End the Atlanta-Oxford Divide

It was fitting that last week’s contentious Student Government Association (SGA) election coincided with a number of antagonistic social media posts pitting Emory’s Oxford and Atlanta campuses against each other. It is no secret that Oxford continuees are marginalized even after they arrive on Emory’s Atlanta campus. As far back as 2015, SGA acknowledged the Oxford-Atlanta divide, and more recent student government administrations have continued to prioritize bridging the gap, albeit with few, if any, tangible successes. The failure to effectively integrate Oxford students into main campus has led to growing resentment among Oxford students against a supposedly unwelcoming attitude from Emory’s Atlanta campus. This resentment was apparent in some of the debates surrounding the election, and suggests an area in which next year’s SGA can take steps to build community between Emory students, no matter which campus they started on.

After a cursory glance at Emory, it becomes evident that Oxford continuees face a difficult transition when they reach the Atlanta campus. It is harder for continuees to join Greek organizations given the physical and social distance, and there is a stigma attached to Oxford continuees. The Wheel was recently accused by the Emory Political Review (EPR) of having an anti-Oxford bias, and there are few Oxford continuees on SGA or College Council (CC), especially relative to the proportion of Oxford continuees on campus. Roughly one of 10 undergraduates at Emory is currently enrolled at Oxford, and about another one out of 10 are Oxford continuees, assuming that there are as many third- and fourth-year Oxford continuees as there are first- and second-year Oxford students. Given that Oxford students and alumni constitute about 20 percent of the student body, representation was unproportional in student government this year. No Oxford continuees, save Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C), were elected to College Council or the SGA legislature this year.

As an Oxford continuee, my own experience can shed more light on this marginalization; it is, quite frankly, hard to become involved, and especially to become a leader, in student organizations on the main campus. Students who started here have a two-year head start. Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that some students who started in Atlanta cite Oxford’s historically lower admissions standards as an argument that Oxford students devalue an Emory degree. Yet students’ statistics at the start of their undergraduate career are not necessarily predictive of their abilities at the end of it. I was not admitted to the Atlanta campus, yet Oxford’s small liberal arts environment and personalized instruction prepared me to continue on main, assume leadership positions here and succeed academically. Like most Oxford continuees, I can honestly and proudly say that I worked just as hard for the degree that I will receive in May as any student who started in Atlanta. More importantly, I received a comparable education despite Oxford’s geographical limitations.

But the marginalization remains. EPR’s article criticizing the Wheel’s coverage of the election for SGA president makes evident the resentment that this marginalization has created. According to data on OrgSync, four out of five of the EPR’s executive board members are Oxford continuees or current Oxford students. EPR appeared to take issue with the Wheel Editorial Board’s discounting of Ma’s experience on Oxford’s SGA in its endorsements. This communicates the feeling that many Oxford students have: Emory’s main campus students think Oxford doesn’t matter.

Similarly, the EPR article suggests the Wheel’s news coverage tipped the balance of the first SGA presidential vote into candidate Elias Neibart’s (20C) favor. I do not mean to suggest that they accuse Neibart and the Wheel of colluding in this effort, nor do I make such an accusation myself, but given that Ma is the first Oxford continuee to be elected SGA president in recent memory and Oxford continuees have been underrepresented in SGA, it is understandable that some of them feel the playing field is not quite level.

The marginalization of Oxford students at Emory is a serious problem, but bringing this to light presents an opportunity for change. It is now harder to ignore the divide between the Oxford and Atlanta campuses. I call on Ma to outline concrete steps to bridge this divide. Oxford continuees must no longer feel like outsiders in our University. The time for empty words about bridging the divide is over — it is time for SGA to take action.

A few proposals from SGA presidential candidates show particular promise for bridging the Oxford-Atlanta divide. A proposal from SGA presidential candidate Mario Karras (17Ox, 19B) to create a University-wide freshman orientation class would be a bold first step in building connections between Oxford and Atlanta. Ma’s own platform highlights the limits of geography and suggests bridging this divide by having Atlanta advising staff visit Oxford to provide more guidance for Oxford students. This could be combined with Karras’ emphasis on building connections between student clubs on Oxford and Main campus.

Given the importance of student clubs to our community, SGA could hold an event at Oxford to connect students with clubs on the Atlanta campus — this is already part of the program for Oxford students preparing to continue in Atlanta, but it is held at the sparsely attended spring activities fair and has not produced the results that a standalone recruitment event would. Greek life should similarly institute an Oxford-accessible recruitment event. I deeply hope that the future SGA president will consider such policies. The Oxford-Atlanta divide stands in sharp contrast to the sense of community that our University is committed to providing. It is the duty not only of SGA but of all Emory students to provide a community inclusive to all students, no matter where they began their Emory education.

David Hervey is a College senior from San Diego majoring in political science and economics.