By: Savannah Downing
I have spent the last four years walking under your sprawling magnolias, getting lost in your old buildings, working in a couple of your departments, and dozing off on your pretty lawns. This week, I will have walked up your old chapel steps in the English ceremony and then sat with hundreds of graduates in your stadium reveling in my final moments as an undergraduate. If I feel like waiting in line for it, I might even take my first walk through your Arch.
UGA, for the last four years, I have made you my home.
It was here that I was able to find my voice, find some of the greatest friends and colleagues, and learn what it really means to exercise my privileged position of being at such a prestigious university.
While I adore so much about you and I will be ever proud to call you home, I cannot leave without acknowledging that your doors are closed to too many and you are not always there for your most vulnerable students.
As much as I have enjoyed walks through North Campus and dipping my toes in the fountain, it was the moments that I was able to stand with and for equal rights that I will always hold most dearly in my heart.
Last week, as many of us were pulling all-nighters for finals and crying over large pizzas about how much we had left to do, some people were fighting for the right to experience the very thing about which we were complaining. On the last day of classes, undocumented students, who have been denied access to even apply to your institution, demanded that you lift the ban against them. I walked with them from the Arch to your President’s office to ask that you acknowledge the immoral nature of such a stigmatizing, segregating bill that serves only to oppress some of the most deserving individuals who graduate at the tops of their high school classes. I listened to their stories, heard their pleas, and chanted with them.
Dear UGA, did you listen?
On a cold, rainy night a few weeks before that, some incredibly brave people stood in your Demosthenian Hall, surrounded by dozens of portraits of old men, and told their stories of sexual assault and domestic violence. In this safe space, so many of us listened quietly and some even opened up to tell their stories for the first time. We rallied in the rain through the streets of downtown and back to the Arch chanting, “Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes.” We plead for bodily autonomy and protection from the all too common sexual assault that happens within your walls. We demanded that consent is necessary and rapes are the most inexcusable, although least prosecuted, form of dominance and oppression and that you should not stand for it on your campus.
Dear UGA, did you hear us?
When the infamous billboards of what some students perceived as misinterpreted images of abortions were plastered in the faces of everyone who walked through Tate, waited on a bus, or had lunch at your café, many of us took a stand. Organized by Kathryn Leamon, a protest rejected this shaming of women and created a symbolic safety corridor to let students know that there were those of us who stood with them. Although there was backlash from groups and individuals who said we were a hindrance to freedom of speech, you know that the sheets we held and signs we made could not blot out the graphic images towering over us. Not even your “warning: graphic images ahead” signs gave enough notice to the triggering billboard posters. We were tired of woman-shaming and incomplete information, but we mostly wanted to be the counter group that women could visually see to know they were not alone in feeling targeted, triggered, and degraded.
Dear UGA, were you watching?
In all the moments that gave me chills, made me enraged, and gave my heart hope, these will be the ones that I remember most. These will be what I carry in some spot in my heart to remind me that feminism is not dead, solidarity is power, and the world is still just as malleable as ever.
Dear UGA, maybe you did not realize that while you turned away our requests, quieted our pleas, and threw up your hands because of “policy,” as many of us leave, there will be many more like us that will come. And like us, they will not be silent.