A crowd of protesters gathered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Thursday in a solidarity protest over the tenure denial of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones.
The group was organized by the Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP chapter along with the Carolina Black Caucus. Demonstrators including students, faculty and community members, gathered prior to the Board of Trustee’s meeting with signs of support which read, “1619…2021 Same Struggle,” and “I can give you 1,169 reasons why Hannah-Jones should be tenured.”
Much of the misogynoir aimed at Hannah-Jones stems from her riveting investigative work, The 1619 Project, which delved further into the origins of America’s dark foundation, chattel slavery. Earlier this week it was announced that the UNC Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees made the decision to deny Hannah-Jones tenure as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, a historically tenured position.
Hannah-Jones’ position will begin on July 1 and will instead serve five years as Professor of the Practice, with an option to be reviewed for tenure at the end of her contract.
According to NC Policy Watch, which first reported the board’s decision, Hannah-Jones began the rigorous tenure application process last summer and was supported by current faculty and the tenure committee. The process became muddled once it was submitted to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
Her supporters claim the board succumbed to pressures from conservative critics who have denounced her work, pulling from opposition bullet points which began in 2019, the same year as the report’s publication.
In response, university leaders told the Associated Press that the process was paused because Hannah-Jones didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background.”
Hannah-Jones attended the University of Notre Dame for her bachelor’s degree and obtained her master’s from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. In 2017 she received a MacArthur Fellowship and won the Pulitzer in 2020. She has almost 20 years of professional experience in journalism, beginning her career in the education beat at the Raleigh News & Observer.
Support for Hannah-Jones continues to mount within the community, the institution and abroad as journalism professors across the country banned together in writing a letter of support, calling for the Board’s reconsideration.
“As reported by NC Policy Watch, the board’s decision is an attack on academic freedom as well as journalistic integrity,” the letter, posted on Medium, states. “It is an act of blatant partisanship and racism in the academy. It undermines the authority of the Hussman School dean and faculty and of the University chancellor. It is a personal attack on a journalist we, as journalists and journalism academics ourselves, hold in the highest esteem. It is an act of political cowardice.”
On Thursday Hannah-Jones broke her silence regarding the controversy, tweeting, “I have been overwhelmed by all the support you all have shown me. It has truly fortified my spirit and my resolve. You all know that I will OK. But this fight is bigger than me, and I will try my best to not let you down.”