Published:August 9, 2021
The dean of the University of North Carolina’s journalism school worried that “diversity of thought” would stand in the way of the school’s social justice objectives, according to a newly unearthed memo written in anticipation of Nikole Hannah-Jones joining the faculty.
In an August 1, 2020 memo obtained by Campus Reform, the dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Susan King, wrote to university Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that there was a “fundamental conflict between efforts to promote racial equity and understandings of structural racism, and efforts to promote diversity of thought.”
“These two things cannot sit side by side without coming into conflict,” King claimed.
The memo came as Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who developed the magazine’s controversial “1619 Project,” was set to join the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was supposed to teach a course based on the project.
“Hannah-Jones will teach a large class open to all students that centers around the 1619 Project. The class will advance all our values around diversity and the media and also offer students- inside and outside Hussman-a much deeper understanding of systemic racism and the impact of slavery on America,” King wrote.
Hannah-Jones’s work has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Historians have called the 1619 edition of the New York Times magazine, of which she was lead essayist, “a very unbalanced, one-sided account” and “wrong in so many ways.” Critics have called the project “not only ahistorical,” but “actually anti-historical.”
The project, a feature on slavery in the U.S. that aims to shift perceptions of American history and change what students are taught in schools, won the 2020 Pulitizer Prize for Commentary. However, after receiving scrutiny from historians and politicians, the Times issued a clarification on the project.
Now, Hannah-Jones will no longer work at UNC, having accepted a position at Howard University after the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted in May to deny her tenure, reportedly amid concerns from conservatives pertaining to the “1619 Project.”
The memo, meanwhile, included pages of recommendations to advance racial diversity.
The dean noted that, at the time the memo was written, a Hussman student could graduate without ever taking a course “focused on the question of diversity.”
“Faculty believe that is a problem,” King wrote.
“Although each class taught in the school must have a syllabus that reflects the value of diversity,” King writes. “Faculty see it as spotty and they worry a new course or courses focused only on diversity will weaken the need to accent racism, social justice, and cultural competency throughout the curriculum.”
The dean suggested that future students should be required to take a race-focused class to graduate.
According to the memo, by fall 2022, school leaders planned to “develop a required core foundational course in cultural competency that includes a global perspective as well as race, ethnicity, and structural racism for all of our students.”
The memo also suggested that the curriculum of a newswriting course should “incorporate style guides from the Asian American Journalist Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, and Transjournalist Association.”
The Trans Journalists Association’s style guide advises against using the terms “biological sex,” “biological woman,” or “biological man” as the terms are “inaccurate and often offensive.”