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Alleged Racial Slur Triggers Campus Unrest

April 10, 1988

AMERICUS, Ga. (AP) _ A bitter dispute between a freshman and an English teacher at Georgia Southwestern College has galvanized black students, who plan to use the controversy over an alleged racial remark to zero in on other issues troubling them.

Ginezra Dennis, 18, a black psychology major from Atlanta, has accused the white professor, Alan Towery, of referring to her obscenely on March 7, when she tried to withdraw from one of his classes.

Towery said Ms. Dennis accused him of being a racist when he refused to let her withdraw with a passing grade instead of the ″F″ that she had earned.

Since the incident, black students have held three rallies and the U.S. Justice Department has sent a representative to assess the situation and consider the possibility of future mediation.

Towery, who has taught at the college for 18 years, was suspended with pay while a committee of three professors investigated. The panel submitted its report to GSW President William Capitan on Friday, and he planned to study the recommendations over the weekend.

College spokeswoman Patty Plotnick said Capitan planned to announce his decision Monday.

If the panel recommended Towery’s dismissal and the president agrees, it would mean the initiation of a lengthy process, including hearings, aimed at protecting the tenured professor’s rights.

″This is not our favorite moment in time,″ Capitan said in a recent interview. ″These are things we must work through, and we will work through.″

Georgia Southwestern, one of 34 colleges in the University System of Georgia, offers four-year degrees in psychology, geology, nursing, business administration and several other fields.

Capitan said the college attracts students from all over the state who are interested in professional training and are looking for the supportive environment that a small campus can provide.

About 20 percent of the school’s 2,100 students are black.

Kevin Brown, 20, a leader of a recently formed group called Concerned Student Affairs, said the group’s immediate goal is to force Towery’s dismissal.

Later, the group plans to push for more black professors and staff and for policies aimed at promoting racial harmony at the college, Brown, a junior political science major, said.

Brown and other CSA leaders said the students want the college to hire more black counselors and stop assigning dormitory rooms by race. The students said the school has just one black counselor. Both contentions were disputed by the college.

″You don’t feel comfortable talking to a white counselor about a black experience,″ he said.

Ms. Plotnick said five of the college’s nine counselors are black, and she denied that dormitory rooms are assigned by race. Forms that students fill out for room assignments do not refer to race, and once they get a room, students have the option of requesting a change, she said.

Capitan said he sensed some discontent among the black students before the purported incident. Members of his staff used to meet regularly with black student representatives, but the meetings were dropped when the students seemed to lose interest, he added.

Rona Branson, 21, a white student from Americus, said the Towery incident has unleashed much black frustration.

″The black students seem to have a lot of pent-up feelings that they don’t know how to deal with,″ she said. ″I feel like they need some way to focus on something positive and ways to overcome the racism they’re facing.″

Hulen Brown, leader of a campus black group known as Sabu, said black students are concerned about promoting racial harmony, but that white students do not mingle and do not appear to be care about better race relations.

″The schools are supposed to be integrated, but in essence, they’re segregated,″ she said. ″I see it in my swimming class. The blacks sit at one end of the pool and the whites sit at the other end.″

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