After months of activism from students, faculty and other members of the community, the UNC board voted on Wednesday to approve Nikole Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure. But many students think there shouldn’t have been a debate in the first place.
Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Genius Fellow, was first offered a five-year fixed-term contract as the Knight Chair in Racial and Investigative Journalism – the two previous Knight Chairs at UNC were established when they were hired. Many believe Hannah-Jones is overqualified for the job and think she deserved a start from the start.
Jarrah Faye, a junior double major in African, African-American and Diaspora Studies and Sociology, said she felt the board vote was the bare minimum.
â€œI really don’t feel anything,â€ she said. â€œIt wasn’t something I should have had to go back and forth to events in protest. This woman is a Pulitzer Prize winner. His mandate should not have been questioned.
Residence Hall Association president Elliana Alexander said she was happy Hannah-Jones had been established, but felt the long process showed UNC had a long way to go in terms of racial equity. .
Alexander said it wouldn’t have taken countless statements in academic departments, demonstrations and protests for the council to offer him his mandate.
Austin Geer, a junior double major in biochemistry and neuroscience, said he was delighted Hannah-Jones was offered tenure, but believes the decision should have been made months ago.
“She definitely deserved it,” he said. “There shouldn’t have been a question.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, student protesters were forcibly removed by police when the council sat behind closed doors. Julia Clark, vice-president of the Black Student Movement, said she got punched in the face by an officer during the incident.
Alexander said the situation shows how disconnected the board is from the UNC community.
“Students should not be caught in the crossfire, having to put their physical bodies in danger and be beaten by the police to get the right thing done,” she said.
Faye said if the council had given Hannah-Jones the warrant in the first place, she wouldn’t have had to watch her friends get hit and pushed around by the police.
Geer said if student body president Lamar Richards had not called the special meeting, the board would have postponed the situation indefinitely.
Faye said it was black student activists who pushed for a reconsideration of Hannah-Jones’ tenure case.
â€œIt was really the black student activists who sacrificed their time, work and homework to protest Nikole Hannah-Jones and the overall black experience at UNC,â€ she said.
Going forward, Alexander said it is important that the University truly counts with its history with race and racism.
Geer said the University must start listening to the voices of black and marginalized students and take steps to address their concerns in order to make the University a more comfortable space. He said he felt the University hears what they are saying but does not make the effort to actively listen to them.
The Hannah-Jones case was just a starting point for the larger work that needs to be done at UNC, Alexander said.
â€œThis problem is not an isolated problem,â€ she said. “It really reflects the systemic inequity that runs through UNC that has never really been addressed.”
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