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Students and Athens Politicians Demand UGA Tighten Up COVID Policies

Arianna Mbunwe (center) and other UGA students, along with faculty and Athens residents, protested UGA’s COVID-19 response Sept. 19 at the Arch. Credit: Tyler Wilkins

As national news outlets cover UGA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and photos of unmasked students standing outside Athens bars surface on social media, UGA faculty, staff and students are demanding the university take further action to curb the spread of the virus.

Hoping to grab the attention of the administration, UGA students Arianna Mbunwe and Jessica Jaconetti, along with Athens resident Josey Wallace, organized a two-day sit-in at the Tate Student Center’s plaza on Thursday, Sept. 17 and Friday, Sept. 18, followed by a protest at the Arch on Saturday, Sept. 19.

The trio compiled a list of demands on behalf of frustrated university community members, which it will give to President Jere Morehead. The demands call for UGA administrators to listen to their public health experts, improve COVID-19 testing capabilities, have an outside organization assess the public health risks of football season, allow students and faculty autonomy to switch to online classes, lessen the financial burden for students who withdraw from classes and hold UGA-affiliated organizations accountable for ignoring COVID-19 guidelines.

“These six things are things we actually think will help minimize the risk of everyone who lives in Athens, not just UGA students,” said Mbunwe, who has amassed thousands of followers on Twitter for her posts about racism in Greek life and photos of unmasked students not social distancing.

United Campus Workers of Georgia members and prominent figures in the Athens community voiced their concerns alongside students in front of the Arch. The speakers included Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement Vice President Mykeisha Ross, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards and former Georgia House District 119 Rep. Jonathan Wallace, who is running to reclaim the seat this year.

“Jere Morehead is a punk, y’all,” Edwards said to the crowd. “I’ve got a problem with the way UGA has addressed this crisis, because it ain’t about blaming the most proactive government in this state. It’s some blame-passing bullshit. I’m tired of my alma mater starting to look like University of Georgia Republicans.”

The protesters stood on both sides of the Arch, holding signs that elicited honks of solidarity from drivers, and chanted, “Shame on UGA,” and, “Do better, UGA.” After the protest ended, a handful of students walked to the Office of the President, placing their signs in front of the building on the North Campus lawn. As the organizers wrapped up, a pedestrian sans mask coughed on a protester for an “immature” sign that read, “If you don’t wear a mask, your mama’s a hoe.”