Hating the hand that fed meBy Chandler Wright | 04/17/2014 11:19am
The first Machine senate meeting I was required to attend, after I was elected as an SGA senator by the gracious Machine Greek members in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, was held in the basement of the old Phi Delta Theta house outside the stadium.
The then-executive vice president told us pretty casually about how we were expected to vote in our first senate meeting, and I thought to myself, “Is this it? Seems pretty docile for the infamous Machine.”
Then the smoke and mirrors began – I was asked to get on my knees against the back wall in the basement. The Theta Nu Epsilon president and two other officers walked into the basement with black-hooded robes hiding their faces.
They screamed at us, the new Machine-sponsored SGA senators. They talked about the importance of loyalty. They insisted that they could just as easily take us out of the world they’ve put us in: loyalty.
I walked out of that basement and drove to the Ferguson Center where I met with Ryan Flamerich, Ian Sams and Tray Smith, all members of the non-Machine “progressives” in SGA, about what had just happened. That week, Ryan was elected as the first non-Machine leader the SGA has seen in years.
Because of this act of disloyalty, I learned over the next year that The University of Alabama is pretty damn good at developing impassioned leaders, sometimes in spite of itself. For the next year, various groups of us met, sometimes daily, to talk and strategize about how to work around the Machine in order to influence positive change in SGA and campus and correct the transgressions I watched in the basement of the Phi Delta Theta house.
I wasn’t always disloyal, though.
During my senate campaign, my peers and friends in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative were never shy about their perspective on the problematic organization I was getting involved with. Upperclassmen and professors alike constantly challenged freshman-me to think more critically about what I was precisely doing.
By the time elections came around, I was passing out my own fliers, but I was not quite convinced I was doing the right thing.
So, I was disloyal.
The SGA functions much like any other governmental body, two contrasting bodies always pushing against one another in an attempt to create their respective visions of what is best for campus.
What makes ours different, however, is the polarity that comes with the specific disenfranchisement of 25,000-some-odd students who don’t have an opportunity to participate in the political benefits of being Machine-endorsed.
My time in the Student Government Association, although sometimes tumultuous, taught me about the value of friendships founded in a mission to create a better university. Working with some notion that this ominous body was against us gave us a chip on our shoulders, further motivating us to show the reality of what was happening behind closed doors, what people didn’t want to talk about.
I recall so vividly standing in the computer lab in Tuomey Hall, a year later, on speakerphone with the newsroom at the CW, choking back tears of disappointment of losing SGA elections even though we all knew it would happen when we ran against the Machine.
The following fall, I walked into that same office of The Crimson White, a bit bleary-eyed and feeling marginalized, but eager to find a new niche on campus.
Now, with a year and a half of perspective at The Crimson White, I kick myself for not getting involved sooner. Among many other things, I learned how to channel the frustration I was feeling about campus into effective and impactful storytelling.
The most disconcerting lesson I learned at the CW, though, was acknowledging the domino effect, which started with the Machine, that led me to my place in the newsroom, and to realizing that the passion and conviction that came with telling challenging stories was cultivated from those mandatory weekly meetings (else pay a $50 mandatory fine to the Machine), being told what to do, having to get on my knees.
I very easily could’ve just been happy as a clam to be a Blountee through and through until graduation, never expanding my friend group. Instead I watched the disenfranchisement of my peers in that basement and, more importantly, those outside of it and was motivated enough to attempt to work against it.
In the weirdest and most roundabout way, I owe everything to Theta Nu Epsilon, to the Machine. I owe everything to the sorority I never felt at home in. I owe everything to those anonymous voters who listened to their Machine representatives when they said, “You must vote for Chandler.”
So, in the end, I hate the hand that fed me. I hate that one of the things cultivating the most passionate leaders on campus is also that which inherently disenfranchises most of it. In its corruption, the Machine taught me to be ever-critical of my peers and leaders, a hard but necessary lesson. I just wish the cost wasn’t so high.
Chandler Wright was the assistant news editor of The Crimson White.