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UNC law professor plans launch of new book, focused on NC representation and politics

Gene Nichol, a professor at the UNC School of Law, is pictured on Feb. 23, 2023, in Van Hecke-Wettach Hall.

Some would call Gene Nichol’s path from an Oklahoma State college football player to a UNC law professor and activist somewhat unconventional. 

His current focuses at the School of Law include civil rights and discrimination, along with constitutional and poverty law. He also served as the director of UNC's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity until it closed in 2015. 

Nichol has written multiple books, including "The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina: Stories from Our Invisible Citizens" and "Indecent Assembly: The North Carolina Legislature's Blueprint for the War on Democracy and Equality."

His soon-to-be-released book — "Lessons from North Carolina: Race, Religion, Tribe, and the Future of America" — explores the lack of representation of marginalized groups in North Carolina's government and its political effects.

“The first thing I hope people see is that we are literally in a battle for the future of democracy in North Carolina, and we are frequently losing that battle,” Nichol said. 

Nichol said he is surprised by the way that the state has "cast aside" many of its prior commitments to democracy and its constitution by instilling frameworks that disregard numerous minority groups. In his research, Nichol has also spent the last 20 years analyzing poverty throughout the state.

“(We are) saying repeatedly through our policies that some people count and others don't,” he said.

Brianne Megahan, a third-year UNC law student, said she admires the work that Nichol has done for marginalized groups and enjoyed the opportunity to be in one of his classes last semester.

“I think saying that taking classes with Professor Nichol is a privilege is an understatement,” Megahan said. “It really is just the greatest opportunity to be able to learn from someone like that.”

Megahan believes that there is no better professor to teach the poverty seminar he offers at the University – a class she was able to participate in.

“I think my biggest takeaway from him is that he’s seen some of the worst of how society treats marginalized people, but he is almost relentlessly optimistic and hopeful that we can do better as a society,” she said.

Law Professor William Marshall, a long-time friend and colleague of Nichol, said he appreciates Nichol’s work inside and outside the classroom.

“He brings to attention a lot of issues that people don’t think about and sometimes prefer not to think about, and that includes the devastating effect that poverty has on marginalized groups within society,” Marshall said.

In addition to teaching, Nichol works with students through the N.C. Poverty Research Fund. 

Although Nichol said he enjoys interacting with students, the most rewarding aspect of his research is working with low-income people and activists across the state.

Nichol said his “deep and permanent” love for North Carolina is based on the local community and their commitment to the state’s aspirations for its future.

Nichol’s said he will continue to share his research even if it means criticizing certain state structures.

“I think that when you love something as much as Gene Nichol loves North Carolina, you're going to be critical of it because you want it to do the best that it can,” Megahan said. 

Nichol’s book will be available on Amazon starting April 25, but he personally suggests that those who are able should support local bookstores.

Discussion and signing events will be held on April 26 at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and May 2 at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. 


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