Georgia Southern University officials, specifically from the Dean of Students’ Office and the Multicultural Student Center, plan to meet today with students leading efforts to change the sign and symbolism used by Rumrunners Plantation Room, a bar and music venue near campus.
One of the students is Jordin Hall, whose petition on the website www.change.org had drawn 1,840 supporters as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Hall, 20, a senior majoring in psychology, started the petition Feb. 11, seeking to have the business change its name. She and other students object that the Plantation Room name and associated symbols make African-Americans feel unwelcome.
On the sign, two images of the pre-2001 Georgia state flag — the flag whose largest part was the Confederate battle emblem — cross swords, which serve as staffs, to form the “A” in “Plantation.” The sign, which appears at roof level above an entrance to the club in privately owned University Plaza, also features back views of two Civil War-type cannons.
The images add up to a racist message, in Hall’s view.
“I really feel like it says ‘no blacks allowed,’ because any African-American person who sees that will be warned off, just like, ‘Wow! OK,’ ” she said. “And not just African-American students, but a lot of white students here were like, how could you not see that that would be offensive?”
Not a part of that sign, the club’s dress code is posted on another board on a wall outside. This includes “No baggy clothes;” “No flat bill hats,” No jean shorts,” “No solid color tees without logos,” and “No urban wear.” Student and government-issued identification cards are required to enter, according to the sign. “All other dress code issues are per staff’s discretion,” reads the final statement.
African-American students were being made to feel unwelcome before the “plantation” sign with the flags went up, Hall said.
“A lot of people wouldn’t get service when they went in there or they’d get bad service, like whether it’s waiting a ridiculous amount of time to get a drink at the bar, or anything like that — just bad service or no service,” she said. “Or sometimes they’ll tell you you can’t come in because of what you wear.”
This became especially apparent when black students attempted to go to Rumrunners and the Plantation Room after two clubs they had frequented, the Platinum Lounge and Primetime Lounge, were closed down, Hall added. Statesboro city officials got a court order and shuttered those two clubs in November after repeated gun violence at both.
Not a new name
At Rumrunners, the sign with the crossed flags went up a few weeks ago, and students began to comment through Twitter and other online forums.
The sign says “Rumrunners Plantation Room.” But the GSU student newspaper the George-Anne, in its Tuesday edition, quoted Rumrunners & Plantation Room General Manager Deven Bradford as saying that Rumrunners and the Plantation Room are two separate entities with the same owners. The Plantation Room, he reportedly said, opened in 2005.
“It’s been my sign for 10 years. It’s not changing,” Bradford told the George-Anne, which spotlighted the controversy as its cover story and published commentary from students and faculty members.
The Plantation Room name and imagery may have appeared elsewhere at the club, but the sign is new in its current spot.
Found at the club Thursday afternoon by a Statesboro Herald reporter, Bradford declined an interview.
“I’ve got no more comment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hall’s online petition was supposed to have generated a letter, after 1,500 signatures, to someone who can make a change. But Hall said she hadn’t known what address to use for the business. Nor, of course, would a letter necessarily bring the change she requested.
She was slated to meet today with the university’s dean of students and the director of its Multicultural Student Center. “I’m really hoping the school gets behind this,” Hall said.
Dorsey Baldwin, the director of the Multicultural Student Center, confirmed that a meeting with a few concerned students was planned.
“We will be meeting with a small group of students (today), our office along with our dean of students to have a discussion with the students who created the petition and who’ve expressed some concerns,” Baldwin said.
It will not be a public meeting or large gathering of students, she emphasized. However, Baldwin said that if the concerned students want to hold a larger gathering, the Multicultural Student Center could assist.
After she said she could not speak for the university, Baldwin was asked for her own opinion.
“From what I know about the situation, the sign itself is concerning,” she said. “I’m happy that these students are wanting to use their voice to effect change on campus and in the local community.”
Meanwhile, in an email, Dean of Students Patrice Buckner Jackson referred the Herald to the university’s Office of Marketing and Communications for an official response.
This was the official statement:
“Georgia Southern University is committed to maintaining an inclusive learning environment characterized by both free expression and respect of differences. While the University cannot oversee the actions of private businesses, the campus community is encouraged to engage in open and healthy dialogue that will ultimately improve life for all members of the community.”
Meanwhile, the “Plantation Room” sign was vandalized earlier this week. It happened between 2:45 and 6:46 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Statesboro Police Department incident report. Bradford made the call.
The sign had been spray painted with red, and “J. Davis” was spray painted in black on a bench belonging to the business, reported Officer Amanda Lane.
But the paint had been removed, or at any rate was not visible, when the Herald photographed the sign later that day.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.