western Carolina University ha condenado abiertamente la realización y publicación de videos con contenido racista y de supremacía blanca. Estos videos fueron compartidos públicamente en las redes sociales de Snapchat y Twitter el sábado pasado. Como respuesta a estos videos realizados por alumnos de la universidad, el Decano Kelli Brown publicó otro video explicando que los comentarios e insultos realizados por los estudiantes no reflejan el espíritu del establecimiento educacional. 

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Nearly 400 people marched on the campus of Western Carolina University Wednesday afternoon in response to racist videos featuring students that were posted to social media last weekend.  Those students are no longer enrolled at Western Carolina and will not return. 

Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

A lawsuit has been filed against the UNC System to halt the start of classes statewide. The lawsuit lists all UNC System schools including Western Carolina University.

Associate Professor Jack Summers teaches chemistry at Western Carolina University. He’s one of the lawsuit plaintiffs because he says COVID-19 makes it impossible to have a safe work environment on campus.  

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Western Carolina University Faculty Senate narrowly approved a resolution calling for all classes to go online when the fall semester starts next week.  Dr. Yancey Gulley, an associate professor in higher education and student affairs programs at the school, introduced the resolution. 

He says the decision on whether classes should be online or in-person lies with the statewide UNC System.

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

Western Carolina Faculty Senate will vote on Monday for a resolution asking the university to be 100 percent online because of COVID-19.  Chair of Faculty Senate Kadence Otto says the emergency meeting was called in order to bring up the resolution before the semester starts – even though it won’t send students home.

“Even if the resolution passes nothing is going to change because the resolution is simply the voice of the faculty,” says Otto. The vote will take place via Zoom. 

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University


The first day of class for most UNC System schools is August 17. BPR spoke with a Western Carolina University student who already contracted COVID-19 as school officials set out new policies to address the pandemic.

Miranda Curtis is from Murphy. She’s a hospitality and tourism management major at Western Carolina University. Right now she’s rethinking that career path... 

“I mean it seemed like a good major before all of this started,” says Curtis, who is 23-years-old.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University students will be back on campus this weekend.


Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Sam Miller expects about 400 students will move into the residence halls on Saturday. Students have signed up for specific times to remain socially distant.  


In total, about 3,500 students will be living in the dorms when classes start on August 17. Miller says this is down from about 4,000 last year for a variety of reasons. 


Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Western Carolina University is preparing for next month’s fall semester, which will have a mix of in-person classes and online instruction. 


Western Carolina University has 15 different work groups and task forces finalizing the details of the return to school next month.  Cory Causby is the associate vice chancellor of human resources. 


Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University has removed the name of former North Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator Clyde Hoey from its auditorium on campus.  

Lilly Knoepp

(Update 4/23) 

Jackson County Public Health Department has announced that 3 additonal people working on the Apodaca Science Building at Western Carolina University’s campus have tested postitive for COVID-19. This brings the total to four positive cases on the work site. 

Lilly Knoepp

Western Carolina University is keeping its campus open while transitioning classes online. BPR spoke to a university official about what students should do at this time.  

On a Thursday morning the Cullowhee campus is mostly empty because of spring break. 

That break has now been extended through March 23. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Sam Miller says over a hundred students are on campus but all will need to weigh their options to figure out what is best for them: 

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina Chancellor Kelli Brown sent out a notice on Wednesday evening in alignment with a UNC system decision to move all students online and out of the classroom. 


WCU is extending its official spring break by an additional week until Monday, March 23. 


Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a Monday afternoon, and John West is rehearsing a wind and brass ensemble at Western Carolina University. West had already been teaching here about 15 years when most of these students were born.

“Clarinet section, can you give me more on those 16th notes there?” he asks his students. “Just a little early on that last leg. Deee-dahh, da-da-deee-dahhh. Wait for that, alright?”

On the eve of his retirement, after 35 years at the university, West said his job has evolved beyond teaching and conducting. West takes the podium a final time March 28 in a concert in the university’s Coulter Building.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University has named a former Catamount baseball player as the school’s new athletic director.  Alex Gary will now oversee the Western Carolina athletic department which fields teams in 16 sports.

Lilly Knoepp

Update 2/7/2020: 

(4pm) The Health and Human Sciences Building at Western Carolina University is scheduled to reopen Monday, February 10, after county, state, and university officials have determined that there are no public health or safety issues.  Multiple investigations revealed no definitive cause for the incident. 


Western Carolina University chancellor Dr. Kelli Brown says North Carolina's ongoing state budget stalement will likely take a toll on the school's record enrollment numbers if it continues.  

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

On the official Western Carolina University E.J. Whitmire stadium information page the first line says: “Alcohol and alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited in E.J. Whitmire Stadium.” 


But that is changing. 


The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees unanimously approved a plan to sell beer and wine at campus athletic venues. This resolution comes after a three month long study of the benefits and drawbacks to having alcoholic beverages available at sporting events. 

Western Carolina's 'Opportunity Game' Against Alabama

Nov 27, 2019
Bill Killillay / Killillay.com

Thanksgiving has many traditions.  One of them is football, with three NFL games on the holiday and a long list of heated college rivalry games this weekend.  Western Carolina isn’t playing, as the Catamounts finished out their season last weekend.  They did it in a big way though, traveling to the University of Alabama to play the Crimson Tide. While the game may have been a loss on the field, it was a big win for the Catamounts in terms of exposure, experience, and more.

Lilly Knoepp

  You might see some familiar faces at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  For the second time, Western Carolina University’s “Pride of The Mountains” band will march in New York City.  

It’s Friday afternoon and the band is running through its final rehearsal. 

The students line up on the brown intramural practice fields. The group is just trying to beat the rain clouds forming overhead. 

Photo by Ingrid Christie

Renowned author and satirist David Sedaris is making his way back to Western North Carolina next week. 

It may come as a surprise to some of Sedaris’ followers that he spent a year of his early life in the mountains, as a student at Western Carolina University.

Lilly Knoepp

Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Lilly Knoepp sat down with North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green after she visited Western Carolina University writing students. Shelton Green talked about how she views her work as a part of Southern Literature, why poetry is important and where real change happens. Here are some key parts of the conversation. 

How people should be introduced: 


Lilly Knoepp

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate stopped by Western Carolina University this week to hear students share their poetry. 

Pam Duncan is an associate English professor at Western Carolina. Every year she starts her creative writing class with poetry. 

“I’m hoping that they will see that poetry can live in the real world. It’s not just limited to the classroom,” says Duncan. “I believe we all need poetry everyday.” 

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

North Carolina Republican legislative leaders continue to pass ‘mini-budgets’ as negotiations remain stagnant with Democratic governor Roy Cooper over his veto of their full spending plan.  Without a full budget, construction projects across the state are unfinished or un-started. Here’s a look at one such project. 

 Western Carolina University is heated by its steam plant, which was built almost 100 years ago. The university is currently waiting for $16.5 million in state funds to update it. 

Lilly Knoepp

Prescription opioid abuse has been in the national spotlight this summer as new data about the numbers of prescriptions per county has been released. North Carolina is also part of national lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma for their role in the crisis. 

Nick Breedlove/Jackson County TDA

  Fall is not just a beautiful season in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The foliage is also an economic driver for the region.

Dr. Beverly Collins is a biology professor at Western Carolina University. She predicted a bright and colorful leaf season but the September weather might be changing that forecast.

“We’ve been having a pretty intense heat wave since August,” says Collins.


Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

  It was 1957 when Dr. Levern Hamlin Allen headed to what was then called Western Carolina College. Allen remembers the long drive to Cullowhee from her where she was living in Charlotte in those days. 

“Oh 1957 that was a long time ago. When I look at the pictures of how tiny I was,”says Allen.  

Lilly Knoepp

  The Appalachian Regional Commission is holding its annual summit this week in Asheville.  The federal organization funds projects in  420 counties in 13 states from Mississippi to New York – including in Western North Carolina. 

 The Appalachian Regional Commission was created in 1965 to work on economic development and infrastructure projects such as highways in the region. 

Lilly Knoepp

Western Carolina University has been breaking enrollment records for years but as they expand they need to continue to remember their history. BPR digs into their recent archaeological finds. 


Under a hot sun, students wield tiny trowels and dust pans to unearth ancient artifacts under the supervision of their archaeology professor.