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UNC-Chapel Hill Demonstrators Support Nikole Hannah-Jones And Cite Years Of Grievances

The UNC-Chapel Hill Black Student Movement held a demonstration on campus Friday to show support for Nikole Hannah-Jones and give a platform for Black students to air long-standing grievances.

Several hundred Black students, alumni, faculty and staff were in attendance, speaking their minds, singing and stamping their feet in a spirit of solidarity. Their central reason for gathering was to call for the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to give tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones.

"We are here today to stand in solidarity with a Black woman who is more than qualified to receive tenure from her alma mater," said Jayna Ellis, an officer with the Black Student Movement.

The president of the student group, Teddy Vann, listed Hannah-Jones' accolades — a Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody Award, a MacArthur Genius Grant.

"She deserves it. That is the beginning and the end of the discussion, she deserves it," said Vann.

The university's board of trustees has not yet held a vote to consider tenure for Hannah-Jones, who was expected to become a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media on July 1. Her attorneys sent a letter to the university this week to say she will not accept the position without tenure.

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Lamar Richards is a voting member of the Board of Trustees and has petitioned for a special meeting to be called to vote on the tenure issue, but five other trustees must join in his petition to force a meeting.

Students expressed frustration that they have felt disrespected by the treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones, but stressed that her treatment is part of a larger pattern.

The Black Student Movement presented 13 demands of the university.

"There are things that we've been asking for, screaming for, yelling for, for decades, for centuries," said the group's vice president Julia Clark.

"A misconception that I see a lot is that Black voices are not heard," Clark continued. "Black voices are heard on this campus. They are ignored, purposefully."

Their first demand is for a prominent memorial to James Cates Junior, a young Black man who was stabbed to death at the center of UNC's campus in 1970.

They also asked for protection from white supremacists who come to campus to heckle and harass students, for campus police not to be present when students move into residence halls, and for increased funding for counseling services for Black students.

Editor's Note: The Dean of UNC's Journalism School Susan King is a member of WUNC’s Board of Directors, which is appointed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. WUNC maintains editorial independence in all news coverage, including stories involving UNC.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.