Meet An Alumna: Chelsea Barnes
Meet alumna Chelsea Barnes, graduate of the Class of 2015 and current J.D. candidate in the UNC School of Law.
As a current law student and former undergraduate, I am what we affectionately call a “Double Tar Heel.”
I find a sense of pride in saying this now, but if you had asked me if I would be here five years ago there is a strong possibility I would have told you, “I don’t know.”
I am a citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and grew up in a small town about 30 minutes outside of my tribal community. Though I excelled in high school, I still had those pre-application jitters that many of you may be all too familiar with. As I look back on my senior year of high school, I remember being nervous about whether or not I would get into Carolina and if I did, what it would be like when I got there. Very few people where I was from went to college and of those that did, few went to schools like Carolina. In some ways, it felt out of reach.
When I got my acceptance letter, I was ecstatic. I entered my first year at Carolina hopeful about what the future would bring. Once I got there, however, I soon realized that I would need to find a support system. I floundered (to say the least) during my first semester and questioned whether or not I really belonged. My initial support system was Alpha Pi Omega, a Native American interest sorority. During my first months at Carolina, the women within the sorority reached out to me and ensured me that I was welcome and supported. When I later joined the sorority during my sophomore year, I learned that its very purpose was to serve as a support for college women in today’s society.
Though I had grown up outside of my tribal community, I was beginning to find my home at Carolina. Becoming a sister of the sorority led me to other opportunities, including becoming more involved with the Carolina Indian Circle (CIC), UNC’s undergraduate Native student group. I had the pleasure of serving as the president of CIC for two years. In the process, I learned so much about myself, my culture, and how to be a leader.
My involvement in these organizations led me to a myriad of other opportunities during my time as an undergraduate. I had the opportunity to work as an intern for Congressman Tom Cole through the Udall Foundation and was an honorable mention for the Udall Scholarship. I had the opportunity to serve on committees and work with university officials to plan events. I got to know other leaders of student organizations and work with them in efforts to make Carolina a place that would seek to embrace diversity wholeheartedly. Though I worked hard to earn these opportunities, I wouldn’t have gotten there without the support system I established within the Native community at Carolina.
Despite my initial academic struggles and issues I faced during my first year at Carolina, my support system within the Native community enabled me to excel both personally and academically. The network I created provided me with the support I needed to apply to law school and the confidence to do so. In some ways, not much has changed. I am currently serving as the president of the Native American Law Students’ Association and working with other members of our organization to think of ways we can increase enrollment of Native students at the law school.
As I think back to my experience as an undergraduate, I am humbled by the opportunities I was given. As a Native American female from a small town in eastern North Carolina, there are many (including myself) who wouldn’t have predicted that I would be where I am today. All of this goes to show that with lots of hard work, finding your support system, and a little bit of fate, things happen exactly as they are supposed to. My name is Chelsea Barnes, and I am a (double) Tar Heel.