Over the summer, the U.S. confronted racism at all levels. Protests have rocked cities for months, Black Lives Matter has seen a surge in support and activists have disseminated information about systemic racism. Such education is key to creating a more inclusive society and at Emory, that could begin with just one thing: a book.
On Oct. 12, Emory’s Student Government Association (SGA) chose to delay passing Bill 54sl25 by a 12-2 vote. In its current form, the legislation would mandate SGA to purchase 400 copies of the book, “Are Prisons Obsolete” by Angela Davis from Medu, a Black-owned bookstore, and mail them to interested students. In response, the Coalition of Black Organizations and Clubs (CBOC) condemned the delay in an open letter, asking the Emory community to sign the letter pressuring SGA to bring the bill to the floor at their next meeting. Several members of the student government promised to do so, but they declined to voice support for the measure itself. We stand with the Coalition of Black Organizations and Clubs and implore SGA to pass an updated version of Bill 54sl25 this Monday.
The SGA Legislature’s rules require that every bill be read at two separate meetings before it is voted on. At their Oct. 12 meeting, SGA chose not to suspend those rules to pass the bill, given that no legislators had seen it before the beginning of the session and because it “was not up to the standards” they hold for themselves and Emory students. Consequently, the bill will not receive a vote until Monday, delaying pressing anti-racism initiatives. Mitigating racial injustice is one of SGA’s most important responsibilities, and they have neglected the urgency and necessity of this bill. Any action must be well-considered, and we hope that the week between Bill 54sl25’s first and second readings will allow SGA to meet that standard.
At their next meeting on Oct. 19, SGA must bring a revised version of Bill 54sl25 to the floor for a vote and it must pass. The arguments in favor of disseminating anti-racist literature to the student body are extremely prudent. As students, we must invariably work on our understanding of systemic racism and our individual roles in its perpetuation. Engaging with anti-racist and race-focused literature can disrupt the actions and behaviors involved in systemic racism, and dispersing anti-racist books to students across campus is a primary step in this process.
SGA’s original plan would benefit more than the books’ recipients: it would also help the Black-owned bookstore selling them. Supporting Black-owned businesses like Medu is one method to combat systemic racism on an individual level. Not only does it narrow the racial wealth gap, it also spurs job creation and financially helps Black communities. For SGA to do so on such a large scale would be a significant step.
In its response to CBOC, some members of SGA offered an updated plan in which they argued that providing ebooks through Emory Libraries could institutionalize anti-racism education at Emory in the long term and produce a greater benefit than their original plan. Emory’s libraries already offer many such books, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” notably among them. However, ebooks require electronic devices and internet access to obtain and read — not all students can claim both — and access to the ebook editions is restricted to a certain time frame. Sending physical copies to the students who need them most, as SGA itself wrote, would eliminate significant barriers to access. Moreover, recipients could keep them in perpetuity and share them with friends and family.
SGA wrote that the funds provided for in the bill should “improve our university as a whole instead of only impacting a small percentage of the undergraduate body.” This analysis is harmful. Giving out 400 books centered on anti-racism would benefit more than the 400 people who directly received books — anti-racism initiatives create a safer, more inclusive environment for the student body at large. By saying this, SGA trivializes the impact anti-racist efforts can have on students of color.
We need those efforts at Emory, and we need them now. Our reckoning with racial injustice over the summer signifies that for once, people are willing to learn and commit to being anti-racist in their own lives. We must capitalize on this momentum within our University and secure access to key anti-racism resources for our community.
The other measures suggested in SGA’s response, including shared residence hall reading shelves and buying e-books for Emory Libraries, are still worthwhile and we entreat SGA to consider raising the funds necessary to implement them as soon as possible. Now is the time to follow through on the goals expressed in Bill 54sl25. Seeing it through to the end would pave the way for SGA to carry out more substantive, sustained anti-racism work in the future. This is the first leg of a marathon; trying to do it at a sprint will get us nowhere.
Passing Bill 54sl25 is the bare minimum SGA can do to help anti-racist efforts and CBOC. Postponing this bill, especially before a contentious election, disregards the students of color whom SGA purports to represent.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Brammhi Balarajan, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Kemal Budak, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Demetrios Mammas, Meredith McKelvey, Sara Perez, Ben Thomas, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.