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.”