Twenty-one members of the UNC Black Pioneers — an organization of Black alumni who graduated between 1952 and 1972 — released a statement on Wednesday calling on the Board of Trustees to take action in granting Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured position at the University.
Black Pioneer James Cofield said the organization was created to help Black alumni from those years share their unique experiences and to lend their voices on important issues in the larger community.
“The undersigned members of the UNC Black Pioneers fully support the joint statement of support for tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones issued by the Carolina Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at UNC,” the statement read.
In their statement, the CABJ and the NAHJ wrote that the two previous Knight Chairs at UNC arrived with tenure, and Hannah-Jones would be the first to not receive the same treatment — despite overwhelming support from Hussman faculty.
"After the state-sanctioned anti-Black violence and police brutality during summer 2020, the University committed to prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion through emails and miscellaneous committees," the statement read.
But when Black community members called for action on Hannah-Jones’ tenure, the CABJ and NAHJ said, UNC didn’t live up to these promises.
“Black journalism students are met with University leadership telling them, telling us that our education comes second in the face of state politics,” the statement read. “That the diversity of staff we have so earnestly begged for does not matter and that Black thought, intellect, work and labor is not valuable.”
Cofield said it would be an awful mistake if the University were to have its financial interests interfere with University operations, and called for clarity regarding the statement made by Walter Hussman.
Edith Hubbard, a Black Pioneer and the second Black woman to graduate from UNC, said she was concerned, hurt and angered by the Board’s non-action. She said she doesn’t understand why the previous two Knight Chairs received tenured positions and Hannah-Jones did not.
“Why all of a sudden, is that not a part of the package when it's a Black female?” she said.
Hubbard said the fact that the other two Knight Chairs were white highlights a larger issue with racial discrepancies in income and accessibility to the system.
She said she is heartened to see faculty and students rallying in support of Hannah-Jones.
Coefield said he believes Hannah-Jones is “eminently qualified” for a tenured position and called for the University to address equity and fairness issues without any reservations.
“The University's purpose is to serve all students, and the entire University community,” he said. “And the failure to do so is a failure on the part of the University.”
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