ATLANTA -- A new student club at Georgia State University is attracting more attention than most new student clubs do -- just the club's name is stirring up controversy.
The first-year student at Georgia State who organized the club is calling it the "White Student Union."
The organizer, Patrick Sharp, insisted Wednesday night that no one should have any cause for worry or concern.
Sharp said he has heard objections from students about the club's name, and he understands why some are objecting.
But he's hoping no one will pre-judge him or his club.
"I decided to organize a White Student Union," he said, simply.
He started posting flyers this summer on the downtown Atlanta campus of Georgia State University.
Sharp said when he started his first year during thissummer term, he noticed there were many other student clubs devoted to various racial and ethnic interests.
So he started the White Student Union.
He said five or six students have joined so far.
"I sort of took it upon myself, kind of with inspiration from Matthew Heimbach's group in Maryland, at Towson University," which is also called the White Student Union, to form a similar club at GSU, Sharp said.
The White Student Union at Towson University has been accused of being a hate group, which Heimbach has denied.
At GSU, the group "Progressive Student Alliance" has posted flyers on campus against Sharp's club, equating his club with white supremacists.
"You know, to say this is some closeted or curtained white supremacy, it's pretty -- and I'll go ahead and turn their words around on them -- it's pretty ignorant and close-minded," Sharp said. "It's a pride organization, it's a cultural organization, what we have is not hate for any other group.... Whites are becoming a minority.... We have a voice, we're unique people, and we have every right to make that voice heard."
The new club has stirred up controversy not only among students at Georgia State, but also among students at other colleges and universities.
Amanda Miller just graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, and was at GSU Wednesday night waiting for a friend who was taking a final exam.
"I think to have a white student association is kind of ridiculous," Miller, who is white, said. "I mean, on one level, I understand wanting to connect with your heritage," and she said she might be interested in participating with others who shareher family's background, which is Irish and Norwegian. "I don't feel the need to join a white student association. I'm happy to connect with my personal, cultural roots. But a white student association sounds a little, I don't know, I could see how it could go very wrong."
GSU Senior Stephanie-Joy Rhoden, an African American: "It's just the name, I think, really to be honest" that raises concerns for many. "That might make you go to that place in your head where you're, like, whoa, wait a minute, what's that about."
She's keeping an open mind about the club.
"Hopefully they have good intentions," she said, and, if so, no one should interfere with them "to do their thing. If they want to make a group, who's to say that they can't, in today's society?"
"At this point, we're received emails from six students," said GSU's Vice President for Student Affairs, Douglass Covey. "The students are expressing concern about the intended purpose of this organization."
Dr. Covey tells them the White Student Union, as an informal student club, has every right to exist.
The GSU student body is diverse. 38 percent are white, 35 percent are black, 12 percent are Asian, and seven percent are Latinos.
Dr. Covey said if Sharp wants the club to be a formal, recognized, GSU student organization, he can go through the same application process that the current, 300 or so official student clubs underwent.
"The campus, as a public institution, is a place where freedom of speech and association and the liberal exchange of different points of view is cherished and protected," Dr. Covey said. "And any group that wishes to seek recognition must meet the standards of alignment with institutional mission and non-discrimination. And any group which wishes to exist informally, without institutional affiliation, certainly is free to do so, just as a right of their citizenship."
"What we are is an organization that just loves where we come from," Sharp said, "we love our heritage, we love our ancestries, and we have a lot of pride in that."
Sharp said he hopes the club will grow during fall semester when more students are attending classes. And he said he wants to work with student clubs representing other races and ethnic groups on charities and causes and issues important to all on campus and across the city.
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