When UGA senior Katie Weekly walks to class, she says "Hi, y'all" in a sweet-as-molasses accent to her Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sisters she meets along the way. A 5-foot-4 blonde with blue eyes, she's dressed in J. Crew jeans and a ribbed sweater, and looks and sounds as if she could've stepped off the campus 20 years ago. She has a boyfriend of three years. She wants to be a child psychologist and to raise a family in the South.
Katie is the classic UGA female student, a type that has changed little since the 1980s, but really has its roots in the 1950s - during the post-war boom at the then-all-white university 60 miles northeast of Atlanta.
Katie parties on football Saturdays the way girls did decades ago, perhaps dressed more daringly in strapless dresses but still formally, with pearls. She drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon and grills burgers. She flirts with boys dressed in polo shirts and khaki pants, with curved baseball caps covering their shaggy yet carefully groomed hair. She walks across the tree-shrouded North Campus, which looks much as it did in centuries past, and sips on mint juleps at General Beauregard's, a downtown Athens bar adorned with a Confederate flag.
And, like most UGA students, she only encounters black students sporadically. Forty-four years after the court-ordered integration of the university, UGA remains one of the least-integrated institutions in the state. Only 6 percent of the students are black.
But while so much is the same, something drastic has happened at UGA. Katie Weekly, a student from Duluth who came to UGA with a 3.8 GPA and attends tuition-free on a HOPE scholarship, represents the trend. What used to be a university that served as a geographical melting pot for all Georgians has now become an elite finishing school for white suburban girls.
Black students remain a distinct minority. But rural whites, especially males, are rapidly joining them. Those "country boys" were the very ones who dominated the school when it was all-white.
Now, while the university has skyrocketed in national rankings and academic prestige, its student body has shed any semblance of diversity. Blacks and rural whites are becoming as rare at UGA as Florida Gator bumper stickers. The benefits of the academic improvements are available primarily to a look-alike slice of the population.
Today, 60 percent of UGA students are women and 78 percent of the women are white. Out of a total of 33,405 students, 14,711 are white women. They often come from families that have just moved to Georgia from other parts of the country. The fashions they follow and the products they use have become the campus standards they wear chic Seven jeans and preppy North Face jackets, and drive SUVs, Mercedes and Beamers. "UGA only represents metro Atlanta," says Bobbie Bagley, a UGA alum and resident of Leslie, a small town in Sumter County. "Anyone from south of Macon is doomed."
Last year, only seven students from Sumter County went to UGA. In 1964, 23 students from that county attended the university.
The phenomenon has caught the attention of the Legislature. At a budget hearing in mid-January, state senators voiced their concern about the lack of rural students attending UGA. University System Chancellor Thomas Meredith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he understood the lawmakers' concerns, but that it's a good problem to have. Since the advent of the HOPE scholarship in 1993, the rankings of UGA and other state institutions have soared.
But not everyone thinks better rankings at the expense of shrinking diversity is a good thing.
"UGA is becoming a suburban bedroom university," says Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus. "But the suburban students aren't the brick and mortar of the university. It's the native Georgians who go to every football game and invest a lot of money into the school. Now their children aren't getting in."
Some alumni now tell their children to look elsewhere, that they'll have trouble getting into UGA. College counselors urge high school students - well aware of the competitiveness and high standards at UGA - to apply to similar schools such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU, or in-state universities like Georgia Southern and Valdosta State.
The suburbs with the best schools get the most students into UGA. In the 2004 UGA incoming class, more than 880 students came from Gwinnett and Cobb counties. Of that class, 300 students came from three high schools: Chattahoochee and Milton in Alpharetta, and Walton in east Cobb. In 1985, 965 students at UGA came from Gwinnett. Today, 3,274 students come from there.
Hooks acknowledges that suburban students are multiplying partly because of the growing population of metro Atlanta. But he argues that newcomer families don't share the same loyalty to the school felt by generations of Georgia natives. They're not lifelong patriots in the Bulldog Nation.
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