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A Welcoming Environment

The speed with which the Confederate flag has fallen below the line of acceptability in a single week is inspiring. That symbol is not just being talked about - it is being taken down. As a part of this swirl of events in motion, predicated on the murderous rampage in Charleston one week ago, how will the conversation to make our campuses more inviting, welcoming and diverse - especially here in the South - continue to progress?

Other campuses are struggling to come up with their own solutions as the pressure to remove Confederate symbols intensifies.

The University of Texas at Austin was already debating a proposal to move a statue of Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederacy, from its prominent place on a central mall to a museum when the Charleston massacre occurred.

Several days later the statues of three Confederate leaders were spray-painted with the words "Black Lives Matter" as a petition circulated by the student government was gathering more than 2,800 signatures of people calling for the statues’ removal.

Some seemingly-intractable realities are being swept up in the present momentum and altered for the better. And sure, the flag is symbolic, but we send all kinds of signals, all the time, about what we care about most by the prestige we devote to certain artifacts and cultural elements. And these signals determine how open and welcoming our campuses can be - especially to under-represented groups, to use the common parlance. It's flags and statues, but it's also names of buildings and even streets. Changing these to match not sensitivities but to reflect our priorities, to celebrate and announce the future we want to embrace, also sends a very loud signal. What we choose to honor and how it effects our perspective and reputation is self-fulfillng in a very direct way. There will be more space now to make these kinds of determinations about cultural priorities, and it will not be simple to embrace the future without erasing the past. There is power in historical legacy, but its real juice energizes the capacity to move us forward - to be confident in embracing the future we want, rather than one we're saddled with. 

Image: UGA North campus


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