Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Two Worlds of Underground Atlanta

Posted by Tori Thomas, ATLANTA, GA -- One famous attraction of downtown Atlanta is the Underground, a place with restaurants, retail, a night club, a hotel, and outdoor vendors. Underground Atlanta is right near Georgia State University, the heavily policed Woodruff Park, and not far from Georgia's Gold-domed Capitol building. It's also right next to another type of underground -- a seedy strip near the Five Points Train station where it's not uncommon to hear about stabbings and snatch and grabs. Ironically, all of this is within a five block radius. And while there are always crowds of GSU students traversing the area on their way to class, tourists taking photographs, as well as people coming in and out of the train station, the Underground itself seems empty in comparison. There are signs assuring unaware tourists about how safe the area is, but in reality, this isn't a place you want to be after dark, despite the police presence. Perhaps such interdictory spaces characterize cities around the country, but given the massive push to revitalized downtown Atlanta over the last decade or so it's surprising to me that one world of the Underground remains untouched by redevelopment.

Tori Thomas is a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She was just awarded an internship at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). Tori can be contacted at

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Student Living at a Not-So-Good Price

Posted by Brookelynn Ashworth, ATLANTA, GA -- In my Social Problems class this semester we talked a lot about housing discrimination. While Fair Housing cases typically involve discrimination based on race and gender, one group the law doesn't necessarily protect is college students. In fact, last month in Durango, Colorado, college students requested that the city implement an anti-discrimination housing ordinance.  As a college student in Atlanta on a limited budget, I have experienced difficulties in securing off-campus housing. Landlords ask for large security deposits citing previous damage to their properties by college students, others are reluctant to rent to us because of the potential for load music, abandoned pets, too many roommates etc. At the same time, I've discovered that there are rental property companies who cater exclusively to college students. The problem is that these companies promoting the benefits of "student living" may not always offer the nicest places to live.

When I moved into WestMar Student Lofts I was thrilled to find what I thought was a great place to live. The onsite tour and the pictures on the web convinced me that the place was ideal for student living -- with swimming pools, great common spaces, and a free shuttle bus to area campuses. The price seemed reasonable as well -- $549 for a standard room, plus a monthly utility bill that would never exceed $99, split between roommates.  At first it seemed fine living there. But over the months I began to notice that stuff just didn't get fixed -- even the floor buttons in the elevator. Then a car was broken into in the 'secure' parking deck, with the 'get-away' car speeding past the security officers busily viewing the video monitors to spot any wrong doing.  On our free, always overcrowded shuttle bus, students seemed to have increasing numbers of complaints. Curious, I logged on to WestMar had looked so great to me when I first took the tour, I didn't even think of checking out these ratings. Too bad I didn't because there were very few positive ones for the complex. Comments included:  “STAY AWAY FROM HERE,” “AVOID AT ALL COSTS,” “UNORGANIZED,” and “WESTMAR IS SCAMMING RESIDENTS.” 

Then there was the issue of leaving for our three-week winter break.  Even though my roommates and I would always make sure everything was unplugged and the air unit turned off, we would come back to an $88 utilities bill. But worse than that was the vandalism. Typically residents arrived back to see hallways with fixtures removed, walls with images of penises crudely etched into them, and the stench of urine and stale beer permeating these common spaces. It would take months before maintenance got around to cleaning up the mess as we continued to fork out the rent. But perhaps more disturbing was the fact that a lot of this needless damage was done by immature student residents who hung around over the break, giving the rest of us a bad name. Unfortunately, despite all the security cameras, no one ever got caught. Sometimes I think "no wonder landlords don't want to rent to students."  Then I think about how places like WestMar take advantage of this sentiment. Most of us are responsible young people who just want a nice place to live, study, and hang out with our friends. I was lucky enough to find a much better apartment with my roommates owned by a really nice landlord. Unfortunately, however, because not all students are as lucky, WestMar will probably always be sucking more of us college students into renting their 'student living' money traps. Perhaps the college students in Durango, Colorado have the right idea.

Brookelynn Ashworth is a sophomore at Georgia State University, majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in History. She hopes to become a news reporter somewhere in the Southeast after she graduates. She can be contacted at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Raise Your Hood to Stand Your Ground

Posted by Debby Yoder, ATHENS, GA -- Like at many universities and colleges all over the country, a rally was recently held at the University of Georgia (UGA) Arch to bring attention to the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old that was killed while walking home from a convenience store. He was shot dead by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who assumed Trayvon, a young Black man with his hoodie up, was up to no good. Ironically, the teenager, who was walking back to his father's fiancée's house in the community, only had Skittles and a bottle of ice tea in his pockets. At the rally the diverse crowd waved, raised their signs and called out to motorists passing by to honk in support. "Hoodies Don't Kill," read one of the signs. "Raise Your Hoods," read another. Protestors were met with much support and enthusiasm.

Yes, hoodies don't kill, and just last week the Prosecutor in the Martin case brought charges against the shooter, 28 year-old George Zimmerman -- perhaps prompting people who have been following the case to put on their hoodies as a sign of solidarity. Nonetheless, while hoodies may have become signs of injustice and solidarity, at the heart of this tragedy is Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, enacted in 2005. Interestingly, this legislation was opposed by sheriff’s offices and district attorneys across the state but heavily backed by the National Rifle Association(NRA). Since its passage the number of "justifiable homicide" claims has tripled.

At UGA's rally, one pedestrian, a White man in his 60’s, heckled the protesters with angry hateful threats as he walked by. His taunts were met with restrained eye rolls and little direct focus, as if there was fear among the crowd that he might have a gun. This made me wonder what would have happened if someone had “stood their ground” against his threats. After all, Georgia does protect this right just like Florida. But perhaps the crowd had already done that in a non-violent way by raising their hoods.

Debby Yoder is a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She loves meeting new people and discovering the world around her. She can be reached at

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Children Left Behind

Posted by Nicolas Sakka, ATLANTA, GA -- The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. Designed to equalize math and reading skills for all children in the U.S. public school system, it required accountability through mandatory testing. Now, a little more than a decade later, the Act is the target of heavy criticism, particularly in light of recent evidence pointing to widespread cheating among teachers andadministrators. But perhaps the Act was doomed from the start -- public schools in more affluent, majority White neighborhoods have always had the advantage over inner-city majority Black schools. The Act never addressed this well-known and well-researched fact, one so evident just by looking at the school buildings and grounds.

Indeed, these buildings and grounds vividly tell the story of unequal educational opportunities, with the affluent suburban schools looking more like country clubs and the poor inner-city schools more like prisons. Then there is the other issue that perhaps the general public is less aware of: the inner-city schools with their lack of resources are far more likely to be closed down, abandoned by district administrators without a second thought to how sending the kids to other resource-strapped schools may lead to overcrowding and other barriers to receiving a quality education.

Nicolas Sakka is a senior majoring in History at Georgia State University. He was just accepted into the GSU Masters of Heritage and Preservation program and will begin next fall. He can be reached at