An open letter to the next SGA administration

At the Technique, we have a dramatic tradition for a staff member’s last editorial piece before graduation. We call it a “swan song” because it is said that a swan sings most beautifully before it dies (told you it was dramatic). We typically reflect on our time at Tech, impactful experiences and even words of
advice for future Jackets. My swan song is an open letter to the next student body president and vice president at Tech. At the time of me writing this letter, Monday, March 11, election results have not been released. This letter is not directed at any one ticket, but rather it is a message for both tickets to consider as one of them eventually steps into office.

When looking at the candidate platforms, it was clear that each ticket had put significant thought into their ideas for improving Tech. However, all four of the original teams neglected arguably one of the most important, ongoing issues: the gentrification of Atlanta, or more specifically, Tech’s role in gentrification as it looks to expand housing and increase enrollment. 

I genuinely appreciated AP and Cole’s initiative in prioritizing correspondence with the recently formed Black Caucus as part of their platform in response to Affirmative Action’s overruling. This is the kind of initiative needed to represent the underrepresented. Similarly, Julia and Shivani’s platform briefly mentioned engaging with the Under Represented Groups in Education (U.R.G.E) forums. Both tickets made general statements pledging to work with underrepresented
groups on campus. I write this letter to emphasize that this is not enough. To make it abundantly clear, unless you are intentional about it, it will not happen. However genuine, a pledge as undefined as “working to ensure diverse perspectives are heard” falls by the wayside to more traditionally represented issues such as dining, budgeting and athletics.

Atlanta is a unique city as it has a strong legacy of Black ownership that has been used to uplift our community post slavery and segregation — two atrocities we never received reparations for.

Point blank, there have been so few opportunities for African Americans across the country for economic empowerment; laws that prevented homeownership and loans persisted well into the 20th century, and when our communities did somehow manage to thrive, they were simply massacred, looted and burned to ashes like in Tulsa, Okla. in 1921.

The existence of a city like Atlanta represents hope, opportunity and the American Dream to my community. One city for the entire country. We’ve worked tirelessly to carve out the city as a place where we can thrive. This success is something we’ve welcomed others to partake in and contribute to. It’s a beautiful relationship in the city famously coined as being too busy to hate. 

However, as the city continues to reach new levels of accomplishment, its legacy residents and business owners (predominantly Black) are being pushed out.

The phenomenon itself is not the fault of the Student Government Association (SGA). However, as Tech looks to expand, the issue does fall under your scope. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with current Student Body President  Aanjan Sikal, fourth-year IE and Executive Vice President (EVP) Harrison Baro, third-year ENVE who confirmed that they have been in at least four separate meetings with Tech administration (admin), alumni and field experts where the expansion of Science Square and Housing has been addressed. 

Sikal and Barrow explained three avenues that the president and vice president can use for impact: general meetings with stakeholders, passion projects and one-on-one meetings with President Ángel Cabrera. SGA is often criticized for its lack of inertia, however perception may not match reality. 

Baro spoke of a passion project of his: the recently created Emergency Fund, a “rainy day” account of $30,000 for Jackets to use in emergency situations. First pitched in Spring 2023 by 2022-2023 EVP Grace Swift, the project was able to lock in funding before the end of the spring semester and was available for use in the Fall 2023 semester. Baro explained that to present the fund has helped over 20 Jackets by providing approximately $8,000 of emergency funding.

While the passion projects are often the luxury of the EVP, Sikal shared a major advocacy tool the SGA president has: monthly, one-on-one meetings with Cabrera. During these meetings, the student body president has an hour of uninterrupted time to address major issues with the Institute’s president. I’m sure the candidates are already aware of this meeting, however, have you given thought to using these meetings to advocate for the sustainable expansion of Tech?

Sikal and Baro made it clear during our conversation that housing is a leading issue for the Institute that comes up on a regular basis; Sikal even recently met with a Georgia state representative at the capitol to discuss the issue.

I spoke earlier of initiative and proactivity because while you are in these meetings, people may overlook the significance of an issue like gentrification. If a plan is not presented to you or the issue is not mentioned, the responsibility of advocacy falls to you.

Since I transferred to Tech and took on the role of Life Editor, I’ve been in so many rooms full of well-intentioned people who believe in social justice and equity and want to make the world a better place, but often forget this charge as decision time presents itself.

I think this election cycle is a great example; I’m confident all parties care about Tech’s role in gentrification. Candidates Julia Haley, third-year PUBP and Shivani Virani, third-year NEURO, even amended their platform to emphasize working with Black, Hispanic and Native business owners as they look to add new businesses to Tech Square after I questioned their platform’s potential for gentrification during the Technique debate. 

However, this attention to the issue was not internally motivated for any of the three tickets at the time; it was a direct result of someone else speaking out. Be that voice and be that person to speak out when you meet with influential parties.

For the last two years, I’ve served the Technique as Life Editor. As my section covers campus life, I’ve had an amazing time getting to know Tech’s many campus organizations, both large and small. It’s been a blessing and a privilege meeting with students from all corners of Tech to interview them on their
passions and happenings. 

Of the many I’ve spoken with, a few stand out as entities I recommend cultivating strong relationships with as you advocate for Black Georgia Tech’s (BGT) needs: the GT National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (GT NAACP), GT Organization for Social Activism (GT OSA) and the Undergraduate House of Representatives’ Black Caucus.

In my opinion, these organizations represent some of the most passionate, driven and goal-oriented leaders on campus when it comes to social and political activism within the Black community. Additionally, organizations like Caribbean Student Association (CaribSA), African Student Association (ASA) and all of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations do an amazing job in representing the needs, opinions and social life within BGT.

Harkening back to my point about the ability to enact change within a short period of time, all three of the political activist groups I referenced were all created within the last two years. 

Additionally, all have already had measurable impact on Tech’s campus and the Atlanta area: GT NAACP officially received its charter in May 2022 and was recognized by the national chapter of the NAACP for being a top-10 university in voter registration in their inaugural year. GT OSA was founded in Fall 2022 and has since collaborated with GT NAACP and the library to create the U.R.G.E forums/town hall in the wake of Affirmative Action’s overruling. 

The Black caucus was first pitched earlier this semester and has since worked to organize and gather Black representatives within UHR and increase Black participation within SGA.

I bring this up to highlight that change can happen and does happen, often quickly — it just has to be on your mind when the time to decide comes.

Closing out, when I spoke to Sikal and Barrow, it seemed there was definitely support within Tech admin to expand without displacing residents. 

For example, the pair outlined several policies the Institute currently has including an agreement with the city of Atlanta to not expand into Home Park and buying from Black owned businesses like yAAAs! Cookies for campus events.It’s no secret that the executive president and vice president spend much of their time in meetings with Tech admin. 

Sikal and Barrow both showed me entire days on their calendars blocked out for meetings with admin and other stakeholders, so for Sikal to say, “I truly believe that Georgia Tech cares about its community and understands that it cannot be the university it is without the Atlanta community,” I have full confidence in his judgment and in turn, your ability to work with the administration to make a positive impact on gentrification.

With a supportive community both from admin and campus organizations, all that is needed is your intention and initiative; the journey may not be as uphill as it is thought of. 

I sincerely wish you the best of luck as you transition into the role. Feel free to email me at [email protected] for any follow up questions you may have.

To the Institute, it’s been amazing serving as your Life Editor for the last two years. It’s been a major part of my Tech identity and I’m so glad I’ve been able to experience the many corners of Tech through the position.

Signing off,

Jessamyn M. Lockett