The emails we never receivedBy Tray Smith | 10/19/2011 11:10pm
Last Tuesday, University of Alabama students received another email from President Robert Witt, condemning a racially offensive act of vandalism on the Moody Music Building. At 114 words, the email was nearly twice as long as the 63-word statement Witt sent out after the last time he was notified of a racially offensive incident in February. So, I guess that counts as progress.
But, despite President Witt’s insistence that “this University respects and values each member of our community,” his policy of demonstrating that respect by periodically sending out reactionary emails is becoming quite an embarrassment. =
When students saw their faith in their elected leaders challenged a month ago, they received no email about the administration’s commitment to developing a culture of ethical leadership or any substantive proposal to address the challenges to student involvement on this campus. When the Board of Trustees voted to hike tuition by nine percent this summer, there was no email explaining the increase or detailing plans to cut costs and reduce the burden placed on students. When multiple premier campus programs ended up being over 90% white, there was no email about the importance of more inclusive and fair selections processes in the future.
Conversely, there was no email from President Witt when leaders in the greek community called for more inclusivity last year, nor was there much follow-up support from the University. There was no email yesterday when groups of students walked from Foster Auditorium to the Ferguson Center to bring attention to discriminatory acts on campus.
If President Witt is going to respond to every major campus event with an email, he could at least respond to issues that impact the opportunities afforded to students, instead of only elevating isolated and senseless racial incidents. It seems like the best way to get his attention is, unfortunately, to make some outrageous statement that is sure to offend a significant part of the student body.
Of course, ideally, President Witt wouldn’t consider an email an appropriate response to major campus challenges.
Administrators constantly promote student-driven change and student autonomy, yet when students yearn for progress and offer their leadership on different issues, they receive little support. President Witt could easily follow up his emails by committing his administration to stand behind student groups working to advance the University.
Students are ready to have difficult conversations and address difficult issues; there have been many meetings where students from across campus have done just that. But if administrators aren’t willing to follow up on those discussions, provoke conversations in different communities and take a lead in challenging students to higher aspirations, why should we?
Taking a proactive role in engaging the student body isn’t dictating action by administrative fiat. It’s leading.
We are encouraged to be patient, but we have been patient. Over the past 20 years, the same stories about the same issues have cycled through not just The Crimson White, but national media outlets, as well. Something has to give. We can’t just stay in the same inert state of racial division forever.
The quality and geographic diversity of the students President Witt has attracted to this University is outstanding. Those students are now pressing for decisive action because they see the same potential in this University that President Witt sees. That’s why they came here. That’s why he brought them here.
It isn’t enough to just bring great students to the University, though. We must create an atmosphere that lets those students do great things, not just for themselves, but also for this campus.
It has happened before. The renovation of Foster Auditorium is a great example of a project that brought students and administrators together to celebrate a testament of our progress as a community. It is a great example of President Witt’s leadership.
We can still build upon that achievement. We just need more engagement between students and administrators and more action towards creating a campus of equal opportunity and inclusivity for its students.
Tray Smith is the opinions editor of The Crimson White. His column runs on Thursdays.