By Joy Bratcher
On Jan. 7, citizens of downtown Athens saw a new pilot program take affect on the street of Prince Avenue. The six-month program focuses on the crosswalk located at Newton Street and Pope Street and places orange flags at each side of the crossing. The flags are to make pedestrians more visible as they cross the street.
“In a few months we are going to do an after study of the success of the flags,” Traffic Engineer Steve Decker said. We will be looking for increased compliance with motorist.”
Kelsey Butler is a student at the University of Georgia and lives near downtown Athens. She describes herself as someone who enjoys walking around downtown as much as she drives through it to go to her hometown. As she crosses Prince Street, she admits she feels silly waving the flags so drivers will supposedly “see her better.”
Butler said that she has seen more close calls in pedestrian accidents than she has cared for especially on the infamous avenue. Yet, she is not sure if the flags will be successful.
“As a pedestrian, I can see the benefit of the flags,” Butler said. “Yet, as a motorists, it is very distracting. I could see how more accidents could be caused by motorists staring at the flags without paying attention to the person carrying the flag.”
Every five years, the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group examines Athens roads to tally up the number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents due to being struck by motorists. In the most recent study released in 2012, one street stood out to researchers- Prince Avenue.
According to the report, while bike crashes are down 46% from the previous five year span complied between years 2003 and 2007, pedestrian crashes are up 160%.
Cities as far as Washington have seen success stories from the new program, but the idea of whether or not this statement is accurate is still being debated in larger cities across the country that carry a high number of pedestrians.
Salt Lake City has been using the flags since 2000. It’s city website states that due to the success of the program, in 2001 the city had to create an Adopt-a-Crosswalk program opening the doors for businesses and individuals to maintain crosswalk flag cites for little or no cost. As of 2013, more than 200 crosswalks were adopted.
Even with the program trying to help pedestrians, some see them as a joke to pull on one another. Looking in the flag pit, one may see a United States Flag, rebel flag, German flag, or Georgia Bulldog flag instead of the orange flags
According to an online article on the Athens Banner Herald website, the cost of replacing each flag costs the city $2. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-12/prince-avenue-pedestrian-flags-get-mixed-reviews>
Decker is quoted in the article saying, “the occasional loss of a flag would be a small price to pay if the program is effective in improving pedestrian safety.”
When using the flags, pedestrians are not to solely rely on carrying their flag. “It’s just an enhancement” for the crosswalks, and “not a cure-all” for pedestrian safety, Decker said in the article. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-06/pedestrian-crosswalk-flags-be-tried-prince-avenue>
In June, the city will examine Prince Avenue to see if statics have improved since the start of the project.
“I’m not sure what the results will be from this,” Butler said. “If it works to help make us safer, then it won’t matter any cost or problem it could cause. Even if it saves one life, it will be worth it.”
By Lauren McDonald
Pickle ball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, was the unexpected topic of discussion at the meeting on how to renovate Bishop Park.
And a new pickle ball court may be one of many changes soon to come to the park.
About 30 Athens citizens participated in a public input session on Wednesday night, to give feedback on the new master plan proposal for renovations to Bishop Park, one of Athens most popular community sites.
“We’re looking at the whole park,” said Kevan Williams, an Athens park planner heading the project. “And making sure that it’s meeting the community’s needs.”
Emily Carr, who comes to Bishop Park regularly to walk and to visit the Athens Farmers Market, completed a survey at the meeting, She said the new master plan seems feasible.
“I thought the changes were realistic,” Carr said. “They weren’t high in the sky, that we don’t have money for. They made some real improvements.”
Major changes proposed include parking lot renovations, an 8,000 square-foot Wellness Center, an expansion of the Gymnastics Center and new rental pavilions.
Park planners also proposed an 18,000 square-foot event pavilion and plaza, which would be the home of the Athens Farmers Market.
Carr, who has lived in Athens for 44 years, remembers visiting the park in 1968, when it was just a fair ground.
Bishop Park, located at 705 Sunset Drive, was built 40 years ago and has undergone no major renovation since the 1970s.
The growing Athens community has since then developed different needs from the park, Williams said. The use of the park and the neighborhood around it have changed significantly.
Also, many of the park’s structures are no longer up to code.
The 33-acre park is relatively small compared to others parks in the community. Trail Creek Park is nearly 100 acres, and Sandy Creek Park is almost 800 acres.
“But this is a very dense park in terms of the scale of activities,” Williams said.
“It gets almost 400,000 visits a year. So this is a big project in terms of its significance, even if it’s not big in terms of its physical footprint.”
The Athens Park Planning Department enlisted the help of the University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation back in October 2014 to garner public input.
A team of UGA students and faculty conducted online surveys and in-park surveys. They also consulted park planning staff and the Bishop Park workers.
Jarrad Holbrook, a student who worked on the project, said the most glaring renovation needs when he first began were restructuring of the parking lot and updates to buildings.
“First and foremost, that whole parking lot was a mess. It’s set up kind of like a maze, the turns are too sharp,” Holbrook said. “We also saw that there were clearly issues with some buildings. One particular building looked like it had been built temporarily, and then temporary became 15, 20 years.”
The CCDP hosted a public input session last year to get initial suggestions from the community on renovations they’d like to see, and the park planners incorporated many of those suggestions into the new master plan.
“People liked that the park is easy to access, and there’s something for everybody,” Lewis said. “It allows non-traditional uses, like the Farmer’s Market. It’s more than just a sports park. So they liked that it was good for families, and people, whether they’re doing group activities or whether they’re just going solo to run or walk with the dog.”
The public also asked for an indoor aquatics facility and a dog park, but planners did not included those requests into the new plan, due to cost and space requirements.
Park planners aim to ensure that Bishop Park offers “a little bit of everything for all people.”
“If you come here at different times, you’ll see a lot of real diversity of people that use this park,” Carr said. “In Athens in a lot of places, even though we’re a very integrated town, you can live your life with only seeing people that look like you. When you come to parks like this, you see lots of different kinds of folks.”
Once Park Planning Department confirms the master plan, the focus will move to funding for the project. Williams said funds may come from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) or from donations.
“There’s a lot of interest right now in wellness,” Williams said. “So we’re hoping right now that through partnerships with different organizations we may be able to attract some support for parts of the park that might support those goals.”
The department hasn’t set a timeline for completion yet. The department will move forward with the plan based on the community’s feedback.
So far, the department has received over 500 survey responses, including those received at Wednesday’s session.
“The feedback’s been really good,” Williams said. “It’s always kind of exciting when you put a big idea out there, to see how people are going to take that and what things people will pick up on.”
And Williams said a new pickle ball court will be considered when they begin redrafting the master plan.
“We’ll look at ways to look at their ideas and make sure we’re not leaving anything out,” he said. “That’s sort of the point of doing this – to make sure that everybody has a chance to make sure that their voice is being heard.”
By Esther Shim
Money flowed in through a Nuçi’s Space crowdfunding campaign which proved to be an efficient source of fundraising for the reconstruction of the rehabilitation center’s crumbling steeple.
The 145-year-old St. Mary’s Episcopal Church’s steeple was falling apart, and the church was demolished in 1990. “The remaining steeple stood unprotected and ignored till 2013,” said Dave Schools, the bassist for the band Widespread Panic, ”when the Homeowners Association transferred ownership to Nuçi’s Space.”
Now, thanks to crowdfunding, the steeple will be restored, and the area surrounding the steeple will be converted into a meditative garden for Nuçi’s customers and guests.
Nuçi’s Space’s “Reconstruction of the Steeple” Indiegogo campaign is an example of funding a project through the assistance of a community, a fan base, or a group of supporters through an online platform.
“Crowdfunding is by definition, the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet,” said Tanya Prive, a Forbes contributor. “Crowdfunding offers individuals a chance at success, by showcasing their businesses and projects to the entire world.”
The first successful crowdfunding event, according to Fundable: the History of Crowdfunding, was documented in 1997 as a British rock band funded a reunion tour from its fans’ pockets. Inspired by the campaign’s success, ArtistShare originated in 2000 as the the first creative platform to use fan funding to make musician-to-fan connections.
Crowdfunding exploded after its initial start, and according to Fundable, it immediately became a popular financing option for entrepreneurs to unleash their creative beasts. In the United States, crowdfunding revenue drastically increased from $530 million in 2009 to $1.5 billion in 2011, showing the popularity of crowdsourcing for funds..
So what makes crowdfunding so successful?
“The idea of it’s not what you do,” said Prive, “ but why you do it.”
Campaigners find a driving force behind a project, said Prive in an article on crowdfunding, or some special purpose that creates a sense of connection or relatability between people in a community. The general public then becomes the major source of revenue behind projects such as the campaign to reconstruct the Nuçi’s Space symbolic steeple.
The rich, musical history of the steeple inspired Nuçi’s Space to begin its campaign in November 2014 to preserve the iconic structure made famous by the band R.E.M., that lived in the steeple and had its first performance there. The 60-day campaign lasted until January of this year, according to the Athens-Banner Herald.
The goal was to raise $250,000 through the community’s charitable care and support. Entertaining incentives such as posters, CD recordings, posters, shirts, and much more were offered for various monetary donations.
The $100 “Steeple Brick/Name Recognition” package was the most elite and important one. Through this purchase, donors would not only take a part of Nuçi’s Space’s beloved Steeple but also have their name engraved on a wall that will be built in a meditative garden during the renovation of the Steeple.
The crowdfunding efforts raised $147,620, just a little over half of the campaign goal, according to the IndieGoGo campaign profile. Despite missing the goal, Bob Sleppy, the executive director of the campaign, said that the project was far from a failed effort.
The most important thing, Sleppy said, is that the campaign put Nuçi’s Space in the limelight. Crowdfunding drew attention not only from new people but also from top-tier media such as Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.
Individual donors fund 70 percent of the facility’s operational costs, according to the Athens-Banner Herald, with donations ranging from $25 to thousands of dollars each year. Through the crowdfunding campaign, Nuçi’s Space has experienced more contributions from different businesses and individuals outside of its normal source.
$70,000 of the funds raised from the campaign will go into a reserve fund, said Sleppy, to use during hard times or low-budget circumstances.
The rest of the funds, said Nuçi’s Space counseling advocate Leslie Cobbs, will not only help construct a meditative garden around the steeple, but also help fund mental peer group sessions for anyone in the community who needs people to talk to.
Although Nuçi’s Space didn’t reach its campaign goal, it still raised enough funds to help kickstart a project to improve its facility. The campaign proved to be an excellent representative of crowdfunding as a source to support a community center..
By Evelyn Andrews
Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.
“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”
Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.
It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.
“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.
“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.
However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.
Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.
Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.
“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.
Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.
“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”
The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.
The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.
All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.
However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over
regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”
Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.
“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”
Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.
“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.
Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.
“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”
By Lauren McDonald
A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.
“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”
“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”
Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”
Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.
“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”
DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.
“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.
Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.
DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.
“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.
DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.
The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.
But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.
Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.
He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.
“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”
His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.
“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”
So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.
DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.
Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.
Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.
He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.
“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”
Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.
DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.
Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.
Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.
In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.
“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”
Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.
“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”
By Evelyn Andrews
“It was hard to get a ride with Uber when they first came to Athens, but now it’s easier and cheaper than a taxi normally,” said Sydney Browning, who has ridden with the service several times.
Affordability and the easiness of getting a ride with Uber is often cited as a reason people choose the service over traditional taxis, but Uber’s lack of government oversight and background checks has led to some people to question the safeness of using them.
“I did not know that Uber doesn’t have some requirements that taxi drivers have and I do feel a little more worried getting a ride with them now,” Browning, a student at the University of Georgia, said.
Uber, a ride-sharing service, has been expanding across the globe since 2012 and debuted in Athens in August 2014. Uber, a part of the sharing economy such as Airbnb and bike rental services, operates in 55 countries and over 200 cities as of December 2014.
Uber has not been immune to mishaps, including being banned from India after allegations of rape and surge pricing during the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia. Several taxi cab companies worldwide have sued Uber on the basis that they do not follow regulations. Athens Uber operations also have not been immune to these types of controversies, but no lawsuits have been filed.
“The real question should be is, ‘is it safe?’” said Ted Ledall, a dispatcher for United Taxi Cab in Athens, Georgia. “To be an Uber driver, there are no qualifications.”
Several taxi cab owners and drivers from Atlanta sued the ride-sharing service in September 2014, claiming Uber is operating a taxi service without a license. Many Athens taxi cab owners and drivers agree with their decision and are supporting them, Ledall said.
“We support them 110 percent,” he said.
But taxi companies in Athens are not planning their own lawsuit. Instead, they are relying on Mayor Nancy Denson.
“Everything is on the mayor’s table rights now,” Ledall said.
He said Mayor Denson should require all Uber drivers in Athens to adhere to the same regulation that taxi companies are required to follow. Athens ordinances require taxi cab drivers to receive a background check through the police department and to have a valid driver’s license with no points acquired in order to be issued a taxi license drivers are required to have.
“We check our drivers so much, there is no felonies, nothing in their background,” Ledall said.
However, one in five taxi drivers in Athens have accumulated a number of traffic or other violations within the last 10 years, according to The Red & Black.
No ordinances exist in Athens-Clarke County or state laws in Georgia that stipulate requirements for Uber, but city officials, according to The Red & Black, are reviewing ordinances that could be passed.
Hasan Ahmed, an Athens Uber driver, said the company does have stringent requirements for drivers. They do an internal background check, making sure the drivers have a valid license with a clean record.
“I don’t think you could make the argument that Uber is any less safe than taxis,” Ahmed said.
But some law makers argue that Uber still needs official government regulations, including Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) who is trying to pass legislation requiring Uber drivers to pass a government background check.
The government also requires taxi drivers to pass a drug test in order to obtain a license. Uber does not make drivers pass these tests, which Browning said is worrying.
Uber drivers are also required to have a car that is less than 10 years old, Ahmed said. Many people have said they feel safer riding with an Uber driver for that reason. Athens’ taxis are often in bad condition, older and poorly maintained, Browning said.
“I have ridden in a few taxis that do not even working gauges for speed and gas before,” she said.
Ledall deflected that argument by arguing that taxis still have more regulation than Uber. Additionally, Uber price gauges riders and charges them exorbitant prices for vomiting in the car, neither of which taxis do, Ledall said.
However, taxis in Athens do not have meters that measure the distant driven and assign a price for the riders. This makes the price taxis drivers tell riders seem arbitrary, Browning said.
No taxi drivers have harassed Ahmed, but he has been stopped by police several times, he said. However, he does not fault the officers, but rather the lack of awareness about the laws guiding Uber.
“Everything is so new and no one really knows what the rules are so sometimes the police just get confused,” Ahmed said.
According to an Athens-Clarke County police report, an Uber driver was stopped by a police officer on Jan. 9 and told to finish the ride and not take any more riders because Uber is not a licensed taxi.
Athens Uber operations has acquired several more drivers since beginning in the city in 2014 and will remain a competitive force against taxis, Ahmed said.
“I think everyone has noticed that they are many more Uber drivers,” Ahmed said.
By Lauren McDonald
As a senior in high school, Alejandro Galeana-Salinas had the grades and the ambitions to go to a top university in Georgia. But because of his legal residency status, he didn’t have the option to apply.
“It was senior year – my final year – and next year I would be out in the real world, paying bills,” said the recent Cedar Shoals High School graduate. “It was either college or bust.”
Of the approximately 3,000 undocumented students who graduate from Georgia high schools every year, none may receive in-state tuition rates or federal aid to attend college, per state policy.
The University System of Georgia also bans undocumented students from attending five of the top public schools in the state of Georgia, including the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.
For undocumented students who would otherwise possess the credentials to attend one of the top five schools and who cannot afford to attend college without federal aid or in-state tuition, the ban restricts their access to most options of higher education in Georgia.
These state policies left Galeana-Salinas feeling apathetic about his future for the first half of his high school career.
Galeana-Salinas said his plans at that time did not extend further than receiving a high school diploma and applying for a position to work in a factory with his parents.
“I thought, ‘There’s no point in me going to college, I’m not going to make it,’” he said. “That was just what I thought. My parents work in factories, and I don’t know anyone who goes to big colleges. The people that I do know go to Athens Tech, so I didn’t see the point.”
In 2010, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents implemented these policies due to the concern that undocumented students would take college seats away from natural-born citizens.
“The purpose of the policy was to mirror state law as passed by the Georgia General Assembly,” said Charlie Sutlive, USG vice chancellor for communications.
In 2010, a USG report also found that, of the 310,000 students enrolled in University System of Georgia institutions, 501 were undocumented.
Federal law entitles unauthorized immigrant children to free kindergarten through twelfth grade education, following the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision that struck down a state statute that denied funding.
“The Georgia Constitution creates a clear right to public K-12 education, and the U.S. Constitution requires that this right be afforded to Georgia residents equally, regardless of immigration status,” Sutlive said. “However, that requirement does not extend to public higher education.”
For undocumented students with aspirations to attend college, the ban takes a toll on their self-motivation, according to Lauren Emiko Soltis, an activist who has worked with undocumented students for the last four years.
“So many of my students, if you look at their grades from freshman and sophomore year, they’re taking AP classes, and they’re getting 4.0s,” Soltis said. “Then junior year, their grades start to decline. And that’s a reflection of the fact that they realize that they don’t have any options for college.”
The students give up hope, Soltis said.
“By the time that they’re senior or that they graduate, they have internalized failure in order to protect themselves,” Soltis said. “That’s a terrible thing to do to young people, to essentially close off their options for the rest of their lives, in a society where higher education is absolutely essential to economic mobility.”
Georgia’s policies do not match those of most states, Soltis said.
Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina maintain admissions bans on undocumented students, and Georgia, Arizona and Colorado ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition. Georgia maintains both policies – the only state to do so.
Galeana-Salinas didn’t realize he had any possible chance to receive an education beyond high school, until he got involved in the undocumented immigrant activist movement.
Attending marches and protests, as well as getting heavily involved with organizations such as the Ambitious for Equal Rights group and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Galeana-Salinas took part in the earliest conversations to found Freedom University.
Founded in Athens in 2011, FU provides an option for undocumented students to continue their education. FU students also take part in the activist movement to lift the bans and increase access to higher education.
“I would go to my high school classes, and I would be like ‘I don’t feel like bubbling in this answer sheet, I do not want to do this homework, I’m sorry but I just don’t care,’” Galeana-Salinas said. “And then I would go to Freedom University, and I was learning about Jim Crow, I was learning about stuff I really loved. These were college-level courses, so we would debate and discuss – things we didn’t do in my high school classes.”
His experience as a student activist at FU altered Galeana-Salinas’ plan.
“In junior year, I started getting focused,” he said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I need to go to college. I can’t work at a factory for the rest of my life, I have more potential than that.’”
But the USG ban left him with few options in-state.
Galeana-Salinas said he knew several undocumented students at Cedar Shoals hindered by the state policy.
“There’s different ways students handle this,” he said. “Some students went and applied to other colleges outside of that spectrum, like to private colleges. A lot of private colleges seem like the answer right now for a lot of us.”
Despite Georgia’s ban, Galeana-Salinas planned to go to college. So he took action, applying to schools out-of-state.
This past year, Galeana-Salinas received a full scholarship to Berea College in Kentucky, where he will begin classes as a psychology major in the fall.
One out of five Freedom University students leave with a full-ride scholarship to an out-of-state school, Soltis said.
“It shows that they are academically qualified, but they have to leave the state of Georgia in order to continue their education,” Soltis said.
But right now, Sutlive said, the Board of Regents does not plan to change the policy. He said the policy continues to achieve its purposes, and USG institutions are adhering to it, including the 25 of the 30 schools that allow undocumented students to attend, if they meet the admissions criteria.
“Given that our policy mirrors state law, until state law changes, the Board is not discussing a change in policy,” Sutlive said.
Even though Galeana-Salinas achieved his goal, he plans to continue with the student activist movement, because he said the fight for education equality for undocumented immigrants has far to go.
“There’s such gray areas when it comes to access to higher education, access to funds, grants and scholarships,” he said. “You just have to keep asking questions.”