When Lamar Richards was elected student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill in February, he knew he was making history. As the first Black, openly gay man to represent the student body at UNC’s flagship campus, he said he wanted to expand peoples’ idea of what and who Carolina students are today. On Thursday, when he takes his seat as the student representative on the school’s Board of Trustees, he’ll be sworn in by another boundary breaker: Cheri Beasley, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
“As the first Black, gay Student Body President of the country’s oldest public university, it is truly an auspicious and historic occasion to be sworn-in by the first Black woman to serve as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Richards’ administration said in a statement late Tuesday.
Beasley joined the state’s highly competitive U.S. Senate race in April, putting her head-to-head in the Democratic primary against state Sen. Jeff Jackson. The winner of that primary will head into a November 2022 general election that could decide control of a Senate now split 50-50 along party lines, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris providing tie-breaking votes.
Since Harris left the Senate to become President Joe Biden’s vice president, there have been no black women serving in the U.S. Senate. If elected, Beasley would become only the third Black woman to serve there.
Beasley joined the race after narrowly losing her election for chief justice in 2020 to Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican. Before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper made her chief justice of the state’s highest court in 2019, she won statewide races for an appellate court seat in 2008 and for associate justice of the state Supreme Court in 2014.
Richards said he’s honored to have Beasley swear him in as a student representative who aims to give voice to marginalized communities at UNC-Chapel Hill.
After he’s sworn in, Richards said he’ll deliver his first remarks as the student representative on the board. He said his priorities will include “an Academic Exclusion and Forgiveness Policy, increased financial support for underrepresented and historically marginalized communities, and reinforced flexibility and compassion as the Carolina community continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2021-2022 school year.”
Richards joins the board as it deals with a racially and politically fraught debate over offering a tenured professorship to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.