UNC rally shows support for Hannah-Jones, decries campus atmosphere for Black students

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Saying “this fight is not new,” more than 200 UNC-Chapel Hill students, faculty, alumni and others gathered on campus Friday to protest the university’s failure to grant tenure to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Taliajah Vann, president of the campus Black Student Movement, said racial issues on campus are bigger than the tenure of Hannah-Jones. Vann cited too few Black faculty and a lack of support for Black students on campus.

The BSM, which organized Friday’s “solidarity demonstration,” outlined a list of 13 demands for UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, including more transparency in the tenure review process.

Julia Clark, vice president of BSM, says she’s had two Black professors in her two years at UNC, even though she studies African, African American & Diaspora Studies. She says she’s “terrified” as Black faculty say they’re considering leaving UNC because of the current climate.

‘How dare you?’

Lamar Richards, UNC-CH student body president, said at Friday’s gathering that he has been telling prospective Black and minority students to reconsider coming to UNC.

“The chancellor and board said to me, ‘How dare you?’” Richards said. “I looked at them and said, ‘How dare you? How dare you invite more students here when you can’t even support the students you have?’”

Richards is a member of the UNC-CH campus Board of Trustees, which would vote on tenure. But the question of tenure for Hannah-Jone did not make it to the trustee board when she was named earlier this year as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism.

Hannah-Jones was given a 5-year contract with the opportunity for tenure later. But previous Knight Chairs at UNC have received tenure when they were hired.

The legal team for Hannah-Jones sent a letter earlier this week to the university stating that she will not join the faculty as planned on July 1 unless she is grainted tenure.

Controversy over 1619 Project

For weeks, professional journalists, scholars and UNC-CH faculty, alumni and students have demanded the board grant Hannah-Jones tenure and defended her work. Critics across the nation have argued that race, politics and Hannah-Jones’s work on The 1619 Project are behind the board’s decisions. The project, which was published in The New York Times, used the lens of slavery to reframe the history of the United States.

In its Twitter thread announcing Friday’s protest, the Black Student Movement said this is “another example of UNC not supporting their Black students and staff” and “showing their commitment to white supremacy.”

Hannah-Jones’s attorneys threatened a federal lawsuit in late May saying UNC-CH “unlawfully discriminated against Hannah-Jones based on the content of her journalism and scholarship and because of her race.”

Richards has formally requested a special trustees board meeting to discuss and vote on Hannah-Jones’s tenure application. So far, the board has not called a special meeting, despite public pressure and a legal threat. Its next meeting is scheduled for July 14 and 15 in Chapel Hill.

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