Bama girl

Harriet Washington

It was a cool Saturday evening in late May, when I turned on the television and began looking through channels to find something interesting to watch. I stopped flipping as soon as I came across the ever familiar image of the Quad on the campus of The University of Alabama, a place where I would be spending the next four years of my life. Of course this caught my attention, so I settled down to watch the documentary titled “Bama Girl” in hopes that it would let me in on the secret to being just that – the beautiful, smart, giddy, yet sophisticated girl I saw in all the brochures. That’s exactly who I wanted to be. 

The documentary followed a young African-American woman on her quest to become homecoming queen. The hope, passion, and diligence she displayed as she pursued the title was inspiring, and I knew it would pay off. But it didn’t. Her dreams were crushed, and along with hers so were mine. My hopes of equal opportunity and achieving all my dreams and desires were diminished. 

The documentary revealed a side of my future University that the brochures and tour guides never told me about. The young woman in the documentary told about a different side, one much darker, intimidating and merciless than I had seen before. The University I had dreamed about attending for years had a system in place designed to control the success of people like me. I was discouraged before I had even set foot on campus. The Homecoming Queen elected that year was lovely. She was heavily involved on campus, belonged to all the right organizations, and came from an affluent, well-known family. 

Her successors since have been indistinguishable, all carbon copies of her – the “Bama Girl.” The person that everyone imagines they will transform into, until you realize that you do not possess the privileges, skin color, or wealth needed to do so. Until you’re told that you don’t belong in block seating. Until you watch your sorority’s banner ripped off your house for the second time in two years. Until you realize that to many people on this campus, you are only the color of your skin. 

This is said not to be demoralizing or daunting to future and current students, but rather to empower them to become individuals who push for change. 

Only students can change this institution into one that works fervently to challenge the status quo, to foster diversity and inclusion and to redefine what it really means to be a great student at the Capstone. My time at the University has been amazing. It has taught me lifelong lessons about myself and the world around me. That same documentary that first made me feel like I was unwanted on campus and not in control of my destiny became the very thing that drove me toward success. 

I wanted to show everyone who doubted me or discriminated against me because of my background, race, or affiliation that my path to greatness will not be stopped. For those who attend the Capstone, you must develop this mindset too. Although the recurrent wrongs we witness may be a source of disappointment, we can use this to propel us forward to new accomplishments and heights as we fight against institutions that hinder our progress. 

I am so very proud of the growth in UA I have seen during my time here, but I know there is much more work to be done. I will never forget the emotions I felt while watching a young woman denied something she deserved because she didn’t fit a mold that she could never be confined to. I challenge you to break the mold. It’s up to you all to redefine what it means to be a “Bama Girl” or any other student at UA for that matter. Make sure that young girls sitting at home and watching images of the University and its students see a different Bama Girl. One that is courageous, stands up for what she believes and has unwavering determination to meet her goals regardless of the obstacles that may come her way. One who knows that she can accomplish anything on this campus and beyond that she desires. That’s the true definition of a Bama Girl. 

Harriet Washington is in the Rural Medical Scholars Program and has served as the former president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She will be attending medical school at The University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall.