Georgia State faculty demand greater diversity and inclusion

Students navigate Georgia State University’s main campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Georgia State University students are urging the campus to follow the example of scores of colleges around the country and move to online classes in the face of the mounting coronavirus threat. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Students navigate Georgia State University’s main campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Georgia State University students are urging the campus to follow the example of scores of colleges around the country and move to online classes in the face of the mounting coronavirus threat. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The ongoing national discussion about racial discrimination has started a debate at Georgia's largest public university among faculty and administrators who say the school must improve in some areas of diversity and inclusion.

Georgia State University has created a 17-member task force for racial equality. The group met Monday to discuss how its curriculum, community outreach and research can reduce systematic racism. The group's goals are also to increase understanding and awareness of  police violence and racial discrimination, along with and identifying how the school can better support underrepresented students, faculty, staff and community.

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On Wednesday, faculty members sent a letter to president Mark Becker making several additional demands such as appointing more black faculty and administrators, establishing an African Studies Center, memorializing the African American female students who ended segregation there and improving working conditions for black employees, noting statistics showing a disproportionate percentage of African Americans have died from COVID-19. The petition has more than 200 signatures.

“As Black faculty members, we declare our value as scholars, as teachers, as researchers, as mothers, as fathers, as sisters, as brothers, as children, as citizens, as human beings, and as African descended people,” the letter, dated Wednesday, said. “We do not know how this moment will evolve or what lies beyond it, but the words of Langston Hughes inspire and caution us about the dangers of dreams deferred. We will not prioritize cries for peace over demands for justice.”

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Georgia State University has been praised by peers in recent years for its work in educating and graduating African American students. About 40% of its students are African American. Georgia State has nearly 54,000 students, the largest enrollment in the state.

While 75% of its students are nonwhite, about 32% of its faculty are nonwhite, according to a 2018 state report. Georgia State last year created a committee to explore improving faculty diversity.

The faculty and administrative diversity percentages must get better, said Tanya Washington, a law school professor who started the petition.

“What we need are some concrete changes that result in manifest outcomes that benefit black faculty,” Washington said in an interview Friday.

Georgia State President Mark Becker. AJC FILE PHOTO
Georgia State President Mark Becker. AJC FILE PHOTO

Becker emailed Washington on Thursday to say that he shared the petition with the task force, adding “this is an extraordinary moment in history, we must do what we can to end racism and racial violence.”

Task force chairman Jonathan Gayles, also chair of the university’s African American studies department, said in an interview Friday he hopes the work is done quickly “because of the urgency of the moment.”

“My greatest hope is Georgia State expands its narrative beyond our groundbreaking success with student achievement to include a narrative that includes black lives, justice and equality,” he said.