Light shed on African American experience

Photo by Tyler Meuter

Following allegations that black female students were racially harassed on campus, Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson oversaw the formation of a task force to examine the experience of members of Tech’s African American community. The task force came into existence at the beginning of the semester and has since held a number of meetings.

According to Archie Ervin,  Tech’s vice president of Institute Diversity and a co-chair of the task force, the task force now numbers 13 members, six of whom are students.

“The first big difficulty has been to get interested parties together,” Ervin said. “We came together to talk about [the fact that] students had gone to the Dean of Students’s office and had made known that there were lots of things happening on the campus in terms of students of color, particularly black students, that just weren’t included in [the alleged racial harassment incident] — that there were other kinds of campus issues and experiences that students felt that they were having due to their racial makeups.”

Ervin explained that the purpose of the task force’s early meetings were to determine ways to respond to people who had contacted the administration. Methods through which to make the campus more inclusive and welcoming to everyone were a focus.

“Our basic framing of it was ‘Are there experiences that people can represent that would help us to understand what these intersections are?’” Ervin said. “‘And if there are things that we see as problematic in any way, are they actionable? Are they things we can do anything about as a leadership team? If they are, what can you do?’ That’s sort of my lay of the land of the task force.”

John Stein, Tech’s dean of students and vice president of Student Life, also serves as a co-chair of the African American student experience task force.

“Students have been, on their own, collecting testimonies, or stories, from other students,” Stein said. “They shared that, as of [the most recent meeting], they have about 30 stories from students. And these are stories of their experience here at Georgia Tech as a black student on campus.”

Stein added that the task force had looked into planning focus groups, which will be open discussions open to all students and facilitated by a member of the Tech community through the Office of Strategic Consulting.

“Our hope is that we will get through the bulk of the work through this academic semester,” Stein said. “We may bump into the spring term and then have a series of recommendations to the President. The President was the one who originally called for this task force.”

Stein emphasized that, while the task force may have occurred due to allegations of racial harassment, they are not the sole reason.