How Nikole Hannah-Jones and UNC’s Black community say school can begin to fix things

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Black students, faculty members and alumni have called out UNC-Chapel Hill leaders as the university reckons with its history and current issues of race.

In each crisis — from the handling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument to COVID-19 protocols to the process of hiring and granting tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — activists have offered solutions and steps for leaders to take to improve campus for people of color.

In announcing that she would not join the faculty of UNC-CH after a bruising but victorious fight over tenure, Hannah-Jones admonished the university Tuesday to begin to fulfill its obligations to Black students and employees.

“In the case of my tenure, the university has, begrudgingly, done the absolute minimum,” Hannah-Jones wrote in a statement. “In a split vote, it did what it was supposed to have done 7 months ago and, in doing so, many believe the university has resolved the issue. It has not.”

Hannah-Jones said that if UNC leaders sincerely wish to redeem themselves — “to live up to the university’s status as the people’s university” — they should:

apologize to protesters who were physically shoved out of the Board of Trustees meeting last week where Hannah-Jones’ tenure was finally brought to a vote;

release information that explains why trustees twice deferred a vote on Hannah-Jones’ tenure application when all previous Knight Chair appointments at UNC were hired with tenure;

see to it that members of the mostly white and male UNC System’s Board of Governors and the newly appointed UNC-CH Board of Trustees both reflect the demographics of the state and of the university;

and agree to a list of demands from the Carolina Black Caucus, which requires “an actual commitment, with targets, for recruiting, supporting, and retaining Black faculty.”

Hannah-Jones said she would have been just the second tenured Black woman professor in the 70-year history of the UNC journalism school, and its first and only Black woman full professor.

Black women account for just 1.9% of tenured faculty at UNC, and Black professors together account for just 5%, Hannah-Jones said in her statement. North Carolina is 22% Black, and the student body at UNC-CH is 8% Black or African-American.

UNC student demands

The UNC Black Student Movement sent a list of 54 demands to Gene Davis, vice chair of UNC-CH Board of Trustees, and to UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. Davis agreed to meet with student leaders about actions the board can take.

The list begins with the establishment of a memorial to James Cates, a Black 22-year-old from Chapel Hill who was stabbed on campus in 1970 and whose death was attributed in part to a delay in getting medical help.

The university is considering an official request for the UNC Student Stores building to be named after Cates.

The BSM also wants:

A reduction in what is described as a disproportionate number of campus police sent to monitor events where Black students are expected to be present, including move-in day at dorms on South Campus, where the largest concentration of Black students live;

Automated “anti-racist alerts,” to let students know when white supremacist groups are on campus;

UNC to bar white supremacist groups and speakers from campus;

Increased funding for counseling and mental health services and for minority therapists;

And dozens of other changes to improve daily life on campus for minorities.

The Black Student Movement and UNC Black Congress sent a list of eight demands in July 2020 advocating for changes in the wake of nationwide protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery. That list includes defunding the UNC Police.

In July 2020, UNC’s Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, representing minority undergraduate students and grad students, released a list of 10 recommendations for the university and the UNC System related to COVID-19.

At the time, the Commission was concerned especially about some students’ lack of access to computers and the internet as the Fall 2020 semester began with most students living off campus because of COVID-19. The Commission also wanted UNC to give preference in on-campus housing during the pandemic to at-risk students, which the university did.

UNC employee demands

The Carolina Black Caucus continues to share a list of actions for UNC leaders to address “issues of racial inequity and institutional racism” on campus that it published in 2019. The letter was sent following the Silent Sam settlement orchestrated in secret by university and BOG leaders. A few of those demands have been met.

Some Black faculty and staff in this group said they’re considering leaving the university because they feel undervalued, particularly in light of Hannah-Jones’s tenure case.

The demands:

Hire a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the Chancellor;

(In the middle of the tenure controversy, UNC-CH hired Leah Cox as its new vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer in June. She starts July 19.)

Provide funding for an external review of the campus climate and quickly release the data;

(The UNC System’s Racial Equity Task Force issued a report in 2020. UNC-CH leaders said that during the 2020-21 academic year the university will conduct “campus climate surveys and develop metrics and benchmarks for annually tracking and reporting of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across schools and units.”

Provide “significant funding” earmarked for the recruitment and retention of Black students, staff, and faculty to better represent the demographics of the state.

Provide funding for programming and research in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Institute for African American Research, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies, the UMOJA celebration of Black graduates, and the Carolina Black Caucus.

Preserve and renovate the Unsung Founders Memorial to prevent further erosion and vandalism.

End the moratorium on the renaming of campus buildings;

Trustees voted to lift the moratorium, removed names from three buildings and are currently considering new names.

Require all members of the UNC System Board of Governors, UNC-CH Board of Trustees, and the Chancellor’s cabinet to participate in racial equity training through the Racial Equity Institute.

Train all staff and faculty to be “racial equity-minded.”

More reports, documents and letters from the UNC Black community that have been sent to the chancellor, trustees and other university leaders are available to view online.