UGA race relations follow-up_graphic

The first Black students to attend the University of Georgia were Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early in 1961. Holmes and Hunter-Gault were met with racial slurs and objects thrown at their residence hall by the other students in their first few days on campus. 

The treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of color on campus has been a topic of conversation since the Black Lives Matter protests, rallies and investigations over the summer. In 2020, the emergence of widespread social media use and Zoom classes has led to racist attacks against BIPOC at UGA over digital platforms.

As the university approaches its 60th anniversary of desegregation on Jan. 9, students say the university should do more to make the voices of underrepresented groups heard. UGA administrators say they have had productive conversations and are dedicating time and effort to hearing the concerns of community members of color. Through student advocacy and conversations with the administration, the UGA community is working toward creating a more welcoming environment for BIPOC students, faculty and staff. 

Playing catch-up

After the summer protests in response to the violent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor by police, UGA implemented the Presidential Task Force on Race, Ethnicity and Community in August. UGA President Jere Morehead allocated $1 million of private funding from the UGA Athletic Association to promote institutional changes and a supportive learning environment for Black and underrepresented members of the campus community.  

Through the summer and into the fall semester, students have voiced their concerns with the university’s response to the racial justice movement and acts of racism on campus. Through emails to the Equal Opportunity Office, a Black Lives Matter march through Milledge Avenue, and social media posts, students demanded change within the UGA administration and Greek life organizations to help support diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups.

Following the killings of Floyd, Arbery and Taylor, Morehead released a statement on Twitter on May 31 calling for the UGA community to “move forward in racial justice by seeking acts of kindness, love and understanding.” Students were quick to criticize Morehead by pointing out that he did not explicitly address Black people or Black people who are killed by police.

The day after the original tweet, Morehead released another statement condemning racism and specifically mentioning the killings of Floyd, Arbery and Taylor.

During the fall semester, UGA’s Hispanic Student Association was Zoombombed at its informational meeting with racial slurs, an explicit image and threats on Sept. 3. A guest lecture about the killings of Black Dominican feminists was also interrupted on Oct. 28 by violent threats, racial slurs and the leaked addresses of lecture organizers.

On Oct. 7, the university sent out an ArchNews email suggesting ways to avoid Zoombombings for clubs and organizations hosting virtual meetings. Though it stated a student organization was Zoombombed, the email did not specifically mention the HSA.

The university has since determined that the Zoombombers at the HSA meeting and guest lecture were not associated with UGA and condemned the attacks. 

“I abhor this disgusting behavior and stand with those across campus who were subjected to this outrageous act,” Morehead said in an email to the members of Franklin College of Arts and Sciences on Oct. 28.

Steps taken

The task force plans to hire a diversity educator position and develop a lecture on race, law and policy for spring 2021. The diversity educator position will help with the demand for participation in the new Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program, according to the task force website.

The task force is working on forwarding more recommendations to Morehead for ways to use the designated $1 million of funding, Vice President of Student Affairs Victor Wilson said in an email. He expects the group to finish its recommendations by mid-December, but didn’t provide a timeline for when they will be reviewed and approved.

Joshua Patton, a senior sociology major and chairperson for the Black Student Union, was happy to hear what the task force is planning, but said he’s still looking for the December recommendations and what Morehead will approve.

Patton said the university should continue to protect BIPOC on campus. He suggested hiring more BIPOC workers and implementing training in the EOO. Patton said having diversity within the EOO would be beneficial because minority staff understand what it’s like to be prejudiced and discriminated against, and they would know how to advocate for disadvantaged and underrepresented communities on campus. 

Implementing stricter consequences for Greek life organizations and its members who participate in racist actions would also benefit diversity and inclusion at UGA, Patton said. While the university is being proactive, Patton said some fraternities and sororities aren’t helping their community by sending hateful comments in group chats. 

He said having more diversity within Greek life organizations would help inclusion on the UGA campus.

“I promise you, I feel like if people in fraternities and sororities are interacting with people from other cultures or races, they would be less inclined to do things like that,” Patton said.

Hayliegh Rose, a sophomore psychology major and co-founder of the BSU, wishes that UGA and its task force would focus not only on the big picture but also on the individual experiences of students, including when members of the fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha self-suspended after posting racist messages on a GroupMe about UGA student Arianna Mbunwe. 

“It’s really bothersome to me that they’re looking at a bigger picture but not necessarily the ones that like, need to be talked about and helped,” Rose said.

Next steps

Amy Guzman-Reyes, a junior international affairs and political science major, was in the Zoom during the HSA Zoombombing. After the initial shock and anger over the actions of the Zoombombers and the disappointment over the response from the UGA administration, Guzman-Reyes said the HSA talked with the UGA administration and was met with understanding. The conversation is moving forward, she said.

Rose said she would like to see Morehead and the UGA administration take action to acknowledge UGA’s history of racism and oppression. She said Morehead should hold a press conference and specifically say UGA was built by slaves, that UGA will give compensation to people who are related to those slaves and change the names of buildings that are named after historically racist figures.

“I feel like they should be held accountable, or take all this information and actually say what they need to say instead of sugar coating it, or trying to please everybody,” Rose said.

To address the buildings named after racist historical figures, the University System of Georgia created a Naming Advisory Group on June 17. As of Sept. 30, USG has assigned historians to review the names of each building in question.

“We would feel a lot safer, because for Black people, there’s only 8% here, and it doesn’t really seem like we’re heard,” Rose said.

Guzman-Reyes wants to hear Morehead and the UGA administration acknowledge the accomplishments of the Latinx community and celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month. She said highlighting representation and the accomplishments of Latinx people in administrative and leadership positions shouldn’t happen only when it benefits the university. 

“While there are advocates that are looking out for our interests, I think, on a broader scale, the university struggles with kind of remedying some of the deeper structural issues with race relations,” Guzman-Reyes said.

For the upcoming 60th anniversary, Patton wants the university to highlight the importance of the first Black students to attend UGA and the large role they played in the history of the university. He hopes to get all organizations of underrepresented student communities involved in celebrating the anniversary. 

“I just respect them for their courage to come to the university at a rough time. Just really talk about the people who blazed the trail… people of color who have had a positive impact on this university,” Patton said.