Since I used to work in the University System of Georgia, former students, colleagues, and friends have sent me numerous articles concerning student groups at Georgia State University which is located in Atlanta.
If you are not aware, the media attention concerns the formation of an informal student group, The White Student Union. Any search engine will lead you to countless stories, and according to some of these stories the group has a website which I have not viewed.
I’m linking a few of the articles sent to me below:
Atlanta Journal Constitution’s “Informal ‘White Student Union’ started at Georgia State” by Laura Diamond
Time’s “White Student Union’ Launches at Georgia State University” by Kate M. Witteman
AL.com and The Birmingham News’s “Birmingham native, Georgia State University freshman founds ‘White Student Union’ at school” by Jon Reed
The Huffington Post’s “Unofficial White Student Union Forms At Georgia State University” by Hunter Stuart
Inside Higher Ed’s “Controversy on White Student Union at Georgia State
I am not now nor have I ever been employed or a student at Georgia State University. Unless someone has recently changed jobs, I can’t recall any friends or even a faculty or administrator at the University with whom I may have served on any USG System committees or who may have attended or participated in professional conferences with me. I have written a few letters of recommendation for students seeking admission as either an undergraduate transferring from a community college or for acceptance into a graduate program, but unlike many of my letters of recommendation none to that institution ever found me also picking up the phone to chat with a friend, acquaintance, or the often utilized “acquaintance of the acquaintance of a friend of a friend.” That’s not a sarcastic joke as it most likely appears in print. When you attend different professional conferences through the years in your discipline, the number of people one meets seems like a population of its own country. We might forget names or faces, but it is mind blowing how many times you can state “I read something she wrote” or “I remember that guy from a panel discussion.”
Those personal and professional nuances aside, I’ll withhold judgment about this organization at Georgia State University and what I have read concerning the administration’s response.
I will contend that my piece here on the Michael Richards episode years ago and the perpetuation of the “Cosmo Kramer” racist speech is applicable to the current events at Georgia State University.
If this group or any group for that matter is based on the intent of furthering division, touting differences, and promoting, either explicitly or implicitly, that one race, gender, ethnicity, or whatever is superior and others are inferior, I won’t support that group or organization. If admission to the group is based upon some discriminatory factor that cannot be controlled by the applicant, I won’t support it. Of course in many ways that is subjective reasoning, but I’ll try to clarify my opinion. If I’m excluded from a softball club because my grandmother was born in Hungary before coming to the US and becoming an American citizen, that is different from say a singing group excluding me because I have absolutely no singing talent whether I claim otherwise or not.
As I wrote in the other piece, “In many instances the prefix regarded as racist today is only an acknowledgment of the historical beginnings and original missions.”
There’s nothing wrong with having pride in your heritage or ancestry. In my opinion, the “white” prefix is actually too generic and confusing because it does not denote a historical or specific heritage. Even though I find the descriptor unnecessary, I think it becomes offensive only if allowed to become offensive as the word itself does not have its own history. It’s when that pride reaches a point where all that matters are differences and one becomes superior or inferior or it becomes “us” versus “them” that things reach the point of hurt.
Looks are often deceiving and books cannot be judged by their covers. I’m a married male Caucasian history professor born in South Louisiana, reared in strawberry fields, accustomed to dirt and gravel roads and comfortable engaging the 4 wheel drive and walking the wench out to a tree when necessary to get unstuck. I could walk into a student union on many of the nearby campuses and be totally out of place even if I look similar on the outside to practically everyone else there at the time.
I’m still a novelty in this urban setting where we currently reside, and that has nothing to do with race or gender. Now I can travel in a different direction, however, and find an HBCU, a regional university, and a community college in more rural settings and fit right in with conversations regardless of how different our appearances, heritage, and ancestry might be. We might look and sound different, (they think I have an accent?) but we share similar experiences.
Does that make one better than the other? Of course not and not isolating yourself to one group or the other has many advantages as well. Here’s a stupid but simple example. I try to let the city folk handle the driving in the congested areas and multi lane interstates with exits off both the left and right sides (that just ain’t reasonable in my eyes). On the other hand, when directions to a location are drive west 1.4 miles, turn off the paved road, go around the bend, get on the first paved road you see heading south, 0.8 miles ahead turn at the mailbox, go until you see the house with the metal roof, park by the drop shed not the barn or wheelhouse, and be careful walking to the house because the fence is electrified are times where I’m actually more comfortable than some of my urban friends and colleagues. (That is just insane in their eyes).
Let’s stop harking on the differences we have and spend more time discovering that we might have more in common than many of the loudest squawkers on either side wants us to realize. When we do, we quiet the yakking, and we return to control of our lives no matter if we look or sound poles apart from the person standing by our side or just over yonder.