With no COVID-19 policy changes on the horizon for the University System of Georgia, members of the United Campus Workers of Georgia staged a “die-in” protest at Georgia State University. It’s only one action planned to protest the USG’s lack of action amid the coronavirus surge.
At Georgia State, a group of about 30 protested lying in the grass outside Langdale Hall dressed in black holding signs in a silent demonstration for safer campus policy. The UCWGA is demanding mask and vaccine mandates, flexible teaching and working arrangements, and that faculty and staff fired over COVID concerns be rehired.
GSU staff member Taylor Burch said organizing protests is difficult but necessary.
“It’s additional work on top of the work we’re already doing in very challenging times,” Burch said. “I think it’s worth it because it’s so important. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be doing it because it’s been a very rough year and-a-half for most people.”
This is the second week of faculty and staff protests demanding action from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and Gov. Brian Kemp. During a meeting Thursday morning, the board took no action to update its COVID policy and mandate masks or vaccines.
A week of public forums to provide information on COVID data, vaccines, best practices for prevention and how the pandemic is an indicator of of racial injustice is set at Savannah State, according to a flyer sent to all faculty, staff and students. The announcement said the series was “in solidarity with the Georgia Conference of the American Association of University Professors” and to “show support for improved health protocols and mask mandates during the coronavirus surge.” Demonstrations are scheduled at Columbus State University, Kennesaw State University, University of West Georgia, Georgia College, Clayton State University, Dalton State College, Albany State University, and South Georgia State University.
GSU sociology professor Wendy Simonds said the current policy has faculty resorting to sharing personal anecdotes to encourage students to wear masks.
“We’re expected to put our private lives on display and rely on the charitable spirit of people we don’t even know,” Simonds said. “Some of them don’t want to wear masks, they don’t want to get vaccinated. They were coming past our protest last week shouting out things like ‘freedom’ and ‘choice.’”
Despite feelings of burnout and exhaustion among faculty and staff, graduate assistant Alexandra Tosone said seeing tenured faculty demand change gives her hope.
“We are totally at the whims of the rules made by the Board of Regents, and seeing the faculty support us, want to help change that, and want to help support us in resisting dangerous policies is definitely bringing about a feeling of solidarity, for sure,” Tosone said
The UCWGA, in collaboration with the American Association of University Professors, plans to stage protests each day next week at USG campuses across the state.
This story comes to The Current through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.