Three weeks ago, screenshots were leaked from Lambda Chi Alpha which seemed to somehow simultaneously be racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic.
Two weeks ago, the University of Georgia released a three sentence statement about the incident that both failed to name the organization and to adequately empathize with the trauma these messages inflicted on at least four marginalized groups on its campus.
Two weeks ago, UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office, the department tasked with addressing issues involving “discrimination on the basis of race, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin, religion, age, genetic information, disability or veteran status” decided that the best course of action would be to victim blame in an attempt to silence the targeted student and protect the university’s ironic reputation as a seven-time recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
Two weeks ago, UGA’s marginalized students were once again disappointed but not surprised.
2020 has been a year for the books for marginalized communities across America. A corrupt system that evolved out of the slave patrol stole the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and made them the latest in a long line of memorialized Black Americans. ICE was exposed for performing forced hysterectomies on migrant women who were unaware of what was happening and who were punished with solitary confinement if they dared to speak out. The Trump administration overturned policies that protected transgender people from discrimination in healthcare on the four-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson shared an anti-Semitic quote he ascribed to Hitler which bought into common anti-Semitic stereotypes of a Jewish conspiracy for world dominance. President Donald Trump promised to defund Planned Parenthood if re-elected, a decision which would not just remove women’s access to affordable abortions, but also limit services available to marginalized groups and cause Medicaid spending to increase by $650 million over the course of the next decade.
UGA seems to be a microcosm of the current state of America, and the prejudice and discrimination experienced by individuals who identify as members of marginalized communities are no exception to that rule. Since my freshman year at UGA, I’ve watched members of Tau Kappa Epsilon use racial slurs while mockingly recreating behaviors experienced by enslaved peoples, seen swastikas drawn on the dorm doors of Jewish freshmen, and heard about the EOO punishing rape with a five-page paper and “educational training.”
Every time an act of discrimination occurs on campus, I have watched upper administration and the departments involved strongly condemn the actions that occurred, direct the matter to EOO, and then go radio silent until the next event transpires. The University of Georgia is the textbook example of a performative activist, sending thoughts and prayers when an issue occurs but never doing the foundational work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Being a marginalized student at UGA is like being in a toxic relationship that you can’t escape. At first, we’re hesitant. UGA’s reputation precedes it, but for many of us, there isn’t much of a choice. We attend because of financial barriers or the need to be close to home to support our families, and at first it seems OK. Even though we never stop experiencing the discomfort of being the only person in a room who looks the way we do, we find comfort in our spaces and our people and think “maybe it's not so bad.”
And then it happens: a screenshot or a video is released that shakes us to the core of our being, but UGA is there with its three-sentence statement promising it was a one-time mistake and that it won’t happen again. We forgive and forget. We put the pain that shook us to the core of who we are into a box and shove it into the back of our minds. We stand up and move forward.
But then it happens again. And again. And again. And each time, UGA “[condemns]...in the strongest terms” the events that occurred or the words that were spoken, standing with us and our communities, and promising that it won’t happen again. But the rose-colored glasses we’ve forced ourselves to wear begin to lose their hue, and we see the situation for what it is — for what it’s always been. We keep choosing UGA, but it will never choose us back.
However, much like America, we are at a crossroads. Two paths lie ahead: one for growth and one for regression. We have stood up again, but this time we cannot forgive and forget. We cannot allow the voices of those who are suffering to be muffled by strong condemnations and false promises. We have a choice to make, but this time, we must choose ourselves.