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.”
Athens, apart from being recognized as a college town, is known for being a culturally diverse place with a progressive society. The downtown Athens area even has a reputation for having a bar or club for every social “scene.”
But what about the Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community, commonly known as the LGBT community? Athens has a large and active LGBT community, but has no official place to gather outside of the LGBT Resource Center on the UGA campus.
Athens-Clarke County and the University of Georgia both show support for the LGBT community, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the community and the two institutions. Athens-Clarke County offers full domestic partnership benefits for city and county workers, however the University of Georgia does not. The university has an official LGBT resource center, whereas Athens-Clarke County lacks any official center for members of the LGBT community and has not had an official “gay-friendly” establishment in 5 years. Read the rest of this entry »
By Brittney Cain
After living in busy downtown Athens for 2 years, Lauren Klopfenstein has learned the ropes for getting around problems.
She has found a way to deal with one of the most common annoyances—loud noises.
Klopfenstein’s best advice is to find a different place where it is quiet to get schoolwork and studying done, since downtown isn’t always the best place.
When signing a lease downtown most people think they are aware of the living conditions, but not all actually are.
The growing heaps of trash, loud noises, and run-ins with intoxicated students are often the biggest issues with students and residents of downtown.
One “annoyance” often overlooked is parking in downtown Athens.
More residents are choosing to live downtown, officials say, because of the close proximity to the University of Georgia campus and convenience.
According to a 2012 study of Athens, nearly 2,000 people lived in the downtown Athens area.
Jack Crowley, head of the downtown Athens master plan project, believes that with recent and current construction of residential areas, numbers are set to more than double in the next few years.
With growing number of residents in the downtown area, annoyances are unavoidable.
Here are some tips from current residents and public officials.Trash remains one of the biggest problems with living downtown, according to UGA student Hannah Lech. In addition to being a resident for a year, she also works downtown.
“I work at Athens Bagel Company downtown and can see all of the trash and litter piled up early in the morning,” Hannah Lech responded when asked about the claims of trash.
Among the Athens-Clarke County’s most commonly broken codes, unlawful dumping and littering can be seen downtown.
Garbage is collected by the Solid Waste Department in the downtown district. If garbage isn’t picked up on the proper days, residents can call the main office at 706-613-3501.
Living above Whiskey Bent, Hannah Lech also finds the noise to be disturbing.
“I can usually tell what song is being played at the bar below by the shaking of my floor. It can get pretty loud even on weekdays,” said Hannah Lech.
She suggested future residents invest in earplugs or stay up late enough that they will immediately fall asleep despite the noise below.
Athens-Clarke County Staff Sergeant, Derek Scott, said “we notify bars if they are playing loud music after hours to prevent potential complaints from the residents of downtown.”
Another annoyance is one that is sometimes unavoidable.
Dealing with intoxicated students is bound to happen with nearly 80 bars downtown.
Christian Conover, a junior at the University of Georgia, said, “dealing with intoxicated students is annoying, but I think this comes with living in a college town and can only be fixed by increasing police presence and cracking down on underage drinking.”
Professor John Newton specializes in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia.
He said that the main problem with intoxicated students is the threat of large crowds and disorderly behavior of those intoxicated students.
Professor Newtown said, “I would be concerned about the unpredictable nature of intoxicated people who may be more likely to resist with violence than a sober person.”
A tip for dealing with these unpredictable “drunks” is to travel in small groups if possible to avoid conflict, and for those that are deciding to drink to be responsible and aware of those that live downtown.
Although trash, noise and inebriated students are annoyances that you would think of when living downtown, most people are unaware of parking situations.
Danny Boardman, a resident on Broad Street, continues to be annoyed with the parking situation. Not only are there small amounts of parking spaces available, but also the parking tickets given are beginning to increase.
Even though there are 750 short-term, pay as you go parking spots along downtown streets and 4 pay lots; it can be difficult to find parking for guests close to residential lofts and apartments.
“I have to be prepared to drive around downtown to find parking spots. Parking is free on Sunday, so it’s the worst that day,” Lauren Klopfenstein said about the new annoyance of parking issues.
Despite all of the minor issues and annoyances of living in a downtown area, Hannah Lech claims, “she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” She fully recommends others give it a try.
On his first day as president of the University of Georgia, Mike Adams stepped through the Arches, crossed into the downtown, climbed the hill to City Hall, ending up at the desk of the Athens-Clarke County mayor.
Many saw that action as testament to the new president’s commitment to the UGA-Athens relationship.
Now, 16 years later, many agree the relationship is better than ever.
Interviews with Adams, Mayor Nancy Denson, and others show the mindset, the projects and the systems that propelled the improvement.
Relationships between college towns and the colleges they contain can be tenuous amidst the clash of university administration and city government, local and student. Denson said before her time in Athens government, there was a “wall” between the school and the city. Now, the relationship is much improved, thanks in large part to Adams. That improvement, though, doesn’t mean smooth sailing. It means fostering awareness and mutual respect despite the disagreements.
“That tug and pull between different interests makes us arrive at the best interests for everybody,” Denson said. “Because if you’re just running along smooth and everything’s going great, you don’t look at your processes very closely.”
A collaborative attitude
Director of Community Relations Pat Allen said it is important for the University to be mindful of the importance of its relationship with Athens. Attracting the ideal students and faculty requires a “solid town,” he said, in addition to all of UGA’s qualities.
“I guess we have a self interest in ensuring that we have a vibrant economy in our community,” he said. “That it’s a safe place, and it’s a place that people will want to come for four years or for 40 years.”
The University also has a responsibility to the state, which incorporates its responsibility to Athens.
“And of course as a state institution we have a commitment to the state of Georgia, including Athens-Clarke County, to bring the resources of the University to bear on the biggest problems in the community,” he said.
Denson and Adams both acknowledged that they encounter Athens residents who bemoan the amount of land the University owns but doesn’t pay taxes on. Both, coincidentally, used the term “short-sighted” to describe this mindset, and counter with their own.
Adams pointed out that comments of this type are “potentially harmful to our state support base.”
“They contribute to a negative feeling in Atlanta, not widely shared by our funding partners, who still believe that sending some $400 million of taxpayer money every year to Athens is a pretty strong level of commitment,” he said.
Denson disagreed with these complaints on an even more fundamental level.
“It’s important to note that the University wasn’t just plopped in the middle of town. The town and the university grew together. And basically, without the university, Athens would just be a sleepy little village,” she said. “If we didn’t have all those taxes in property taken by the university, there would probably be just raw land sitting there and it would not have much tax value to it.”
Instead of “raw land,” she said having the University in her city brings a variety of positives – including a more “cosmopolitan” attitude and business growth.
“The University is more of an asset than anything else to the community, but it’s not a uniform asset to every member of the community,” she said.
Allen’s job, created in 2003, is a product of this collaborative attitude.
“It’s called a liaison, it’s called a lot of things, but my role is to assure that we communicate with local government and community groups on issues and opportunities for us on issues that we might be having,” he said. “As self-serving as it may sound to you, him recognizing that we needed someone focused on this every day, that’s a commitment of the University’s resources to the issue.”
Adams’ tenure has seen a variety of projects that strengthened the relationship between UGA and Athens. Project-based collaboration. just one part of the complex relationship, has increased dramatically while Adams was in office.
The University contributed $3.6 million to ACC’s new water treatment plant for odor control in 2011.
“You remember the terrible smell over on East Campus? That impacted the University and our quality of life,” Allen said. “So we recognized first that a lot of the products they processed in that plant comes from campus, so we partnered with them and helped them with some odor-control technology.”
Part of that contract also dedicated UGA resources to helping expand the College Station Road bridge. The bridge expansion will also provide better access to the University’s Veterinary Medicine Learning Center that will be built beyond it.
The University also gave the city land for a fire station adjacent to the plot of land designated for the new Veterinary Medicine Learning Center.
Allen said these are examples of mutually beneficial exchanges.
“We also worked with the city on the bridge at college station road that goes across the Oconee River, to connect not only with that plant but to connect with property that the university owns past that plant,” he said. “We can have much better access to our own property, but at the same time are able to provide another access point for the sewage treatment plant.”
He said the fire station helps both communities as well.
“What that does for the county is it saves them the cost of buying property to build a new fire station,” he said. “What it does for us is it gets us assurance that we have close-by, adequate fire protection on the south part of our campus, especially now that we’ll be building a $90 million building next door to that fire station.”
Another prominent collaboration between the city and the University was made over a building built two decades before the Civil War. The Wray-Nicholson House has flipped between University, city and private ownership over its long history. The antebellum home traces its roots with UGA back to 1825, when it served as the dining hall. It then returned to private ownership in 1845.
ACC saved the house from demolition in 1994 as part of a $64 million sales tax referendum vote. The house took up $4.4 million of that referendum. The city bought the property for $860,000 and spent the rest of the money to renovate the house and the four smaller buildings nearby.
The University, with approval from the Board of Regents, bought the house in 2000 for $2.3 million. It is now the home of the UGA Alumni Association.
The University subsidizes the Athens Transit bus system, “which is what’s kept this city bus system alive,” Adams said.
The University pays 86 cents per rider today, which Adams said puts the University support of the system between $800,000 and $850,000 annually.
A commitment to long-term partnership
Partnership means more than occasional project collaboration. Cooperation on longer-term, issues-based initiatives deals with the broader relationship between the town and University. Allen said this has been one of Adams’ priorities since before his job was even created.
“Since the mid-90s, a group of University administrators and the senior staff for Athens-Clarke County have breakfast once a month, and we talk about those very types of things,” Allen said. “So we look for things, and communicate openly about what projects that each of us have and how me might compliment each other with those.”
the University has a neighborhood relations roundtable, composed of “of Athens-Clarke County elected officials, Athens-Clarke County staff, neighborhood leaders and University folks,” Allen said.
The committee used to meet regularly to address issues of ACC citizen concern. A neighborhood leader chaired the group. Allen said the chair eventually told the group that the major issues had been addressed. The neighborhood leaders suggested meeting on an as-needed basis.
“To me, that is a very good example of improving town and gown relations,” he said. “We have the group that was formed to fix the problems saying we’ve come so far that we can just meet on-call. And there hasn’t been a meeting in several years.”
Denson and Allen individually lauded the UGA College of Education partnership with ACC schools.
“We’ve really invested our faculty and staff in assisting the Clarke county school system,” Allen said. “And we help them operate what we call professional development schools, every school now has some type of relationship with the University, though at different levels, some have on-site faculty some have more of a consultative relationship.”
This collaboration began in 2007, but Denson said she hopes to see even more done to solidify the partnership.
“It’s something that has begun to happen but I’d like to see it happen to a much larger degree,” she said. “So it’s a great benefit to those student-teachers that are coming in because they’re getting hands-on, real world experience with students, but it’s also expanding the faculty of the school because you’ve got more people working with those students. So that’s a perfect example of how you mutually help each other. I think it’s just as beneficial to the university as it is to the elementary schools.”
Allen also noted UGA’s involvement in Partners for a Prosperous Athens, an organization that broke ground in 2005 to address poverty issues in Athens. The organization was a collaborative effort on the part of UGA, ACC government, the Clarke County School District, the Athens Chamber of Commerce, and various local nonprofits.
“We formed a group called Partners for a Prosperous Athens where we had a major initiative to identify and address poverty issues here and develop strategies to try to deal with that, understanding that the poverty level of this county, being whatever the numbers show now, is just an embarrassment to a county with the flagship institution of the university system located within it” he said.
He said the University’s ability to collaborate is important to ventures like this one.
“We got involved and partnered with these other people,” he said. “We didn’t come in and say we’re the university we can fix this for you, what we said is let’s work together and we’ll bring our resources in terms of facilitators and office space and back-room support to help our community address what we think is the major social problem here.
PPA spent time and resources fact-finding and adopting an action plan to address poverty in Athens. It then transferred their findings to a nonprofit called OneAthens. This organization has addressed a variety of needs in the community – most recently helping to develop the Athens Health Network.
Bumps in the road
This positive relationship has had its bumps along the way.
A highly publicized scuffle occurred at Sanford Stadium beginning in 1999. The teams weren’t composed of athletes, but rather of administrators – the University versus ACC.
Before the 1999 football season, UGA workers noticed a brown liquid that looked and smelled like sewage bubbling up from that sacred piece of grass between the hedges and causing patches of grass to die. UGA brought in the company that installed the field to determine the cause of the problem. That company brought in an environmental consulting firm, which concluded that leaking sewage from an ACC line was the crux of the problem.
The cost of repair to the field, the University said, could be in excess of $1 million.
The University took the report to ACC officials and indicated they may be at fault and liable to pay for repairs to the field. ACC responded by hiring their own consulting firm. This firm’s report concluded that the smells and liquid could not be sewage due to the depth of the line beneath the field.
A third report concluded that the smells and liquid was indeed sewage, though the sewage leaks weren’t as bad as in the past. It said the death of the grass was due to old age.
UGA and ACC retained lawyers. The threat of a lawsuit was eminent. But Adams and then-mayor Doc Eldridge announced a solution to the problem in April 2000.
The city agreed to remove a discontinued sewer line discovered beneath the field during investigation. The project cost approximately $40,000. The University agreed to bear the cost of installing new turf and restoring the field before the 2000 football season began.
The relationship has grown since.
Allen said community relations is about bigger questions than periodic projects, whether they be successful or not.
“It’s not just helping build a bridge or a fire station, but it’s helping to address issues that are more long-term and not project related, and might have a long-term impact to the University and the community,” he said.
For richer and for poorer
This isn’t a perfect marriage. When times get tough, the relationship is strained. But Adams and Denson have worked hard to fulfill their primary responsibilities, despite the dwindling dollars.
“We would like to help in more [ways],” Adams said. “But there’s just not been that much venture capital over the last three to four years to do anything new.”
The University must stick to its “core functions” of teaching, research and public service when money gets tight, Adams said, “and probably in that order, if you look at the budget.”
In his State of the University address this year, Adams said “some have forgotten that the University of Georgia is a charity, not a donor.”
He praised the collaboration on “mutually beneficial” projects in the past, but he reminded the audience that UGA is “a nonprofit educational institution” whose “resources have been more limited in the past three years than at any other period in my 16 years here.”
Adams said it’s important to remember that UGA’s commitment is statewide, not just to Athens.
“I get up every morning thinking, ‘OK, how do I serve the state of Georgia?’ I don’t ignore Athens, I love Athens, I live in Athens, I’m going to continue to be in Athens going forward, but my job is a statewide mission,” he said. “So sometimes I have to balance what’s the request from Athens versus what does the whole state need. And that’s not always a perfect answer.”
Denson said there’s a fundamental imbalance, but the right attitude helps maintain a good relationship.
“Of course the university’s core responsibility is educating its students, and our core responsibility is providing for the safety and welfare of everyone here, including the students,” she said. “So when money gets tighter, that gets to be harder for both of us. But I think that we can make that easier to both groups by having an attitude that we are responsible for each other.”
When Adams steps down July 1, current Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jere Morehead will take his place. Denson said she thinks Morehead will be “a real asset to the community.”
The mayor praised his academic background, but said “the fact that he was the first person in his family to graduate from college” will give him the sensitivity to understand the people of Athens.
“He’s going to have the sensitivity and understanding of regular people,” she said, “that people in academia in previous generations may not have had.”
The trigger is pulled and the gun jerks back. The shell flies out. The bullet travels down the range almost too fast to be seen. The only evidence of the bullet’s presence, a Bang! The sound echoes off the cement walls and a single bullet hole appears straight through the target—an outline of a human profile.
Daniel Grass, a senior at the University of Georgia, shows off his target image. Ten bullet holes gape in the paper target—all through the head.
Grass is confident in his shooting ability and plans to purchase a gun when he has enough money. He said he would not feel any more or less safe carrying a gun with him on campus—but that is exactly what he would be able to do if the proposed legislation House Bill 512 were to pass through the senate.
House Bill 512, which passed through the Georgia House in a 117-56 vote this month, is currently being reviewed by the Senate. HB 512, also known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, amends current legislation to lift restrictions on where guns can be carried. If passed this bill would allow concealed weapons on college campuses—as well as in places of worship, bars and unsecured government buildings.
Athens House Representatives were split on their vote for HB 512. Democratic Representative Spencer Frye voted against the bill while Republican Representative Regina Quick voted in favor. As reflected by the conflicting views of the two representatives, the Athens community has a variety of opinions on HB 512.
HB 512 would affect public institutions differently than private ones. Places of worship and bars, because they are private property rights, would still be allowed to decide whether or not to allow weapons in their establishment. Public universities, however, are considered government institutions and would be required to permit guns on certain areas of their campus.
The University of Georgia being a public institution would be directly impact by the passing of the Safe Carry Protection Act.
University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson opposes HB 512, particularly legislation that would allow for guns to be carried on college campuses. “We like where the current law is,” said Williamson. “I have concerns [about HB512] from a safety standpoint.”
Williamson said that he believed the law would cause a number of issues and would make the job of police officers more difficult. He noted his concern about the influence guns would have on instances of intimidation or bullying on campus. Williamson said the presence of more guns in innocent people’s hands would complicate the job of police officers when in came to responding to active shooters. “It would be hard for the police responding to know who the good guy and who the bad guy is,” said Williamson.
On the other side of the issue Bobby Tribble an employee at Franklin Gun Shop in Athens, said
“If you are a law abiding person you can carry a gun anywhere you want to and as long as you don’t show off with it and do something illegal or unless you have to use the gun nobody is going to know you have it anyway.”
Tribble said he did not believe that passing or removing restrictions on where gun owners could carry weapons would change the number of people carrying concealed weapons in these areas. “Only law abiding people obey laws so passing more laws is not going to have any effect.”
The University Union hosted a debate on gun control open to students, faculty and athens locals. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owner Association and Kathryn Grant of the non-profit organization Gun Free Kids, both presented their views on the issue guns on campus.
Grant, who is part of the Keep Guns Off Campus Resolutions, said in opposition to HB 512, “The assertion that arming students and teachers in keeping the campus community safe lies at the heart of this debate, but is a rationale seen by many as fundamentally flawed.” Grant further encouraged those making decisions on this bill to listen to experts on the issue that have said putting guns on campus will not make it a safer environment.
Feldman a prominent lobbyist for gun rights refuted Grant. Feldman said that in order to discuss the issue of gun control people must get away form the emotions in the issue.
“[If] I am carrying that gun legally, am I somehow, when I cross over onto school property, going to become a vicious killer? I think not,” said Feldman. The concern is not where guns can be carried. The important issue is who is carrying a gun.
Feldman said, removing gun restrictions would not change the number of dangerous people who could carry a gun on campus—rather it would increase the number of law-abiding citizens who would have a gun and ability to defend themselves.
But do students or faculty feel they would be safer if guns were allowed on campus? University Georgia System Chancellor Hank Huckaby does not think so.
“In my position I believe strongly that allowing our students to carry weapons on our campuses will not increase their personal safety but instead reduce it,” said Huckaby, in a statement before the Georgia legislative committee. Huckaby is supported by the 31 other University System of Georgia’s presidents in his opposition of HB 512.
Lucas Smith a freshman at the University of Georgia said he is against HB 512. “There are merits to both arguments, but I would personally want to see no guns on campus,” said Smith. While Smith said he supports the second amendment, he feels that he pays money to attend the University and should have a say in how safe he feels on campus.
Back at the shooting range, Grass fired over 17 rounds through his target practicing his precision and aim. “I agree with allowing guns in more places,” said Grass. “I think the biggest misconception about gun control is that, the more regulation you put on gun is going to keep them out of the wrong hands.”
Grass believes that current legislation restricting gun carrying on campus is not going to stop someone who wants to bring a gun on campus from doing so. By allowing guns on campus Grass said he did not feel the number of students carrying guns would drastically increase.
“There might be a small percent of student who carry [guns] and they are going to be the responsible ones who wouldn’t want to shot me anyways. The only thing that [allowing guns on campus] could do it maybe prevent a mass shooting or something,” said Grass.
While the Safe Carry Protection Act remains under review in the Georgia Senate, the Athens and University community can contact Athens’ State Senator Bill Cowsert to voice their opinion on House Bill 512.
Local business owners sat around a long conference table covered in city maps to learn about the future transformation of downtown Athens. Professor Jack Crowley sat at the head and watched, with a mentor-like gaze, as a graduate student led the presentation.
Crowley, former Dean of the UGA College of Environmental Design, is the main coordinator of the Downtown Athens Master Plan, a project that maps out a new design of Athens by the year 2030. This includes everything from the creation of new transportation systems to the installation of more green space downtown. The Athens Downtown Development Authority was the first to envision the Master Plan; however, due to a lack of funding from the city, the ADDA handed the project down to Crowley to continue as a public service. Crowley volunteers his own time and talent to the creation of the plan. He is an example of an academic giving back to his community.
Many of UGA’s faculty play an active role in the Athens community through the Office of Public Service and Outreach. Their work spans a range of areas from environmental service projects to youth programs. Crowley is the only professor to work on an Athens improvement project through the ADDA, according to Kathryn Lookofsky, the ADDA Executive Director.
“Athens hasn’t had a new design plan since the 1970’s,” Crowley said. “The market has been on a rise since the crash in 2008, especially in real estate. I realized that downtown Athens needed to start developing again.”
His planning committee consists of UGA’s Master of Environmental Planning and Design graduate students, a program Crowley created himself in 2006.
“These students, some of which already have masters degrees, are very talented, and some have already practiced planning and have come back to school,” Crowley said.
MEPD is a two-year program that teaches skills in planning, design, ecology and research to use towards the development of a community-based project. Crowley created the program after stepping down from his ten-year reign as dean.
The current students in the program work with the Athens-Clarke County government, downtown businesses, and local citizens to improve the day to day usage of downtown Athens. They have been working on the Downtown Athens Master Plan since August and are expecting to complete it by June.
Vivian Foster is in her second year in the program and said she loves her work with the Master Plan project.
“Personally I was excited to be part of something that is practicing the profession before getting a degree and being able to make a real professional document as a grad student,” Foster said. “I think one of the exciting parts is that one day, you will see a new park or new development being used, and I can say that I was part of that. I like that idea.”
Crowley began his own education at the University of Oklahoma, where he gained all three of his degrees and graduated with a PhD in urban geography in 1976. Since then he has had over 40 years of professional experience in urban development and education in both the United States and Latin America.
The professor was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1965 and he stayed in the service until 1969. Despite his military background, Crowley is an easy-going and comical man; however, he does demand a lot of involvement from his graduate students in order for them to obtain real-world experience in urban planning.
“Jack is extremely knowledgeable,” said D.W. Cole, another graduate student in the MEPD program. “There is very little that he does not know about. He communicates very well and always helps us expand on any ideas we have.”
In UGA’s Tanner Building, Crowley and his planning team share their new ideas in monthly meeting with a group of citizens appointed to oversee the development of the Master Plan. Most of the group, known as the Steering Committee, are local business and property owners. The atmosphere within the room is light but professional. The Steering Committee members are quick to criticize any plan they feel would discourage the growth of their business.
Crowley created the Steering Committee based on his ethical commitment to address the needs of the public. He began with a public meeting last November, which gave all Athens residents the chance to offer their own ideas about what they would like to see in the plan. The main issues voiced were fixing up the sidewalks, making the city more walk-able and bike-able, creating more transportation options and opening up downtown access to the river.
Another Town Hall meeting will be conducted for all Athens citizens within the next month to gain the locals’ opinions on the projects they have come up with, based off of the ideas from the first meeting.
“Nothing is completely set in stone because we don’t know what the world will be like in 2030,” Crowley said. “Who knows we could have Segway tours of Athens by then. I will say, though, that until we see a better idea, this is the way we are going so that there is no conflict that slows the project down. That is why we are getting so much input from the public in the forefront of the plan.”
Dressed in a “Talk Nerdy To Me” t-shirt, an engineering student tore through a notebook filled with sketches of wheels, rods, frames and handlebars — all components of an automated bike rack. As he shared his ideas, the eight others in the laboratory listened and offered feedback.
The seven University of Georgia students and two professors, huddled in a small room in the south campus engineering building, are developing one of the most advanced and environmentally sustainable methods of transportation seen by the University.
“Bike Sharing” is a modern movement in which urban cities provide readily available bicycles to the public as an alternative way of transportation. The system began in Europe in the 1960’s, and spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and North and South America in the past two decades. Numerous cities across every region of the United States implemented bike sharing operations, including a large system in downtown Atlanta. According to USA Today, the systems are also popular on college campuses. Over 90 universities in the U.S. contain a public bicycle program.
Back in the engineering building at the University of Georgia, the head coordinator of the transportation project, Kareem Mahmoud, is bringing the bike sharing trend to Athens. Mahmoud is a third year finance major at the University, who recently received a grant from the Office of Sustainability to advance the current university bike sharing program and make it more efficient and wide-spread.
“It will be completely automatic where you put in a pin number or swipe a card to check out a bike, and then you can turn it back in somewhere else,” Mahmoud said. “It’s very stream line, very easy.”
The University implemented the current system, called Bulldog Bikes, last fall but has seen little traffic. There are only ten bikes available and students can only check them out at three separate locations, that is, after they complete an online safety course and fill out administrative paperwork.
Nigel Long, who lives at one of the three check-out locations, is one of the few students who uses Bulldog Bikes. Headed for class on a Tuesday morning, he stopped by the front desk of his residence hall to take one of the bikes. While he signed his name in a notebook, he flipped through the pages and laughed at the pattern he saw.
“You would think this was filled with hundreds of students who use the bikes everyday, but if you look closer, it’s all just my name, and then a couple random ones here and there,” Long said. “Biking is such an easy way to get to campus. I think a bigger bike sharing program would be awesome.”
Mahmoud attained the idea of expanding Bulldog Bikes after class one day over the summer. As he sat on North Campus, he looked towards downtown at Broad Street and noticed the immense amount of bikers that passed by. The young entrepreneur thought it would be beneficial to implement an automatic bike system where one could check in and check out public bikes, when needed, at any time of the day.
“At first I brushed it off and thought, ‘No that’s too complicated’,” Mahmoud said. “Then one day I just sat down and began doing the schematics for it to see how hard the coding would be, and realized that this could actually work.”
He researched the bike sharing programs of multiple cities and towns and based his own model off of successful systems of others.
“There is a system like it in Atlanta, a system like it in Miami,” Mahmoud said. “They are all over the place. Even a large number of college campuses have incorporated them, like Texas
Christian University, University of Kentucky, Ohio State, and even Georgia Tech. I figured UGA needed something like this too.”
Some University of Georgia students, like sophomore Hayley Magill, expressed worry about the safety of additional bikers on the road.
“I did bike sharing in Sweden and I loved it,” Magill said. “The only thing that concerns me is if people know all of the biking laws and would be safe on the bikes. I know cars aren’t always looking for bikers on the road so I might be nervous in trying to figure out the safest places to ride. I guess to get to places around campus without having to wait for a bus would be nice though.”
The expansion of the improved Bulldog Bikes beyond campus and into downtown Athens is a longterm goal for Mahmoud and his engineering team. To achieve that aspiration, however, downtown Athens needs to do some progressive development of its own.
BikeAthens, a local organization that encourages the growth of bike transportation, works with the Athens-Clarke County government to make the city more “bike-able”. Tyler Dewey, the director of BikeAthens, thinks there is potential for Mahmoud’s bike sharing program to work in downtown Athens, but he said that it will take time.
“The difficulty with a bike share is it sometimes takes a while to catch on,” Dewey explained. “I know in D.C. they started one and then it kind of fizzled out. Then they started one again about 10 years later and it has been a wild success.”
He said BikeAthens is supportive of anything that increases ridership and awareness of bikes.
“You can always tell the popular areas of town because you’ll see five or so bikes locked up, even if its to a tree because they can’t find parking. To me that suggests that there is latent demand for something like a bike share.”
With a large bike culture present in Athens, Mahmoud is confident that people will embrace this “cleaner” way of travel and, in turn, reduce the traffic congestion on campus and downtown.
He and his engineering team are in the process of designing a prototype that they will test this semester, and then present to the University administration in order to gain approval from Legal Affairs and move forward with further implementation. The main funding of the project comes from the Office of Sustainability grant and student green fees.
Bike sharing programs are successful across the globe for both environmental and economic reasons. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who helped re-map Washington D.C. to be more bike-friendly, a car emits 15 pounds of air pollution into the atmosphere for every eight miles that it drives. When that distance is biked, however, there is no harm to the environment and there is less strain on the biker’s pocketbook.
Bulldog Bikes is in its infant stage as a program, which Mahmoud and his engineering team intend to mature into a state of the art transportation system. After an hour-long debate over non-rustable metal, the nine University of Georgia students and staff ended their meeting on a playful note in an argument about the color of the new Bulldog Bikes.
“We said we wanted the bikes to be distinct,” Mahmoud said with a sly smile. “I say we go with hot pink.”