Opinion | UA’s activism is performative

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

Both the Ferguson Student Center and A.B. Moore Hall were recently renamed as the UA Student Center and Archie Wade Hall, respectively.

This follows the renaming of other buildings in 2020, including Honors Hall, the English Building and Presidents Hall — formerly known as Nott Hall, Morgan Hall and Manly Hall, respectively, all namesakes of notorious racists from the University’s past. 

There is no question that this renaming initiative, spearheaded by the trustees’ building names working group, has been a necessary step in seeing the University reckon with its deeply racist past. However, it is frankly embarrassing that it has taken this long for the University to realize that our campus should not pay homage to members of the Ku Klux Klan and infamous white supremacists.

This recent movement to rename University buildings has not been the only reminder that the University still has a long way to go in terms of racial progress. 

Less than a decade ago, UA sororities were still denying Black women entry because of their race, and integration only occurred in 2013 after intensive media coverage. Even today, Black sorority members face discrimination and underrepresentation. In December 2021, Alpha Phi member Kylie Klueger sent a racist text to a group message that included then-Alpha Phi President Katherine Anthony. This resulted in Klueger’s removal from the sorority and Anthony’s ousting from the presidency. 

Before this most recent incident, Alpha Phi had multiple other scandals involving racist behavior (like the expulsion of member Harley Barber in 2018 for using racial slurs in a video).

Again, these instances expose a sort of shallowness in the University’s outwardly progressive appearance. If we are so committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as a campus, then why is our Greek life (which constitutes approximately 35% of the undergraduate student body) seemingly a hotbed of exclusion and bigotry?

The University at large must consider taking further action — beyond simple claims of inclusion and the renaming of buildings — in order to ensure that our community goes beyond performative activism and actually works toward honest systemic progress. 

For one, the committee should heed the advice of the United Campus Workers of Alabama Local 3965 and make the building renaming a more democratic process. Currently there is a lack of transparency in the process, and the committee is only made up of trustees. Staff, students and faculty should be included to ensure that future decisions made by the committee come from a diverse background and consider the input of the people who work and learn in these buildings every single day of the semester. Such a step would also help to curb the bias created by any donor influence.

The University should listen to members of Greek life who wish to improve diversity and inclusion within fraternities and sororities. In December 2020, Joshua Gill of the historically Black Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity encouraged the University to plan more mandatory events bringing Black and white organizations together; no such events have happened. Nor is there any transparency from faculty members on whether they are taking steps to address these situations further, to hold individuals accountable or to put a real end to this recurring problem. 

And, on an individual level, students can commit to making a difference whenever and wherever we can. Members of Greek organizations can promote greater inclusion, those involved in other student organizations can do the same, and we can all stand up and say something whenever we identify inequities within our community.

More specifically, students can hold their organizations accountable by reaching out to the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UAct, or even The Crimson White when they recognize that something is wrong. The progress that we have seen so far has almost always been sparked by individuals speaking out and extensive media coverage; these are avenues that we can continue to use to effect change. Beyond this, students who share common concerns can come together to define real solutions and voice their concerns to the University through organizations they are a part of.

It is one thing to claim to value diversity, equity and inclusion. It is another thing entirely to actively pursue the realization of those stated values. At The University of Alabama, we must all devote ourselves to real progress — not just performative activism. 

If you are interested in finding organizations on campus that are committed to effecting change, I encourage you to visit mySOURCE.

This story was published in the Justice Edition. View the complete issue here.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at [email protected].