Georgia State announces its first Racial Equality Task Force

On March 31, Georgia State University President Mark Becker sent an email in response to the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

On June 2, another statement was sent from Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy Hensel, also, regarding the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

In the statement, Hensel announced a prospective task force that would be responsible for beginning conversation and change in light of recent events.

 “I am appointing a task force to develop a series of roundtable discussions and virtual forums to give voice to the history and challenges of the current racial protests and related issues,” she said.

On June 9, Georgia State announced the members of its Racial Equality Task Force.

Consisting of several members within the Georgia State community, the task force was assembled to create an inclusive environment and promote racial equity at Georgia State.

“It is not sufficient … to simply condemn [racism and violence],” the announcement states. “As an institution of higher education, it is our responsibility to foster difficult conversations and identify solutions.”

According to the announcement, the following members of the Georgia State community serve on the task force:

  • Chair, Jonathan Gayles, Chair and Professor of African-American Studies, College of Arts & Sciences 
  • Gwendolyn Benson, Associate Dean for School, Community and International Partnerships, College of Education & Human Development 
  • Curtis Byrd, Special Adviser to the Provost
  • Cynthia Lester, Associate Dean of the Clarkston Campus and the Division of Math, Computer Science & Engineering, Perimeter College
  • Rodney Lyn, Interim Dean of the School of Public Health
  • Elizabeth Beck, Professor of Social Work, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
  • Jennifer Esposito, Chair of the Department of Educational Policy Studies, College of Education & Human Development 
  • Collins Airhihenbuwa, Professor of Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health 
  • Elizabeth West, Professor of African-American Studies and English, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Natsu Saito, Distinguished University Professor of Law, College of Law
  • Jennie Ward-Robinson, Special Assistant to the Dean, College of Arts & Sciences (Center for African Diaspora)
  • Joe Spillane, Chief of the Police Department
  • Donna Frazier, Chair of Staff Council
  • Linda Nelson, Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Opportunity Development 
  • Allison Calhoun-Brown, Vice President for Student Engagement and Programs
  • Kaelen Thomas, President of the Student Government Association
  • Jessica Siemer, President of the Graduate Alliance

On June 8, the task force held its first meeting. The members were expected to bring forth ideas and guidance on how to use the Georgia State curriculum and community to fight racism.

At the meeting, the task force advised ways to “address and reduce systemic racism and police violence”, help to “ increase understanding and awareness of issues of police violence and racial discrimination” and recognize ways that Georgia State can best support the “Black and other underrepresented” communities.

The Racial Equality Task Force acknowledges that there are great challenges ahead, but anticipates working together to address the problem of racism throughout the nation.

We will take action to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. As an institution of higher learning, we have an important role to play, and there are many significant voices to be heard,” Hensel said.