Friday, September 27, 2013

Anti-racist protestors make a statement at Georgia State

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 1:45 PM

Georgia States VP of Student Affairs, Dr. Doug Covey (center), attempts to address the concerns of protestors who marched into the Student Center on Wednesday.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Georgia State's VP of Student Affairs, Dr. Doug Covey (center), attempts to address the concerns of protestors who marched into the Student Center on Wednesday.

After several weeks of protracted philosophical debates over how best to combat the perceived threat of racism on the state's most racially diverse college campus, an anti-racist assembly of about 25 protestors, including students and sympathizers, held a day of action Wednesday at Georgia State University.

Though small in number, they marched with enthusiasm from the library plaza, across Courtland St., and toward the student center while drumming on plastic buckets, carrying a banner that read "Strike Against Racism!" and shouting such impromptu chants as "Racism has got to go - hey hey, ho ho!" "Fuck all racists!" and "Let's ban this cleaned up Klan!"

Other chanters attempted to inject a bit of comic relief into their conscientious stand: "Patrick Sharp ain't even that cute!" one protestor yelled in reference to the controversial organizer of the proposed but unchartered white student union.

Since freshman Sharp went public with his intent to start the union two months ago, the reaction - both against the group and in defense of Sharp's freedom of speech - has far outweighed any action he has pursued since then.

But in a larger sense, the seemingly divisive act has pulled some together across racial lines on an urban campus where student activism is a rare occurrence.

"We're here because it's 2013; we don't tolerate racism anymore," said Colby, a student spokesperson at Wednesday's anti-racist assembly who would only give her first name because she works for the government. "It's ridiculous that a white student union wants to come about. If they want to celebrate their heritage, that's fine, create a history union. But a white student union implies that [they] need to unify white people against everybody else. And we don't stand for that because it's not necessary and it implies racism."

Even among those who agree that the proposed creation of a white student union is a thinly veiled act of racism, some have argued that the First Amendment of the Constitution - and, in turn, a vibrant college campus - does and should protect a student's right to espouse such views. It's been a big part of the anti-racist assembly's internal debate since its first meeting in the plaza three weeks ago.

"I believe in free speech," student Christopher Wells said on Wednesday. "But the administration should be aware how the student body feels in 2013 and [GSU] President Becker still has not made a statement."

Justin Christian, a Georgia State junior, marches down Courtland St. on his way to the student affairs office at the student center. Christian was protesting the proposed formation of a white student union on campus: I have seen groups like this organize. They are trying to make blatantly racist messages mainstream.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Justin Christian, a Georgia State junior, marches down Courtland St. on his way to the student affairs office at the student center. Christian was protesting the proposed formation of a white student union on campus: "I have seen groups like this organize. They are trying to make blatantly racist messages mainstream."

Met with blank stares and a few silent cheers as they entered the Student Center, a couple of protestors passed out printed fliers with rhetoric that drew parallels between the proposed white student union and the university's institutionalized power structure. Another small contingent within the group carried a homemade banner protesting the state Board of Regents policy banning undocumented immigrants from some Georgia universities and requiring them to pay out-of-state tuition to attend others: "Education Not Deportation," the sign read.

While the virtual rainbow coalition of idealists demonstrated how students from a range of backgrounds and ideologies can mobilize under a common cause, it also highlighted the inherent challenge such alliances face as different individuals expressed opposing strategies for moving forward.

At the Office of Student Affairs on the third floor, the group considered its next course of action: Whether to leave a handwritten note of demands addressed to the administrators responsible for chartering student organizations or read an agreed upon statement aloud then leave? When GSU's VP of Student Affairs, Dr. Doug Covey, arrived the assembly took the opportunity to do both.

"We do not accept racism at all on campus, and GSU does not either," Georgia State junior Justin Christian read aloud from the note penned by fellow student Colby. "With that said, we would like to block the charter on the White Student Union because it promotes racist idealism that we do not follow."

After cheers from the group, Dr. Covey responded: "Thank you for that. To the best of my knowledge no one from that group has applied so far as I know."

A Georgia State student waits to speak to an administrator at the student affairs office. Its 2013, she said, we dont tolerate racism anymore.
  • Joeff Davis
  • A Georgia State student waits to speak to an administrator at the student affairs office. "It's 2013," she said, "we don't tolerate racism anymore."

Covey then invited those assembled to the Speakers Auditorium to further discuss the issue. When the group declined, he followed up with a question: "Just out of curiosity, are any of you students at Georgia State?"

One of the protestors, who interpreted the question as an attempt to create dissension within their ranks, encouraged the rest of the assembly to leave. As a campus police officer and other school administrators quietly observed, most of the protestors filed out in defiance. But a few stayed behind, including a young Hispanic man who told Covey that he graduated from a Georgia high school at the top of his class but was unable to attend GSU because of the ban on undocumented immigrants.

After explaining that the immigrant student policy in question was administered by the state and not GSU, Covey also explained why the school could not regulate any unofficial student group until it underwent the charter process required for all student organizations to become officially recognized by GSU. "At this point, the [white student union] group is acting as individual citizens, irrespective of their student status. I don't even know if they've had formal meetings or functions," said Covey, who stated his belief that the group took its website down after GSU asked the white student union to remove "Georgia State University" as an identifier - a privilege only granted to officially chartered groups. "The group itself has been very low-profile in terms of their activities," he continued. "There's been more activity about their potential activities than we've seen activities from the group itself."

That's been a point of contention from the start as anti-racist activists and those sympathetic with their cause publicly grappled with such questions: Would a public shaming create an underground extremist whose ideals might fester unchecked? Or would too much attention have the opposite effect by turning such views into a cause célèbre?

"[Our] purpose is not to make [Sharp] famous," said Colby, a political science major. "The purpose of the anti-racism assembly is to shed light on certain things that are still going on that are hidden. Racism is changing now. People aren't sicking dogs on African-Americans anymore; they're doubling interest rates, they're cutting funding from schools like Morehouse, [they're] stripping Section 5 from the Voting Rights Act. So it's not simply giving the white student union popularity, it's talking about these things that really affect us that people don't know about. That's the purpose of what we're trying to do. It's not just about racism, but ending all oppression."

Later, as the remaining members of the assembly milled about in the Student Center courtyard, I asked some protestors for their assessment of the day's action.

"It was important to make a statement to the administration, to let them know that we are here and we are active and very concerned about the white student union," said first-year philosophy grad student, Regina Imbsweiler, whose adult son, a non-student protestor, was also present. "For us, it's embarrassing, as white people," Imbsweiler continued. "Identifying along [lines of] color or race is so outdated. If white people rally under the banner of being white, they have history against them."

Meanwhile, a couple of African-American students watched from the sidelines with quizzical looks on their faces. "They look pretty ragtag and a little unorganized," said a sophomore who identified herself as Schena P. Despite expressing solidarity with the cause, she and a friend questioned what they viewed as the protestors' outmoded approach. "I understand the 'anti-racist' thing, but is all that necessary?" she continued, pointing out their plastic-pail drums. "You can do it without all that."

Additional reporting by staff photo editor Joeff Davis

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