Hundreds gather on UNC’s campus to demand tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

Photos by Kyle Ingram

Demonstrators call on UNC-Chapel Hill trustees to take action by June 30

Several hundred UNC students, faculty and staff gathered on campus Friday to demand that Nikole Hannah-Jones be awarded tenure. 

The demonstration, organized by UNC’s Black Student Movement, brought a broad coalition of university members — including professors from departments across campus, alumni and concerned students.

“We stand here today in solidarity not only with Nikole Hannah-Jones, but with every single Black faculty member, Black student, Black alumni, Black graduate student — everybody,” Julia Clark, the vice president of UNC’s BSM said.  “…We recognize that this incident is merely a symptom of a larger disease of white supremacy that exists on every corner of this campus.” 

Clark and Taliajah Vann, the BSM’s president, presented a list of 13 demands for UNC’s Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, including a memorial for James Lewis Cates Jr., a Black man who was killed by a white supremacist gang on UNC’s campus in 1971.  

Julia Clark and Taliajah Vann, Vice President and President of UNC’s Black Student Movement

BSM also demanded that the UNC Board of Trustees hold a vote on Hannah-Jones’s tenure before the end of the month — when new board members will be take office. 

“What we’re really calling for is that this issue be addressed now before June 30, before we have new members coming into the board so that current members of the board can rectify their mistake that they made in the first place instead of pushing this back even further,” Clark said.

As Policy Watch reported, UNC’s Board of Trustees failed to hold a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and creator of the 1619 Project. She was hired at UNC as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative reporting — a position in which all past Knight Chairs have been granted tenure. 

Over the last few weeks, the BOT has received more than 60 letters in support of Hannah-Jones from various academic departments at UNC, alumni groups, student groups and journalism organizations. 

UNC’s student body president, Lamar Richards, has petitioned the board to hold a special meeting to vote on tenure. If five other board members join him in this petition, the board will be forced to hold a meeting within 10 days. 

Campus leaders, including Vann, Clark and Richards met with the chancellor on Wednesday to discuss student concerns regarding the Hannah-Jones case. Leaders said Guskiewicz was receptive to their concerns, but offered little in the way of concrete solutions.

“We take everything that the administration says with multiple grains of salt,” Vann said. “You are not interested in action. You have not been interested in action for decades. If you invite us into your space and you tell us, ‘I am here as your chancellor right now to listen to you and to help the Black community,’ we challenge you to do just that.”

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