President Jere W. Morehead speaks at a reinterment ceremony at the Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens, Georgia on Monday, March 20, 2017. The ceremony was for the 105 unknown individuals whose bodies were discovered during the University of Georgia’s Baldwin Hall construction project. (Photo/Jane Snyder, janemarysnyder.com)

As a student, I was dismayed by President Jere Morehead’s shallow and condescending statement on UGA’s handling of Baldwin Hall and our university’s history of slavery.

Rather than thoughtfully addressing the statements of students and community leaders, he instead chose to attack them as bad faith actors and dismiss any assertion that UGA has mishandled this issue. He smeared them as self-interested and wildly asserted that their claims were “libelous.” And more than that, in the same breath, he brought up diversity statistics and UGA’s efforts to recruit students of color.

How can those students find a welcoming environment at a university that will not hear their concerns? How will UGA become a flagship for equity and inclusion if we refuse to address any history that might cause us political discomfort? How can we make our current students of color feel welcome at an institution that avoids these questions not only from those students but from faculty and SGA as well? This insulting statement is an act of open hostility towards black students and members of our community.

The responsibility of students, administrators and everyone at UGA is to demand that our university constantly better itself. To assert that, on an issue as fundamental and devastating as UGA’s legacy of slavery, those who speak out about UGA’s inadequate action are motivated by malice and self-gain is an affront to our university and our community.

Our university is literally built on the bodies of slaves that were forced to build our campus, and to try to obscure and minimize that history is not only disrespectful — it is furthering the institutional racism that created this situation to begin with.

If President Morehead truly does want to make our university a more inclusive place, he would have listened and learned from those leaders rather than defensively calling them misinformed. But it seems he is more concerned with his school’s short-term image than the wellbeing of his students.

To quote his own words, “while I am disappointed, I am not surprised.”

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