Ask any student at the University of Georgia to describe downtown Athens and you’d hear words like trendy, crazy or spunky.
On Thursday night, Professor Pratt Cassity gave over 150 students a wake up call adding a much uglier word to their downtown vocabulary – racist.
Downtown Athens is a social hub as students, tourists, and Athens locals alike go there to eat, shop and even study.
Cassity, the director of public service and outreach for the College of Environment and Design at the University, gave a lecture on the importance of white privilege and ethnic cleansing in downtown Athens. Giving students a detailed account of Athens’ history, Cassity explained how a range of demographics has changed over time.
“There were African-American communities, Latino communities, poor communities, gay communities”, said Cassity. “The very buildings and places they seem to be cleansing were once the very part of this history”.
As more Millennials have taken up residence in Athens in the past 30 years, the ever evolving college town has had but no choice to make accommodations for its predominantly White, middle and upper middle class demographics. Student housing became a priority to accommodate the influx in population, but new facilities displaced many of the long time Athens residents.
“The most dramatic change is the student geared, upper class, towering apartments that are not family friendly,” says Cassity. “That’s hard for anyone to live in who doesn’t have that level of income”.
Giving several examples of discriminatory spaces downtown, Cassity highlighted the General Beauregard’s scandal, a popular bar for students that many community members have labeled as racist because of their admission policy and menu items, making it a non-inclusive space.
Chelsea McMahan, a second year Horticulture major and attendee, thought the topic was eye opening and broadened her horizons.
“Statistically people of lower incomes are people of color,” says McMahan. “I know that these problems exist and that we need to do something about it.”
Athens-Clarke County is both home to over 25,000 people living below the federal poverty line and to 36,000 students who are predominantly middle and upper middle class.
“We’re excluding people so we can include others,” says Cassity. “This isn’t right and people know it.”
In order to make a difference, Cassity claims that people have to be committed to doing the right thing and to inclusiveness as people have been in the past about exclusiveness.