University of Georgia President Jere Morehead’s recent statement on racism has prompted a look into Morehead’s past messages regarding both on-campus and national and international issues.
To UGA alumna Jaylen Black, Morehead’s statement was disappointing.
“This was an opportune time to redeem themselves even in the slightest and we still got a ‘Here so you all can stop pressuring us’ statement,” Black said in an email to The Red & Black.
Morehead’s original statement was released on May 31. It quickly amassed attention after students and alumni criticized Morehead on social media, voicing that he did not explicitly mention Black people, racism and the people that have been killed by the police.
The day after the original tweet, Morehead released a second statement where he said he condemns racism in all forms and mentions the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
“To our black students, faculty, staff, and alumni, I want you to know that I stand with you,” Morehead said in his second statement. “I know we don’t always get it right, and mistakes are made.”
Morehead and the Black community
UGA alumna and former student body vice president Charlene Marsh said she understood the political pressure against Morehead but said he remained neutral in the face of injustice in his first statement. She said the university must adopt explicitly anti-racist statements, policies and programs that “go beyond surface level diversity and inclusion initiatives.”
UGA has a history of racism, especially when it comes to the Black community.
UGA dormitories Brumby, Creswell and Russell Halls were built where the neighborhood of Linnentown once stood. Nearly 40 African American families lived in Linnentown in 1960, according to the research from the Linnentown Project.
The Linnentown Project proposed the Linnentown Resolution for Recognition and Redress to the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission, which demands recognition and recompensation for residents who lost their homes from the demolition of the community as part of the UGA Extension Urban Renewal Project.
In a Jan. 9 statement, UGA told ACC commissioners it “respectfully disagree[s]” with the “conclusions” of the Linnentown Project and the new dormitories were constructed to accommodate the university’s population boom. In its statement, UGA said the group’s resolution states “more than forty percent” of the families affected by the project were white.
Morehead has still not personally made a statement about Linnentown.
In 2015, renovations to Baldwin Hall uncovered remains of former slaves. The remains were moved to Oconee Hill Cemetery, a move that community activists have criticized.
Protesters, including students and Athens residents, called for the university to publicly acknowledge the role it played in promoting slavery during the time of its construction. Additionally, The Franklin College Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Baldwin Hall released a 31-page report condemning UGA’s response to the Athens and UGA communities’ concerns.
UGA has not admitted that the remains could be former slaves nor made moves to remedy its history, protesters said at a November 2018 memorial dedication. UGA reinterred the human remains without consulting the local Black community, with no descendants or community in attendance at the reburial, protesters said.
Morehead wrote a letter to the editor in 2019 to The Red & Black about the “wildly inaccurate claims” of some activists.
“The University of Georgia handled the Baldwin Hall matter appropriately, and our response actually went far beyond what is required by the law,” he wrote. “However, it is clear that a few individuals, obviously driven by a personal agenda, continue to try to leverage this issue and expand it to promote their own causes.”
In March 2019, a racist video from UGA’s Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter surfaced. Four students were expelled from the chapter after being caught on video mimicking slave ownership, one telling another to “pick my cotton,” followed by a racial slur. Later on, the fraternity was suspended.
In response to the video, UGA released a statement saying that complaints of racist or discriminatory conduct are referred to the Equal Opportunity Office. On March 23, Morehead released a statement condemning the video and expressed “how profoundly disappointed and appalled” he was by the content of the video.
“The incident does not reflect the culture of unity and inclusion which we support on our campus,” Morehead said.
Alex English, the president of UGA’s chapter of the NAACP, said he had mixed feelings on Morehead’s past responses and the administration’s current efforts.
“On the one hand, I am deeply disheartened at some of these very generic and seemingly inauthentic responses,” English said. “I am ultimately asking and advocating for changes such as the renaming of the 18 buildings with racist pasts and of namesakes as well as the address of the Baldwin Hall findings and granting scholarships to the descendants of those enslaved to build UGA.”
Black said she won’t tell students of color, particularly Black students, to come to UGA “when the university continues to show they do not value us nor our situations.”
“I have had enough of being failed as a student and now as an alumna. Enough is enough,” Black said.
Morehead on other issues
Morehead has also made statements about other local, national and international news.
In November 2019, Morehead sent an ArchNews message to faculty, staff and students condemning swastikas drawn on message boards and placards in two residence halls.
“I am appalled by such offensive and outrageous displays of hate. Let me be clear: this type of behavior has no place on our campus,” Morehead wrote.
“The University of Georgia is defined by our shared values. Respect for others, diversity of thought, a love of learning, and a drive to expand knowledge and make a positive difference — these values unite us as a campus community and inspire our academic endeavors,” the statement said.
In this statement, Morehead asked students with information about the drawings to contact the Equal Opportunity Office or UGA police before calling for the community to “reaffirm our commitment to ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
On another issue, Morehead released a statement offering his “strong and unwavering support for our international faculty, staff, and students at the University of Georgia” in January 2017. His statement was a response to President Donald Trump’s travel limits on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
Morehead said he was proud of the university’s diversity and international engagement as “international education, research, and collaboration enrich the academic culture of this institution beyond measure, and I am proud that, today, more than 2,700 students from 124 countries study at the University of Georgia.”
“You are valued; you are supported; and you are an integral part of this vibrant university community,” Morehead said in the statement.
English said that he is not here to criticize Morehead’s past responses but to look towards the future.
“I will look to the future and use the platform that this moment has given us as an American people,” English said. “We take it upon ourselves to make sure our platform is utilized in making sure we hold each other accountable during these unsettling times and after, and we owe it to one another.”