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Black Students And Employees Deliver Demands For UNC Chapel Hill

UNC Chapel Hill staff member and representative of the Carolina Black Caucus Jaci Field gives opening remarks at a press conference led by Black student groups July 7, 2021.
UNC Chapel Hill staff member and representative of the Carolina Black Caucus Jaci Field gives opening remarks at a press conference led by Black student groups July 7, 2021.

A coalition of groups representing Black students and faculty met at UNC Chapel Hill Wednesday to describe their vision for a safer campus in the wake of the fight over tenure for journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

"We're here today, not in celebration of Nikole Hannah-Jones being awarded tenure, but instead standing here to acknowledge that tenure was the bare minimum," said Julia Clark, vice president of the UNC Black Student Movement.

Hannah-Jones announced Tuesday she was rejecting a job offer from the UNC Chapel Hill and instead going to Howard University, a historically Black institution.

The UNC Black Student Movement, the Carolina Black Caucus and the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association held a press conference to describe their joint demands.

The Black Student Movement previously released its own list of demands of the university that range from removing the police presence during campus move-in day to improving sexual assault prevention training.

Members of the UNC Black community are now presenting a concentrated list of 2021 priorities, that includes:

  • text message alerts to warn when white supremacist activists are on campus
  • termination of campus police captain Rahsheem Holland, who was elevated to acting chief this spring
  • hiring more Black counselors and increasing Black staff for the Title IX office and the Carolina Women's Center
  • a metric-driven recruitment strategy for Black faculty
  • equity scorecards publicly available for each university department
  • a permanent memorial for James Cates, Jr., a young Black man who was stabbed to death on campus by a white motorcycle gang in 1970
  • restoration and signage for the Unsung Founders Memorial honoring Black people who helped build the campus
  • and that grade appeal information is included on syllabi.

"These are actionable items," UNC Black Student Movement president Taliajah Vann said of these demands. "We are holding the university's feet to the fire."

Vann said the group's goal is for the university to implement these changes within the coming academic year.

"Our demands of this university are designed to protect the Black community at UNC as well as to end the systemic oppression and exploitation of our community," said Julia Clark, Vice President of the UNC Black Student Movement.

The UNC Black Student Movement is now calling for the university to terminate Rahsheem Holland and select a new acting chief of campus police.

Julia Clark, vice president of the group, says Holland hit her in the face while he forcefully removed her and other students from a closed meeting last week where the university's Board of Trustees voted on tenure for Hannah-Jones .

Video footage posted on Twitter by the UNC Hussman Alumni account shows Holland and other campus police officers pushing Clark and others from the board room.

University officials announced Tuesday that Holland has officially assumed the role of acting chief of police after former Chief David Perry submitted his resignation. Perry has been on leave since mid-May and Holland has been serving as the acting chief since then, the university said in a press release this week.

Following that public announcement, the UNC Black Student Movement made a statement on social media to call for his termination.

"We firmly resist this decision in the face of the trauma Rahsheem Holland and other officers caused so many Black students," the statement said.

Students say they plan to meet with two UNC trustees this week to discuss how the board can support their efforts to create a more equitable space for Black students.

"We're trying to create a Carolina community that is safe for everyone," said Vann.

"Safety is the bare minimum," Clark said, "I shouldn't have to be strong. I shouldn't have to be an advocate. I should be able to be a student."

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.