Headlines that defined Georgia Southern’s reputation

Sarah Smith

STATESBORO — Georgia Southern was granted university status in 1990. 30 years later, GS has had ups and downs that have won championships, changed laws and landed mentions in national news outlets. 

Here are some moments from the past five years that shaped GS as a university and community.

GS mourns the loss of Michael Gatto, and new laws emerge

Michael Gatto, an 18-year-old student at GS, died outside of Rude Rudy’s bar and restaurant in Statesboro on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 after sustaining head injuries during an altercation.

Michael’s Law was passed by the Georgia Senate in 2015 and became an official law in 2016 with the help of the Gatto family. The law states that a bar is defined as an establishment where 75% of sales come from alcohol consumed on the premises, all bars must be 21 and up with employees 21 and up, requires city authorities and all businesses to report alcohol violations to the Department of Revenue and made powdered alcohol illegal.

James Grant Spencer, 20-year-old and the bouncer who killed Michael Gatto, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter in 2016.

Head Coach Willie Fritz leads GS Football to win the 2014 Sun Belt Championship, defeating Louisiana Monroe 22-16

After defeating Georgia State, Paulson Stadium was packed for the 2014 Sun Belt Championship. Injuries forced Ellison and backup quarterback Favian Upshaw out of the game, bringing third string senior Ezayi Youyoute to the field. Youyoute delivered with 81 rushing yards, leading the Eagles to victory in the fourth quarter.

GS mourns the loss of five nursing students, Abbie DeLoach, Caitlyn Baggett, Emily Clark, Catherine “McKay” Pittman and Morgan Bass, who died in a car accident

Seven nursing students were traveling from Statesboro to Savannah on April 22, 2015 when a tractor-trailer hit the girls from behind. Megan Richards and Brittany McDaniel were also in the car and were seriously injured.

The girls were honored in various ways by GS and the student body, including chairs outside of the Williams Center and a memorial garden.

John Wayne Johnson, the truck driver who caused the crash on I-16 that killed five nursing students, pleaded guilty on July 14, 2016 and is currently serving time in prison.

GS merges with Armstrong State University, creating three campuses at Statesboro, Savannah and Hinesville in the fall of 2018

In 2017, consolidation was discussed and confirmed for GS and Armstrong campuses. The merger was set to take place in the fall of 2018, leading to commencement and enrollment changes throughout both campuses. 

The N-Word Project and “Triggerish” controversy

A GS swimmer and student’s use of a racial slur brought controversy to the university after a text message went viral between the student and a future roommate.

“Her insta looks pretty normal not too n***erish,” the sender said in screenshots displayed on social media.

This incident was mentioned on The View and brought on protests and walk-outs on campus. 

This incident brought on The N-Word Project, created by Matthew Enfinger, The George-Anne’s editor-in-chief at the time. This was brought about to extend the “Triggerish” conversation. 

The card project was created to allow students to better understand each other and the usage of the n-word. Students could write their thoughts on the issue on a card anonymously. The George-Anne published the cards in the Sept. 20, 2018 print issue to share the students’ thoughts. 

GS wins the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl 23-21 against the Eastern Michigan Eagles

GS finished the season 10-3 and this win promoted them to 2-0 in bowl games. 

While the players would have loved to win a Sun Belt Championship, Head Coach Chad Lunsford was proud of the hard work and determination of his team. Lunsford was confident that this championship would go down in GS football history. 

GS’s Rosemary Kramer finished third in the NCAA Tournament, qualifying for the Olympics 

Kramer made history for the rifle team as the NRA First-Team All American by shooting 599 out of 600. The future Olympic athlete finished third and was named SoCon Air Rifle Athlete of the Year and 2019 SoCon Air Rifle Champion. 

GS receives a Diversity and Inclusive Excellence report, Three Campuses One Heartbeat, from Damon A. Williams

Damon A. Williams conducted research on the GS campus’s climate. This report sparked a conversation on inclusive excellence and diversity. President Marrero began meeting with and Inclusive Excellence Advisory Board to discuss issues on campus.

GS men’s golf wins the J.T. Poston Invitational Title and set a school record for a 54 hole team event, going 47 under par 805

GS defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks by a single stroke to reclaim the J.T. Poston Invitational Trophy. GS broke school records with this win, going 47 under par 805 in a 54 hole team event. The record was once 34. 

A group of GS students burned Latina author Jeanine Capó Crucet’s book after an FYE lecture became heated

GS featured Jennine Capó Crucet’s novel “Make Your Home Among Strangers” as a required reading for FYE, First Year Experience, classes. The New York Times contributor, associate professor at the University of Nebraska and a graduate of Cornell University spoke at GS on Oct. 10, 2019. 

A group of GS students did not think that Crucet was speaking fairly of white privilege among other subjects. The students burned a book in a grill outside of Eagle Village and took to Twitter to share their opinions. 

This incident led to protests in campus, lectures by professors, open forums and national news. Followed by The George-Anne’s coverage of the book burning, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Chronicle of Higher Education, USA TODAY, The Guardian and many other news outlets covered the incident.  

Anita Howard becomes the first African-American female coach in GS history

With a strong background in coaching and becoming the first African-American female head coach at two other schools, Howard told The George-Anne that she was blessed, favored and excited to be coaching at this level. 

Howard was given this position in the fall of 2019, and the team is 5-10.

Sarah Smith, The George-Anne Managing News Editor, gaeditor@georgiasouthern.edu