September 3, 2014

Athens Needs UGA Students

I happen to know for a fact that Rashaun Ellis is an incredibly smart and wonderful person who loves this town and makes it a better place by being here. But I want to weigh in on her Aug. 13 op-ed piece.

I think she really touched a nerve with a lot of folks, many of whom were glad that someone finally voiced the level to which unacceptable and abusive behavior occurs downtown, generally at the hands of drunk "bros" who would seem to be university students. Others, like myself, felt that the message got lost in her snarky and incendiary tone toward the student body as a whole. UGA is the economic and cultural engine of Athens, comprised of some 27,000 undergraduates who, for the most part, behave. Most "townies" like myself are in fact alumni, people who fell in love with Athens and decided to stay (or perhaps someday return) while we were that most regrettable age of 18–22. How could we have fallen in love with Athens if we were barred from everything cool, looked down upon and treated coldly by the people we looked up to?

My concern is that the attitude described in the piece could turn away kids that would someday make this town a better place by being here. UGA is full of smart, ambitious, creative and civic-minded kids who could grow into awesome townies, and we need them. We need them now, and we'll need them then. Rashaun threw the whole UGA baby out with the drunk-frat-boy bathwater, but Athens can't afford to do that, nor should we want to.

There are some very real issues that this piece touches on, issues that desperately need to be addressed. How do we best deal with excessive drinking and abusive behaviors downtown? How do we improve traffic along our main corridors and encourage alternate forms of transit? How do we grow and change as a town in a way that celebrates our diversity and honors our history? How do we move closer to the beautiful ideal put forth by Tim Denson as an "Athens for Everyone?"  

I was disappointed that this piece ultimately sidestepped any constructive ideas and instead focused on negative stereotypes and false dichotomies. Furthermore, as a proud townie, I don't want anyone to mistake this attitude for my own. Students: Please don't go away. Come eat at my restaurant. Go see my friend's band. Go to a yoga class and shop at Community. Behave yourself, please, and don't forget to study. We love you. Go Dawgs.