OPINION: Nikole Hannah-Jones, the UNC System does not deserve you

On June 29, nationally acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was granted tenure by the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees after a month-long conflict on a decision that should have been easy to make in the first place. Hannah-Jones released a statement saying she needed time to evaluate her next steps. After consideration, she decided to take a position at Howard University instead of UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Hannah-Jones, the UNC System does not deserve your class, skill and being.  

Why does a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer need a legal team to fight for her tenure? Why is it up to a student body president to petition for this journalist’s acknowledgement? Why were Black students and demonstrators at the UNC-Chapel Hill BOT meeting met with aggression and violence? Why are people thanking the BOT for approving Hannah-Jones’ tenure?

It’s extremely disrespectful. It’s wrong. It’s racist. 

When it was announced in late April that Hannah-Jones would become Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, a fixed five-year contract was presented instead of tenure. The two previous individuals in the role received tenure upon their appointment. Walter Hussman, a large donor to the school, worried Hannah-Jones and the 1619 project would overshadow his core values, which are written on a wall in the journalism school. Hussman emailed university officials his concerns, including one UNC-Chapel Hill BOT member. 

One such value says journalists must do more than seek the truth. They must uncover it without regard to previous notions of newsworthiness. Yet, Hussman was concerned Hannah-Jones posed a threat to journalistic pursuits. In reality, Hannah-Jones and her colleagues on the 1619 Project embody this trait through and through, explaining why and how this nation was built on the backs of Black people. It is uncovering the truth and it is what should be taught to future generations of journalists.

Hannah-Jones is what a journalist should be.

Named members of The Appalachian Editorial Board acknowledge and condemn the anti-Blackness rooted in the UNC System, and especially in student media. We admire The Technician’s early public allyship with Hannah-Jones. To non-Black student journalists and staff in the UNC system, support Black journalists and marginalized groups on campus ethically and honestly. Do not use their voices and talent for your gain. Do not speak for anyone. Be a watchdog. Seek the truth and report it.

Named members of this editorial board vow to uphold the promises made by our publication last summer after the murder of George Floyd. We will continue to update our diversity style guide and make strides in our newsroom diversity through intentional recruitment this academic year. We also acknowledge our representation of Black and Brown voices has been impacted by the systemic racism of our predominantly white institution and own biases, and will continue to hold ourselves accountable and ask our readers to do the same. 

App State is located in a 93.4% white area. Just 18% of App State students are racially and ethnically underrepresented. Twelve percent of full-time faculty are racially and ethnically underrepresented. The university has increased its diversity in hires and student retention over the years, but it’s no secret App State can support our Black and Brown communities ten times more. 

Our university has a history of not supporting Black students and causes, censoring students on the university’s Instagram during Black Lives Matter in 2020, threatening arrest to student demonstrators, and taking years to rename residence halls tied to white supremacy. To not talk about race, the university decides to name its buildings after nature

UNC System and App State officials, support your Black and Brown students and campus leaders, support your Black and POC faculty. Continue to invest in the work they have spearheaded. That is sustainable.

This op-ed was written by three Latina women, four white women, and one white man. We acknowledge we are non-Black writers and we in no way mean to speak for the Black community at App State and at large. We encourage readers to read more on the issue and support Black journalists in the UNC System and beyond. The fact that Black students and students of color are less willing to join our news staff and attend our university speaks to the raging racial disparities in our area and in the UNC System. As student journalists, we want to use our platform and recognize that students do not feel safe and do not want to be here.