When University of Georgia sophomore Emelynn Arroyave heard that several white men entered a Hispanic Student Association Zoom meeting and yelled derogatory phrases, she was disappointed. However, when she discovered the lack of action on behalf of the university, she was not surprised.
Arroyave, HSA’s political action chair, said due to UGA’s history of inaction and lack of support for Latinx and minority students, she asked herself: “If Latinx students feel discriminated against, who should they go to, who will care?”
UGA’s Hispanic Student Association held an informational Zoom meeting at the Virtual Involvement Fair on Sept. 3. During the event, several white men yelled explicit and offensive words, mocked the Spanish language and showed an explicit photo on their video screen.
“We were appalled to know that we conjured up so much hate in someone's heart in order for them to target us like that.”
- Amalie Rosales, HSA vice president
Immediately after the event, UGA HSA president Nicole García Sánchez reported the incident to Multicultural Services and Programs, and a Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment complaint was filed with the Equal Opportunity Office. Taylor Cain, the director of Engagement, Leadership and Service, said in an email the Involvement Network’s software company was unable to identify individuals that entered through the Zoom breakout meeting.
EOO was unable to move forward with the investigation without “any additional information,” according to the email.
“After doing some additional digging, I did notice that HSA published its Involvement Network Zoom link on Instagram, Twitter, and Linktree accounts. When Zoom links are shared across public social media accounts, it then allows anyone with the link to join,” the email read.
García Sánchez said this email felt like a form of victim shaming. She said she felt she was told the incident was HSA’s fault for sharing the Zoom link, as most organizations do.
García Sánchez said one unidentifiable person joined the meeting and after a few minutes started speaking Spanish with a thick English accent, yelling out offensive profanity multiple times. García Sánchez proceeded to mute the person, whose video screen then showed a naked man with a sombrero covering his penis. The individual attempted to speak again and was then kicked out of the meeting.
About 30 minutes later, García Sánchez said someone entered the virtual meeting, with their screen turned off, under the name Jose. The person continued to unmute himself and interrupt the speakers. The person eventually turned on his video screen, which showed a group of white males laughing.
“This is not an isolated incident of xenophobia or prejudice against Latinx students on our campus in which administration has continuously failed to act or even address our concerns. Our members experience overt acts of prejudice & microaggressions daily,” the statement said.
“There is much more to be done in support of racial justice on campus and elsewhere, and we fully embrace the values of inclusion and diversity,” the statement said.
“This is not the first time”
“Why was it that you targeted us? So exclusively?” HSA Vice President Amalie Rosales said. “We were appalled to know that we conjured up so much hate in someone's heart in order for them to target us like that.”
HSA’s statement rallied support from many including UGA’s Student Government Association, stating they were “devastated to hear about the racist harassment.” In the statement, SGA stood by the Latinx student community and said they will continue to work to ensure the university provides a safe environment for all students.
On Sept. 28, The Asian American Student Association released a letter to HSA and the UGA community stating they stand with the university's Latinx students. ASA also said UGA's Student Affairs statement was "half-hearted" and that the university has once again failed its students.
With no further investigation or action from the university, Rosales said it felt like minority students on campus were not being fought for or protected. She said if the university had a pattern of “putting their foot down” on racist remarks in the past then individuals wouldn’t feel “so empowered.”
Arroyave said this is not the first time HSA or Hispanic and Latinx people have experienced discrimination by white UGA students. Before attending UGA, Arroyave said she had reservations after hearing about racism on the campus and a 2018 email written by an UGA employee in which the employee expressed her opinion about “injustice and lawbreakers” who she believes are undocumented immigrants.
Diana Chico, a UGA alumna, was the president of HSA when the organization received the letter in 2018. She said the organization attempted to work with the university afterward to make sure it didn’t happen again.
However, Chico said each idea or promise was either never fulfilled by the university or deemed undoable.
“I loved and appreciated my time at UGA, but there were several different situations like this one in 2018,” Chico said. “Now hearing about this year’s Zoom incident just reminds me about the lack of support for Latinx community.”
A search to be heard
Jennifer Casas, a UGA freshman intended accounting major, was present during the HSA Zoom meeting when the white men shouted profanities and laughed. She immediately called her mother in disbelief and frustration.
“I knew I’d face racism at UGA. I just didn’t think it would be within the first month,” Casas said. “I told my mom about what happened, and she said that’s just what happens when you’re at UGA.”
Casas attended Friday night’s protest for Black Lives Matter and social justice, and said she wanted to let her frustrations be heard and fight for Brown, Black and Hispanic communities. Casas hoped her biggest worry in college would be studying, not listening to derogatory comments on a Zoom call.
“Things definitely have to change here and it starts by calling them out,” Casas said. “Even if I don’t get to experience college without the injustices, hopefully the next generation will.”
After taking time to reflect on the Zoom incident, García Sánchez and the HSA executive board released the Sept. 25 statement with the goal of holding the university accountable and spreading awareness for Hispanic and Latinx students.
García Sánchez said HSA is known as a safe space for Latinx and Hispanic students — the acts of the white men attempted to disrupt that safe environment. Arroyave and Rosales said the statement fights to show Latinx, Black and Brown students deserve as much protection as their white counterparts.
“We deserve and are an integral part of this campus as anybody else,” Rosales said. “If we keep feeling unwelcome, we won’t come to this university, and it’s UGA that will suffer.”