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University of North Georgia's Jacobs promises diversity improvements
Groups meet with school president seking changes after magazine image
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A month after what many called an unfortunate choice of a stock image that made the cover of a University of North Georgia catalog, plans are forming to improve diversity issues on all the university’s campuses.

About 16 students from the UNG Latino Student Association, Diplomats for Diversity and other groups met Wednesday with President Bonita Jacobs on the Gainesville campus. They shared their own experiences and asked what the university is planning in order to change the mindset toward minorities.

“We really want to highlight the need that we see and that has risen from the unfortunate catalog that we know wasn’t intentional,” said student Maria Palacios. “While the picture wasn’t intentional, we have become worried now.”

Palacios said the course catalog cover, which showed a white man crossing the finish line with a second white man just behind him and a woman and a black man farther behind, began discussions about the way people at UNG regard diversity. She said, because the cover reached international news outlets, it’s important for the university to look internally.

“We’ve really come to worry about the depiction of our university,” she said. “... Which is unfortunate, because I think we all take pride in our university but also want to raise awareness about this.”

Jacobs concurred.

“I see that cover, though this might sound strange to you, as a tremendous opportunity,” Jacobs said.

She said the cover gives the university an opportunity to improve, and the first step is “to have some honest dialogue.”

The students expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to do so and shared some of their experiences.

Student Diana Vela conveyed her concerns about the availability of scholarships for minorities. Another student, Little Eagle, voiced his desire for more education about what is offensive or insensitive.

“It’s hard sometimes,” said Little Eagle, of the Taino indigenous American people. “I’ve had professors walk past me and say, ‘You didn’t do a rain dance, did you?’ Because it was raining. Maybe they don’t know, but that’s highly offensive.”

Palacios asked Jacobs if the university would consider a written diversity mission statement, separate from its existing mission statement, to clarify its treatment of people of various races, religions, ethnic groups, etc.

“A diversity statement would really be like a welcome mat,” said student Mark Green. “We know it’s just a statement, but it does say something about the university.”

Jacobs said she liked the idea, and while she couldn’t make any promises, she said she would bring it to the university’s existing Diversity Council.

“I’m surprised we don’t have one,” she said.

Jacobs did promise, however, that the university has already begun the steps toward hiring a diversity adviser, who would report to her. This adviser will help educate the entire campus, including students, faculty and staff, and Jacobs said he or she will help prevent a mistake like the catalog cover from happening again.

The university is also working on a diversity campaign called OURS: Open, Understanding, Respect and Safe. Jacobs said she would be working through the summer to determine the best changes to make and intends to discuss diversity at length at the faculty and staff convocation in the fall.

“I share your passion,” Jacobs said. “... And I can tell you we are working on it.”