Student protesters arrested after refusing to leave Moore College

Undocumented students adorned with orange butterflies also had butterflies in their stomachs Friday night as they anticipated police interrupting their protest of the ban that prevents them from attending the top five universities in the state of Georgia.

University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said police received a call around 6:30 p.m. Friday from the Office of Legal Affairs that approximately 50 protesters were refusing to leave Moore College after the building closed at 5 p.m.

Around 7:45 p.m., police arrived on the scene.

“We understand that they were trying to protest, but we were exercising time placement, and they could not be in a building that was closed. We made another request for them to get their belongings and leave a little while later,” Williamson said. “The third time we instructed them that they had been given a lawful order, and if they did not leave under that lawful order they could be arrested. The fourth time I came, I said we were going to start arresting people, and we had a number of people get up and leave.”

But nine individuals, made up of UGA, Kennesaw State University and Freedom University students, still refused to comply and were arrested for failure to leave under lawful command. Each person was charged with one count of criminal trespassing and was told that they would be booked into Clarke County jail.

Laura Emiko Soltis, executive director of FU, however, was not among those arrested.

FU provides “rigorous college-level classes, scholarship assistance, and leadership development for undocumented students in Georgia,” according to its website.

In 2011, the University Systems of Georgia Board of Regents enacted Policy 4.1.6, which states that “a person who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible for admission to any University System institution which, for the two most recent academic years, did not admit all academically qualified applicants (except for cases in which applicants were rejected for non-academic reasons).”

Additionally, through Policy 4.3.4, BOR prohibits undocumented students from qualifying for in-state tuition, making Georgia the only state in the country to ban students from both select universities and state residential discounts.

“We want accountability about this ban,” said Soltis, a UGA alumna and former Foundation Fellow. “Everyone says they don’t have the power. President [Jere] Morehead said he didn’t have any power. The Board of Regents say that they only did it so that the legislature wouldn’t ban the whole state. So, apparently no one is responsible.”

Last spring, the same group protested outside of Morehead’s office, hoping he would publicly denounce the ban. While Morehead said, in a statement, that he “listened to the concerns expressed,” he was required to comply with USG policies.

Friday also marked the 54th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation, and students chose to revive the movement for educational equality by holding an “integrated class” session led by human rights activists Lonnie King, Jr. and Loretta Ross.

“Documented students at UGA haven’t been in a classroom with undocumented students in four years, and definitely not when they were out as undocumented students,” Soltis said.

Once an undocumented student, Maria Arreguin, a 2009 UGA graduate and FU volunteer, said she was grateful for her education, because she could have been one of the students unable to attend UGA following the ban.

“The whole point is to show that this is where we want to be,” Arreguin said. “We want to be in the classroom, and we want our rights to be acknowledged.”

Before police arrived, the protesters were settling in to remain for an extended period, possibly the entire weekend.

David Williams, director of the honors program, which is housed in Moore College, told them he would remain in the building over the weekend as well, if they chose to stay.

Williams declined to comment further to The Red & Black.

Protesters, who were seeking to make a mark in history, had anticipated police involvement and chose Moore College because of its visibility and classroom availability.

“We knew that arrest was a possibility, but we were just relying on getting our message out,” said Valentina Emilia Garcia, a student of FU.

Ultimately, the purpose of the protest was to create awareness and change.

“We want accountability, and we want to correct the history of banning people based on social status and not their academic qualifications,” Soltis said.

But some students left with a similar mindset with which they came in.

“My viewpoint on the issue hasn’t really changed, but I do feel more educated on the issue. I’m realizing this is history unfolding right in front of me,” said Justin Payan, a sophomore math and cognizant science major from Atlanta.