Anti-Discrimination Ordinance: UGA Administration sends it support

An anti-discrimination ordinance created as the result of student accounts detailing widespread racial and LGBT discrimination at downtown bars has been developing in Athens for over a year, but one voice was slow to speak up: the University of Georgia.

It was UGA’s Student Government Association that collected student testimony, bringing the extent of downtown discrimination to the full attention of the Mayor and Commission in fall 2015. Since then, the University has supported SGA’s efforts to bring attention to student discrimination, said Matthew Waller, the assistant to the vice president for Student Affairs. Yet while SGA President Houston Gaines and UGA NAACP President Mansur Buffins both confirmed that UGA has supported student groups in favor of the ordinance, there had been no publicly made statement of support.

That was until Wednesday, Oct. 12, when UGA issued its first public statement in an email. The email came from Bob Taylor, UGA’s Open Records Manager and head of UGAPD Media Relations:

“The University of Georgia is committed to creating an environment in which everyone is treated with the dignity they deserve and encourages our Athens Clarke-County commissioners to support the non-discrimination ordinance which is currently on the agenda for the November 1st meeting.”

Karri Hobson-Pape, the Vice President for Marketing and Communications, followed up to that email, saying that while President Morehead has personally supported organizations and their endeavors to pass the ordinance, the statement in Taylor’s email was the “first official statement UGA has made.”

The Division of Student Affairs, on the other hand, has no official statement as much as a “guiding philosophy of division programs” that “affirms and recognizes the experiences and perspectives of the students. We desire for their experience at Georgia to be the best possible,” said Stan Jackson, director of Student Affairs Communications and Marketing Initiatives.

On Oct. 6, the“Great Debate” between UGA College Republicans and Young Democrats, both sides resounded support for an anti-discrimination ordinance, which can be seen in the video above. “We absolutely support an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Athens,” said Campbell Wilks, president of Young Democrats. “It is reality that if you go downtown, certain types of people are not allowed into bars because of the color of their skin, because of what they’re wearing, they’ve been told there’s fake private parties happening or that there’s a certain type of dress code that wouldn’t let them in.”

Speaking for the Republicans, Vice Chairman Michael Sowell said “There’s no excuse for discrimination at all. Anyone who’d be opposed to making it harder for anyone anywhere to discriminate, I don’t agree with that . . . I have not personally seen this as much, but I’ve heard, so I know this must be happening. So do I have a problem with any kind of legislation that makes it harder for anyone to discriminate? Absolutely not.”

Mayor Nancy Denson and the commissioners have agreed since Jan. 2016 that there needs to be some sort of ordinance to combat discrimination at bars, yet disagreements on how far the ordinance should extend–to bars, restaurants or all establishments serving alcohol–and the possibility of forming a civil rights committee to serve as a judicial body for discriminatory complaints have continually postponed any vote.

Now, come November, the ordinance will finally be on the agenda for a vote after being taken off both the September and October agendas for various reasons. “The delay was frustrating,” said Mansur Buffins, president of UGA NAACP. “There has been progress but (the ordinance) has been a long time coming.” Buffins also shared a recent, personal experience of discrimination in the video above.

Wilks said the Young Democrats would like to see the ordinance stretch beyond bars to include restaurants and other businesses downtown as well. “To only apply this to bars means only applying it really to college students who go to bars downtown,” she said. “And we’d like to protect the entire Athens community, not just us college students.”