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I am not sure about my fellow classmates, but I am exhausted right now. It seems like it is always go! go! go! with little relaxation time. For my ethnographic study, I took a look at the courtyard in the Union Apartments complex to see what the inhabitants used this relaxing space for. Given Union’s proximity to the University of North Carolina’s campus, it is safe to assume that the large majority of the tenants at the apartments are UNC students. With the onset of COVID-19, rapid change to online classes, and the lack of large social gatherings, UNC students are feeling stressed and overwhelmed in a time like no other. However, the Union courtyard is a haven of relaxation, socializing, and also working, all depending on the day of the week. With this in mind, I had the question of what the people who used the Union courtyard had in common, and why they really used it. I sought after the answer through a series of observations and an interview.



When talking about a courtyard in an apartment, it is worth noting the history of courtyards in apartment buildings. When talking about a courtyard in the space of an apartment, authors Filonenko and Schekaleva beautifully describe it as, “harmony of man and the environment” (Filonenko & Schekaleva, para. 3). This courtyard, like many courtyards, where the students can spend some outside time. Being cramped up in an apartment all day doing class warrants the need for fresh air, and the Union courtyard offers that.

In a time of such unknown, the UNC students are definitely feeling the stress. In an opinion piece written in the Daily Tar Heel, students express such a simple yet power message, “we are exhausted.” (Editorial Staff, para. 1). They plead for a break: whether it be used for relaxation or catching up. The Union courtyard seems to be used for both. Some students come for socializing and relaxing, while others come to really focus on their studies. I was able to look at both of these aspects in my observations.


Observation 1 – October 2, 2020. 5:17-6:03 Union Apartments Courtyard in Building 2. Chapel Hill, NC:

For my first observation, I went out into the Union Apartments courtyard to take notes on what people were doing, and what possible motives they had for being outside in the courtyard. It was a Friday afternoon and there were many people outside, all sitting in smaller groups. I wanted to choose a day where the courtyard would be being used for relaxing purposes, not work reasons. In the first 5 minutes of sitting out there, my assumption that people would be relaxing in the courtyard appeared to be correct, everyone was socializing

There were groups all over and the groups themselves are smaller, anywhere from three to eight. I am not sure if this is because of COVID, or simply because those are people’s friend group sizes – maybe a mixture of both. People would walk through the courtyard, most of those people were wearing masks, but all of the people who were sitting down in their respective groups were not wearing their masks. People were treating masks like a restaurant. I am assuming that people who are comfortable enough to socialize in a courtyard, somewhat near others, are probably comfortable eating in a restaurant hence the restaurant-like routine being used with the masks. These people were not breaking any COVID rules and definitely are staying safe from my view.

At the end of this Friday afternoon observation, I was able to learn that people in the Union Apartments courtyard are comfortable socializing, no one was doing any work on Friday – despite it being midterms, people are in desperate need of a break, and people are being responsible about COVID, yet still enjoying themselves.


Observation 2: October 4, 2020. 3:29-4:14 Union Apartments Courtyard in Building 2. Chapel Hill, NC:

For my second observation, I went to the same spot again, but there was a different energy in the courtyard. I went on Sunday. I purposely chose days I knew where the people and activities in the courtyard would be different in hopes to find commonalities between totally different subjects. Everyone was studying on Sunday. With midterms and just normal classes, Sunday afternoon was a time to work hard on school. There were much smaller groups: ranging from 1-4 people.

Everyone studying seemed to care a little more about COVID rules than the group on Friday. The group on Friday was not breaking any rules, but the group on Sunday was much more spread out and around 25 percent of the people sitting at tables had masks on – even if they were sitting by themselves. This is not a definite conclusion, but it is worth noting that people who prioritized studying in the courtyard also prioritized masks, while people who were there for social reasons on Friday did not care as much about masks. I believe that it is safe to say that the people wearing masks at their tables along probably do not feel as comfortable eating out or being in public as much during this pandemic.

From my Sunday observation, I can conclude that people enjoy studying outside, especially when the weather is nice, because there are others studying and it is conducive for productivity – as mentioned by freshman Jane Durden who I interviewed.



I really enjoyed doing this observation, and I am glad I did them on such different days. I got to see the two sides to the Union courtyard: social and work. Union has people that like to study, socialize, and everything in between. It is important for UNC students to find a balance of school and fun, and the Union courtyard is the perfect place for that.


Works Cited

Editorial Board. (2020, September 20). Editorial: Please, Give us a Break. The Daily Tar Heel.

Filonenko, E., & Schekaleva, M. (2020). Creating a safe environment in apartment courtyard design. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 753.

Google Images for Free and Fair Use

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