What is Georgia Southern doing to combat recent racist incidents?

Andy Cole

STATESBORO — In the last two weeks, two separate instances of Georgia Southern students in blackface have left some in the campus community to wonder, “What are GS officials doing to combat these incidents?”

Ansley Moody and Logan Sierra have been the subjects of public scrutiny since images of them in blackface went viral on multiple social media platforms. 

In the immediate wake of these incidents, GS officials provided statements to The George-Anne and other media partners. 

While it may seem, to some, that all GS is doing is condemning the actions through a statement, the reality is that they are doing more than most realize.

Conversations with Moody and Sierra

In the staff listening session, held by TaJuan Wilson, associate vice president for inclusive excellence and chief diversity officer, Shay Little, vice president for student affairs, confirmed to those on the call that she has had conversations with Moody and Sierra.

“[GS wants] to make sure these individuals know those comments… don’t align with GS values and the place we want GS to be,” said Little. “We’re having very direct conversations with those students and their families about what’s happening.”

The George-Anne asked Little for more specifics about the conversations she had. Citing student private concerns, she declined to go into more detail.

The Inclusive Excellence Action Plan

Wilson recently presented his Inclusive Excellence Action Plan to senior-level GS officials. 

“It is quite the document,” said Wilson. 

Since it’s still in its draft stage, The George-Anne chose to highlight the plan, not include the full document.

Divided into four goals, each goal has strategies and each strategy has critical tasks. 

These are the four goals:

  • Create an equitable and inclusive environment for all.
  • Increase the representation of diverse students, faculty, staff, and community partners at all levels of the University.
  • Facilitate access to achievement, success, and recognition for underrepresented students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
  • Implement strong, genuine, and consistently communicated culturally inclusive practices that reinforce the strategic plan and the Inclusive Excellence.

While GS has an overarching plan, Wilson’s office is asking each college and administrative unit to create their own plan as well. Wilson’s office will be responsible for annual assessment and accountability for the plans. 

Listening Sessions for the campus community

Following the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Wilson’s office held listening sessions for students, staff, faculty and alumni to join and voice their concerns with university officials.

Through an open records request, The George-Anne was able to obtain the staff session. The faculty and alumni sessions were not recorded and we were denied viewing the student session due to privacy concerns.

Wilson was joined by Little, Mark Tarachuk, intern at the counseling center and Anderson Johnson, a graduate assistant in Wilson’s office. Memory Littles, director of student activities, served as the moderator for the nearly 90 minute call.

The sessions allowed the campus community to voice their concerns with GS officials. 

Out of respect for the implied privacy of the session, The George-Anne chose not include any quotes or concerns brought up from the staff on the call.

It is unclear how long the other sessions were.

Statement from Wilson and Little

Sent to students on June 5, Wilson and Little jointly penned a statement following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

“These events shed light on our nation’s deep divide regarding racial equality,” wrote the duo. “We extend our continued condolences to the families involved and all members of our learning community who are personally affected by these tragedies – especially our students, faculty, and staff of color.”

Wilson and Little also condemned the actions of Moody and Sierra. 

“We are outraged to see such social media posts that include statements, images, videos and other content expressing ignorance, racism, discrimination, and disrespect,” said Wilson and Little. “We are saddened that you must deal with these inappropriate messages while also living through a global health pandemic and witnessing violence and division across our country.”

The two also reminded students of resources available to them and initiatives GS is working on to provide an inclusive environment.

They also invited students to submit their thoughts into the Inclusive Excellence idea catcher. That can be found here. 

The pair’s full statement can be found below. 

New Inclusive Excellence modules in the First-Year Experience (FYE) curriculum

In a statement to The George-Anne, Jennifer Wise, director of communications, told us incoming freshmen will have more content focused on inclusive excellence beginning this fall.

“As a core outcome of the FYE program as a whole is to help cultivate a genuine culture of diversity, equity and inclusion at the University, these five modules will reinforce the topic of DEI that is threaded throughout the course and will touch on developing DEI competencies and discussing why DEI is important and key terms,” said Wise.

A timeline of GS’ Inclusive Excellence activities

Provided by John Lester, vice president of university communications and marketing, GS officials keep a list of the Inclusive Excellence actions taken by the university.

Some of the items on the timeline include funding for Wilson’s current position and all statements released to the campus community from fall 2018 to present.

The full timeline can be found below.

Andy Cole, Managing Editor for News Coverage, bc14713@georgiasouthern.edu