Are you sure you’re from Alabama?

"You don’t like sweet tea, but you recycle? Are you sure you’re from Alabama?"

This observation, made by a classmate, sums up any senior wisdom this article attempts to impart upon you, reader. 

Because the truth is that yes, I am from Alabama. I don’t like sweet tea, and I do recycle. These seemingly unrelated subjects are actually quite familial, and exist among the many stereotypes that seem to continuously shroud our university and our state’s citizens. 

One of these in particular that I find myself constantly reading about is that the University doesn’t offer a home to those who find themselves outside of the “societal norm,” which is often defined by, again, a stereotype. 

As a freshman you might have had me convinced. Because while yes, I’m a blue-eyed white girl who is from the South and in a sorority (stereotype count up to five), I actually am not football’s biggest fan, I don’t like country music and Lily Pulitzer was not something I bathe myself in (that was one, two, three more). Rather, I craved a school community where the art scene was bigger, sponsored musicians weren't just popular rappers, and people actually cared about their environment. At the time I didn’t see any of these things around me, and so in the same way Nirvana’s jaded lyrics rolled off Cobain’s lips, I could be found commenting on how far this school had to go, and how it wasn’t really a place I could call my own.  

But as the semesters added up, a realization of how lazy and really, how ignorant freshman year me had been followed suit. I was lazy in the sense that my freshman self, too busy being comfortable within the comfort of my roommates, my friends and my classes, had never bothered to seek out the things I so desperately craved. My ignorance stemmed from this laziness, for far too long I was unaware that these things did exist. 

This realization came my sophomore year. When I declared my art minor, something small within me flung a silent touché at the well-funded science programs for the esteemed “hard” majors in which I was enrolled, and I jumped in wholeheartedly. My acceptance into New College was another rebellion against my freshman year tendency to follow the path placed in front of me. It was within these classes that I met the professors, classmates, and organization leaders who would show me, in the infamous words of The Cars’ 1978 hit, that Tuscaloosa had “just what I needed.”

My next three years were filled interviewing the quirky for The Crimson White’s culture beat, attending artist talks, pulling dark room all-nighters, canoeing down the Black Warrior and casting a fly rod in Moundville for credit, heading downtown for jam nights that consisted of R&B covers and alt-sounding originals, volunteering with and managing a local farmers market, eating Indian food and fried catfish with my classmates and working with the recycling center and the Arboretum in the name of environmental affairs. By pushing past the stiff image I had constructed of my university, I found that a whole other vibrant and funky place existed.  

Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t ever experience defeat within my surroundings. I graduate still frustrated that our campus isn’t more attentive to sustainability, campus politics are often a staged show, and groups of students feel misrepresented, among other gripes. I don’t want to sugar coat anything, nor do I want to pretend I can counter anyone else’s struggles that I might have been lucky enough to escape with a simple label of laziness and ignorance. Nothing is ever that easy.

However, as an Alabamian, I went to school here for four years without a drop of sweet tea, and I drove my #2 plastic to the recycling center every Saturday from my apartment. 

In short: Don’t give up, and don’t allow your complaints to buoy you in a sea of complacency, because you’re only cheating yourself and others. Don’t be apathetic enough to let the stereotypes speak for you. 

Do be bold. If find yourself wishing for more, dig. Seek out what you don’t find right in front of you, and while you might have to create it yourself, I’m almost certain you’ll join me in finding a more diverse Tuscaloosa that exists beyond only houndstooth and house parties. Rather, it’s a place that will allow you to shape it, rather than strictly the other way around.

Margaret Wilbourne is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on environmental policy and sustainability. She has served as the Director of Environmental Affairs for the Student Government Association, Co-Manager of the Homegrown Alabama Farmers Market, and as a contributing writer to The Crimson White. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a J.D. in environmental law.

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