Around 50 people, including UNC faculty and students and Chapel Hill community members, gathered at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday to show their support for Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, ahead of the UNC Board of Trustees’ 9 a.m. meeting at The Carolina Inn.
The rally was organized by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Carolina Black Caucus in response to the Board of Trustees' choice to not take action on approving Hannah-Jones’ tenure as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which was first reported by NC Policy Watch.
People lined the entrance of the inn holding signs reading “Support Genius not Ignorance,” “I can give you 1619 reasons why Hannah-Jones should be tenured” and “Nikole Hannah-Jones is all of us #ProtectBlackFaculty.”
Chapel Hill buses, a cement truck, cars and other vehicles honked their horns in a show of support as they drove past.
Trish Harris, vice chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, said it was an opportunity to stand in solidarity, particularly for Black faculty and staff members, who are constantly pushed into the margins.
“I feel like it’s important that we take a stand and show people that we’re constantly, time after time, being silenced, right, and just to let them know that we won’t be silenced and that we won’t be silent,” Harris said. “And if we don’t stand up then who? If I don’t do it then who?”
Earlier that morning, UNC student leaders and advocates, some of whom were at the BOT meeting, wrote an open letter to Hannah-Jones that said they cannot ask her to come to UNC, where academics of color, especially Black women, receive minimal respect and a lot of criticism.
“We cannot stand by as our University routinely diminishes and undercuts marginalized and BIPOC voices in academia in an effort to bend toward partisan pressures rooted in a fear of America’s historical truths,” they wrote.
Hannah-Jones is set to begin a fixed, five-year term as a professor of the practice starting July 1, with the option for tenure at the end.
Erin Siegal McIntyre, an assistant professor at the journalism school, said the decision to not grant Hannah-Jones tenure was hard to understand.
“It seems pretty clear that a prof like Nikole Hannah-Jones is not only qualified but extremely overqualified for a position of teaching here at Carolina,” McIntyre said. “And the decision to not grant her tenure is extremely hard to understand and I think our community deserves full transparency in why and how that decision was made.”
At 9:07 a.m., almost all protesters went inside and lined the right wall of the room where the Board meeting was taking place, standing with their signs raised.
They looked on and clapped as Lamar Richards, UNC's first Black, gay student body president, was sworn in as a member of the Board of Trustees by Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who was the first Black woman to hold that position.
As Board Chairperson Richard Stevens spoke, several protesters repeated “Shame, shame on you,” and two individuals were removed from the room after several started singing “We shall overcome” and “We will not be moved.”
The group snapped their fingers as Richards gave his first remarks and commented on his position as the Board's sole student member.
“My job here is not just to be another trustee, but to bring forth the perspectives, ideals and thoughts of 30,000 individual people,” Richards said.
All but three protesters filed out following Richards’ remarks.
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