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Monday March 27th

'Who keeps us safe?': UNC Black Student Movement holds demonstration at BOT meeting

Student activists from the Black Student Movement speaks to Board of Trustees President Gene Davis and UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz after the BOT meeting that granted tenure to Nikole Hanna-Jones.
Buy Photos Student activists from the Black Student Movement speaks to Board of Trustees President Gene Davis and UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz after the BOT meeting that granted tenure to Nikole Hanna-Jones.

Demonstrators, led by members of the UNC Black Student Movement, gathered in support of Nikole Hannah-Jones during Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting at The Carolina Inn.

The special meeting was called to vote on Hannah-Jones’ tenure application — which was approved in a 9-4 vote.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and soon went into closed session, which is standard practice when the Board deliberates and votes on personnel matters like tenure. But this was not communicated to the public, resulting in confusion. Some demonstrators refused to leave the room, and UNC Police officers forcibly removed them.

Student Body President Lamar Richards, who was unable to attend the meeting in person, said the closed session was enforced to protect Hannah-Jones.

“Depending on any outcome of this meeting, we do not want there to be any contest made that could potentially impact/interfere (with) stuff in the future surrounding this issue,” Richards tweeted. “Our fight is for her to be treated the same as every other candidate.” 

Richards also wrote in a tweet that it should not have been the student body president's job to be transparent and explain the process — and noted that he had to prepare for the special meeting, which he requested when Board leadership didn't call it.

According to a statement by George Battle, vice chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management, approximately 75 members of the public attended the Board of Trustees meeting. 

"We respect the right of our community to peacefully express themselves, but the law is clear that demonstrators cannot disrupt public meetings and proceedings," the statement read. "The situation was resolved with no injuries and proceedings were able to continue without further interruption."   

But BSM Vice President Julia Clark said she was punched in the face by a police officer during the demonstration, causing her mask to fall off and resulting in a bruise on her cheek.

Clark declined to comment.

Hannah-Jones retweeted a video of the demonstration and asked for anyone who had the names or contact information of the women whom officers shoved out of the room to message her directly.

Demonstrators then began chanting, “Abolish BOT. Abolish K.G.,” and “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe,” outside of the room where the meeting was being held. 

One demonstrator said that no matter which way the Board voted, the University's relationship with its Black students and faculty will not change.

According to a tweet from Erin Siegal McIntyre, a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, she and other faculty members were allowed to wait inside the inn during the closed session. But students had to wait outside — where the temperature was around 90 degrees.

When the meeting returned to open session almost three hours later, Vice Chairperson Gene Davis spoke first.

"In (approving the tenure), this board reaffirms that the University puts its highest values first," Davis said to laughter from demonstrators.

Hannah-Jones released a statement following the decision.

“Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me," she said. "This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet."

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a campuswide message Thursday that he was pleased Hannah-Jones' tenure case was resolved, and that the University needs faculty and staff who will challenge them to be better

"I know there are members of our campus community who do not always feel they are part of this journey," Guskiewicz wrote. "We must support and value every member of our community, and particularly our Black faculty, students and staff who, by sharing their experiences, have helped us understand their disappointment on our campus."

After the meeting adjourned Wednesday, students confronted Davis and Guskiewicz about being forcibly removed by officers, saying the Board has made the University traumatic and toxic for Black students. 

“You are enabling white supremacy," one demonstrator said. "You are upholding white supremacy. You are white supremacy.”

Members of the Black Student Movement then had a conversation with Davis and airdropped a list of demands to his phone. He agreed to meet with them to discuss their ideas further.

@laurmccarthyy | @isabellareillyy

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