Photo Credit: Austin Steele
UGA NAACP President Mansur Buffins says he’s not aware of any recent instances of discrimination on campus, but the atmosphere has grown more fearful since Donald Trump became president-elect.
Nationwide, reports of bias-related harassment following the Nov. 10 election of Donald Trump appear to be slowing, yet a fearful atmosphere continues to plague many, including students at the University of Georgia.
At the end of the fall 2016 semester, the UGA Police Department said “that since the November election, there have been no reports of discrimination filed,” according to Bob Taylor, UGA’s open records manager and head of UGAPD media relations. Similarly, student-government president Houston Gaines said the SGA office had “received no official reports.”
While Mansur Buffins, the president of UGA’s NAACP chapter, said there haven’t been any overt acts of post-election hate on campus that he’s aware of, “in the general environment, there is still a lot of hurt on campus.
“Immediately post-election, many students didn’t want to go to class. It was very difficult to get up in the morning,” he said. “If you held an anti-Trump stance, you felt very uncomfortable or unsafe. Being around students who voted for Trump, students felt a disregard for their safety, feelings and future.”
Trump has bragged about sexually assaulting women, called for a wall on the Mexican border, sided with police against the Black Lives Matter movement and won support from the racist “alt-right” and the KKK. Even before the election, many minority, immigrant, female and LGBT students already felt like pro-Trump students were harboring feelings against them, Buffins said. “The election validated these feelings,” he said.
According to testimonies in a recent Red & Black article, several UGA students have experienced overt harassment since the election. These incidents may not have been reported to the UGA police or Equal Opportunity Office because they did not occur on campus, but not everyone may know where to go to report acts of prejudice and harassment, both on campus and in Athens, Buffins said.
The EOO sent out a university-wide email a week after Election Day that, although not specifically addressing the election, stated the university’s commitment to “creating a university community free of discrimination and harassment” and listing ways harassment reports could be filed.
“An email is great, but I’m not sure if the student body fully understands harassment and discrimination. Is that culture and message of inclusion and respect among the administration in the student body, too? For a lot of the students, that is not a part of their culture,” Buffins said.
Following reports from both The New York Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center detailing an uptick in bias-based attacks, especially at universities in the days following the election, several departments at UGA also promoted meetings where “all students could be heard and confirm their fears are valid,” said Buffins, who was present at a meeting hosted by Multicultural Services and Programs. At press time, the number of incidents verified by the SPLC stood at 1,094.
Back in November, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement co-founder Mokah Johnson voiced concerns “that now with Trump in office, discriminatory behavior may increase in Athens and all throughout America. We have seen a rise in derogatory comments online and in the news about various races.” Johnson has not heard of any election-related harassment recently, she said, but expects discriminatory incidents to increase in 2017, following the national trend since Trump’s election.
After spending months debating forming a local civil rights committee, the Athens-Clarke County Commission recently voted to instruct the county attorney to recommend “a framework which can best address claims of discrimination” by June 30. The AADM has already created its own in-house Civil Rights Council, where “local citizens will now have a place they can go to get help and report any instances of discrimination, especially until the Mayor and Commission have formed a citizen committee,” Johnson said.
According to the AADM website, residents who have experienced discrimination can fill out a survey, and within 48–72 hours, an AADM civil-rights advocate will get in touch. While AADM cannot provide legal advice, advocates can “provide resources and/or attorney referral and provide support until the issue is properly addressed,” Johnson said.