Famed journalist and Howard University professor Nikole Hannah-Jones revealed on Twitter earlier this week that an invitation to speak at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, was rescinded by the school’s president and board. According to her Twitter thread, she said the school decided against her speaking engagement due to worries that the “noise” her lecture would bring might “take away from the overall experience.”
The cowardly lions are acting up. @MiddlesexSchool Scrubs Nikole Hannah-Jones Speech Over Backlash Fears | HuffPost Communities https://t.co/kVQGZTlHDt
— Shereese Maynard, MS; MBA 😷 She/Her (@ShereeseMayMba) October 21, 2021
“They were likely afraid that by having me — a [New York Times] journalist & college professor — there, they’d invite backlash & another of the ‘woke’ people are ruining America stories,” Hannah-Jones said in the thread on Monday. “I’m good. I’m done fighting my way in. But the lack of courage in these times is so very sad.”
The school didn’t respond to Hannah-Jones directly but confirmed in a statement to The Boston Globe that her speaking appearance had been canceled. The school promised to offer a more “formal apology” to the journalist.
“While we are confident that her insights would have been valued by our students, we were concerned that individuals from outside our community might inadvertently distract from the insights and perspective that she intended to share,” the school’s principal David Beare said.
Hannah-Jones told HuffPost that, as of Wednesday, she still hadn’t personally received any type of apology from the school.
The move deeply upset several faculty members, who wrote to the school’s board of trustees. According to a follow-up story from the Boston Globe, the group said they “unequivocally reject Head of School David Beare’s decision to rescind Middlesex’s invitation to Nikole Hannah-Jones to address the school on her Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism.”
The letter prompted a response of a different tune from the school. Beare and the board issued another joint statement calling their previous decision “a shameful mistake” and vowing to work to rectify the situation.
“We deeply regret it and have had many gut-wrenching conversations within our community regarding the decision, how it was made, and the disrespect we showed Professor Hannah-Jones,” the statement read, adding that they are planning to apologize to Hannah-Jones in person at some point.
The educator and the board added that the decision was not in line with its previous “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Ironically, days prior to the news, Middlesex released a “letter to the community” promising a refreshed commitment to diversifying the school from top to bottom among faculty and students. It also wrote that it would support various points of view up for debate, despite how polarizing some opinions might be.
“As an educational institution, we believe an open exchange of viewpoints is vital to student development and intellectual excellence. We believe that respectful debate and disagreement are not only healthy, but the very ground upon which a learning community thrives,” the statement continued.