Demonstrators protest denial of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones ahead of UNC-CH Board of Trustees meeting

UNC-Chapel chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and demonstrators at this morning’s Board of Trustees meeting (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Demonstrators from the Carolina Black Caucus and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP gathered outside the Carolina Inn on Thursday to protest the Board of Trustees refusal to grant tenure to acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

“Lots of people are frustrated, they are angry, they are feeling unseen and unheard,” Dawna Jones, chair of the Carolina Black Caucus said. “They feel like this is a direct attack on Black women and Black lives and Black history.”

As Policy Watch reported, Hannah-Jones, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, was approved for tenure upon hire by faculty at UNC Hussman and the UNC administration, but the process failed upon reaching the BOT. 

“My initial reaction was shock,” Paris Miller Foushee, secretary of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP said. “But then it was like, ‘Well, yeah, you know, with what’s been going on [and] the climate in this country, and the politics — it’s reared its ugly head. And knowing the kind of body that is now in the Board of Trustees, everything lined up.” 

Tori Ekstrand, media law professor at UNC Hussman, said the BOT must give an explanation for their refusal to grant tenure — a refusal she believes to be connected to the recent bill that passed the N.C. House banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools.

Protester Dawna Jones (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Protester Paris Miller Foushee (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Associate Professor Tori Ekstrand (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

“I think it’s easy enough to connect the dots here,” she said.

Miller Foushee said this decision reflect the higher standard that Black women are held to compared to their white counterparts.

“If a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is denied tenure, what hope do we have as other Black women and other women of color to be able to have any kind of success in historically white institutions like this?” she said. 

The protesters gathered in the Carolina Inn as the BOT’s meeting began. A few cried out “shame, shame on you,” as the board’s chair, Richard Stevens spoke. They then began singing “We shall overcome,” as the board asked them to stay silent.

Lamar Richards, UNC’s new student body president was sworn in at the meeting and gave brief remarks. Though he did not mention Hannah-Jones by name, he spoke broadly of the nation’s racial reckoning. Protesters clapped at the end of his speech, after which most were led out of the conference room.

UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, will hold a media availability later today to discuss the issue.

UNC journalism student Kyle Ingram is an intern at NC Policy Watch.

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