University needs progressive action

There’s a common line of reasoning that members of the University of Alabama community have become accustomed to hearing as justification for various actions on the administration’s part. It generally goes something like “The University is the only SEC school that doesn’t have ______” or “We’re the only SEC school that still ______.” This argument has been employed in debates ranging from whether we should create an Office of Diversity to, more recently, whether the campus should implement a smoking ban. While the end goal varies, a fundamental insecurity lies at the heart of this premise.

The University’s complex and often dark history is no secret to anyone. The decades of racial discrimination have no doubt cast a long shadow over the progress for which we strive. In fact, this history is so ingrained in our awareness that we often find ourselves desperate for some example to point to as evidence that we are indeed moving forward. Conversely, we are horrified at the prospect that we might actually be trailing other schools with similar histories of stereotypically progressive action. We are constantly trying to prove to the world, more than to ourselves, that we are not as intolerant of diversity as we are portrayed.

One could argue that this anxiety is actually beneficial, because it pressures us to make changes that we desperately need to make but might not go through with otherwise. This is certainly plausible and, indeed, I believe it has pushed us to pursue a number of essential reforms. However, I also believe it is problematic in a more subtle way. When insecurity coerces individuals to attempt to alter their personality or outer appearance, those individuals do so not because of a genuine want for change but because they feel like they must adhere to expectations. Even in situations in which the change is a positive one, the individual is not necessarily trying to improve himself or herself but rather trying to feel more accepted in the face of disapproval.

In The University of Alabama’s case, when insecurity forces us to change because we feel we must be as progressive as the rest of the SEC, we are not internalizing that progress, nor are we allowing it to become part of our identity. In contrast, we are forcing ourselves to evolve in spite of our identity, which is defined primarily by a need to conform to a vague notion of tradition (re: every Homecoming theme ever). In this case, we are not embracing progress. We are simply doing what is necessary to avoid 
negative media attention or the fear of “falling behind.”

The University does not need to abandon its loyalty to tradition, nor should it. But it does need to start embracing progressive actions, such as the establishment of an Office of Diversity, which could produce a number of genuine benefits for our campus and student body. So let’s stop talking about how we can “catch up” to the rest of the South, much less the country in general, and start talking about the changes we need to make in order to move in the right direction. There’s a vast gap between the two, and we’d do best not to mistake one for the other.

Chisolm Allenlundy is a junior majoring in philosophy and 
economics. His column runs weekly.

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