‘When you know better, you do better’: How campus groups advocated for Autherine Lucy Hall

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Writer

On Feb. 3 the board of trustees announced that Autherine Lucy Foster’s name would appear on the College of Education building beside former governor and Ku Klux Klan leader Bibb Graves. 

The board revisited its decision in a special meeting on Feb. 11 and retracted its original plan to include both Lucy’s and Graves’ names. Lucy is now the sole namesake of the building. 

Here’s a look at some campus groups that advocated for Autherine Lucy Hall, as well as administrators who chimed in on the change. 

UA Deserves Better

The sun came out on Feb. 11 — hours after the board of trustees changed the name of the College of Education building — for the first student-led event at the newly christened Autherine Lucy Hall

UA Deserves Better hosted a drop-in letter-writing event outside the building. 

A group of graduate students from the Department of Gender and Race Studies founded UA Deserves Better after the board of trustees voted to include Autherine Lucy Foster’s name beside Bibb Graves’ on the building. They launched a website, petition, open letter and action plan within days of the board’s decision. 

The organization’s letter-writing event, hosted an hour after the board finalized the renaming, allowed students to sign and send a pre-written message to the board of trustees. The message, drafted before the board’s final decision on Friday, asks UA officials to direct more resources toward social and racial progress on campus.

This includes counseling for students who have experienced race-related trauma; increased representation of students, faculty and staff of color; better incident-reporting infrastructure; and more changes to the names of campus spaces. 

The letter also addresses the numerous public incidents in the past decade involving members of Greek organizations using derogatory and demeaning language. 

Three UA Deserves Better members stood outside Autherine Lucy Hall from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to give students informational flyers and stickers. The University of Alabama Police Department asked them to leave because they didn’t have a grounds use permit. 

‘When you know better, you do better’

Eleven graduate students signed UA Deserves Better’s open letter: Liz Foshe, Erin Stender, Meagan Lyle, Elisabeth Hansen, Makyah Dix, Emma Welch, Farrah Sanders, Hannah Steinhauer, Sophia Xiong, Jasmine Foster and Meghan Cummings.

“I want to thank the board of trustees for reconsidering their decision,” member Imani Williams said. “I know a lot of times after we make a decision, we feel like we have to stand by it. But when you know better, you do better.”

Members put a name to their group this time around, but some have been advocating together for social change at the University since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement spurred the group to develop a five-step action plan, which they presented to UA and UA System officials throughout 2020. They never received official responses.

The organization’s action plan has since been updated to reflect new concerns after the Autherine Lucy Hall renaming. 

“We want more diversity and transparency, not only from the board of trustees, but in the committees where these decisions are made,” Williams said. “How do we even get to this point? Why were we here, especially considering that the board of trustees has made so many strides in the past few years to get us to a better place culturally as a campus? We just want them to stay committed to that vision of inclusion, but also make the decisions that support that vision.”

Changing the name, Williams said, doesn’t change the structural issues on campus. 

“We weren’t saying that the board of trustees is not redeemable,” Williams said. “We don’t believe that. We actually believe they’re in the best spot right now, in the sense that they’re listening, right?”

College of Education Ambassadors

College of Education ambassador Korynn Hill drafted a letter on behalf of the organization on Feb. 7, four days after the board’s proposal to name the building Lucy-Graves Hall. 

The letter, signed by the College of Education Ambassadors and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair Sara McDaniel, asks, “What was our intention of renaming Graves Hall?” 

In 2020, the College of Education’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee submitted a formal request for Graves’ name to be removed from the building altogether and met with the board of trustees working group to explain the purpose of the request. 

“By placing Autherine Lucy Foster’s name next to Bibb Graves’ name, it falsely exemplifies that it is okay to degrade her historic fight for equality, freedom, acceptance, and the right for everyone to receive an education,” Hill wrote. “Sharing the name with Bibb Graves undermines these virtues as well as negates everything that many more people fought and lost their lives for.” 

When Lucy received an honorary doctorate from the University in May 2019, she said tears rolled down her face because it was so different to be on campus. 

“I see laughing faces instead of people frowning and displeased with me being here,” Lucy said. 

The College of Education Ambassadors say Graves’ presence on the building still shows displeasure with Lucy and every other Black student who walks through its doors. 

College of Communication and Information Sciences

The C&IS Diversity Forum, a faculty leadership body in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, along with other C&IS faculty and staff, drafted a letter on Feb. 11 supporting the sole commemoration of Lucy on the building. 

The letter has over 40 signatures and was sent to local media and University leadership. 

The group encouraged UA leadership to create “a more transparent and dialogic system for researching and considering changes to our campus memory landscape.” 

“The University of Alabama is a vibrant, diverse community with expertise of many kinds — lived experience, academic research, teaching commitments — that can enrich and possibly guide the Working Group’s remaining work,” the letter said. 

Greater transparency, they wrote, will increase confidence in how the board makes decisions and could result in more positive receptions to change in the future. 

“Damage was done by the initial shared-name proposal, and while I’m glad the Board reconsidered its plan, the episode sadly shows that building names do have material impacts on our campus community and need to be carefully considered,” said Meredith Bagley, a member of the forum. 

Bagley is leading an educational tour of Autherine Lucy Hall on March 2 at 9 a.m., beginning at Foster Auditorium.

Student Government Association

The Student Government Association Senate unanimously approved a resolution on Feb. 10 — the night before the board named the building Autherine Lucy Hall — calling for the UA System to remove Graves’ name from the building.

Nathan Yamaguchi, chief of staff for the SGA, privately asked the senators to postpone the bill until after the board announced its decision. 

Sens. Jordan Jones, John Dodd and Paige Hoss authored the legislation, and more than a dozen senators endorsed or sponsored it. 

Jones, Dodd and Hoss called the board’s decision to include both Lucy’s and Graves’ names “tone-deaf,” “insensitive” and “disappointing.” 

More than 20 non-SGA students attended Thursday’s Senate meeting, and three voiced their support for the resolution. They had concerns about the SGA’s ability to influence policy in the school. 

“Last week, I had the chance to meet with members of the Board, along with several other SGA officers, to express student concerns regarding the name of former-Graves Hall,” SGA President Jillian Fields wrote in a statement. “I am very thankful that the Board chose to honor Autherine Lucy Foster’s legacy by revisiting their original decision and designating her as the sole namesake of the building. Furthermore, I am so proud of students advocating for this change, and I hope to see this continued call to action in the future.” 

 The Senate unanimously passed the resolution. 

“I’m proud of the legislation, I’m proud it passed, and I’m proud the board finally made the correct decision, even if it took the attention of the nation to make it happen,” Dodd said. “Anyone who dislikes the fact that I didn’t withdraw the legislation, or presented it at all, I invite you to look in the mirror and ask yourself what side of history you are on.” 

Dedication Ceremony

In a Feb. 14 email, UA President Stuart Bell reflected on the renaming. 

“We are honored that Dr. Foster’s name will grace this prominent campus landmark for future generations — acknowledging the great power of an individual with purpose,” Bell said. “We are proud to call her an alumna of this institution, and I am grateful to call her a friend.”

The University will hold a dedication ceremony on Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. in front of Autherine Lucy Hall. 

Ty Boyle contributed to the reporting of this story.

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