UA must take steps towards real racial integration
On January 15, 2017, Harley Barber, 19, former member of Alpha Phi and student at The University of Alabama, spent her Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday using racial slurs and derogatory comments on her Instagram.
Not only did she offend many of her African-American peers, but she did so in an irreverent manner intending to make light of King’s sacrificial contributions to unify the nation. Harley Barber is not the only UA student who has expressed her harboring prejudices against the black community on campus, and she will certainly not be the last.
Whether the excuse is based upon intoxication, exercising First Amendment rights or simply regurgitating the lyrics to a hip-hop song, this kind of behavior cannot be accepted in any setting. People in the history of our country have endured too many atrocities in order to end this kind of discrimination.
On June 11, 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood became the first African-American students to step into Foster Auditorium at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and enroll in classes. Amidst Governor George Wallace’s inaugural address: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” these two trailblazers integrated the only public university that had yet to tear down its racial barriers.
Unfortunately, predicaments such as the one that Harley Barber created for herself remind us that there is still much more work to be done. Integrating African-Americans into predominately white universities is more than academic enrollment. Integration of a shared respect for race, background and culture is imperative.
The act of integration that crosses beyond the lines of color must begin in secondary schooling and continue throughout students education in hopes that it will follow them for the rest of their lives. Since 1963, The University of Alabama has stated in its core values that it promotes an accepting and diverse community through its mission statement: “Campus life that embodies collaboration, collegiality, respect and a culture of inclusivity.”
As many college students know, the formation of communities on campus is a huge part of their social life. That social life is typically shaped by their experiences within their hometowns and within their high schools. From the kinds of friendships that students form to the kinds of extracurricular activities they engage in, their high school experience has major bearing on the people they to choose to interact with in college.
More specifically, the racially segregated neighborhoods and public schools in Alabama narrow the scope of students’ high school experiences even further. This reality has much to do with why students like Barber do not fear consequences when racial slurs pass their lips and do not feel the weight of the assertion of their white supremacist remarks.
Although Barber is no longer a student due to her misconduct, there must be other steps taken to advance diversity on campus. The University should require all students to take a course on diversity during all four years of their education. Upon matriculation into the institution, students have cultivated seventeen years or more of taught and learned prejudices against different races, religions and/or genders. Therefore, a required four-year course is necessary for the university to tackle the cycle of racism and produce respectable students.
Additionally, the humanities curriculum lacks diversity and should be rethought. It is difficult to learn to respect and understand other races and cultures when much of American history is so often written from one perspective.
Some white students at UA may question the weight of the n-word. They claim that they cannot be held responsible for how their ancestors chose to use the word, while others claim that the word no longer has a negative connotation.
The reality is that we are all products of this society and all of the history that comes with it. It is impossible to ignore that history because future generations either benefit from the privileges that their ancestors brought forth or must deal with similar exploitation and limitations that their ancestors experienced.
Vivian Malone and James Hood entered The University of Alabama followed by National Guard troops. They walked the same halls, paid the same tuition and studied the same material as those who wanted nothing to do with them. So let’s make a change. Respect and civility is due to every human being despite difference of race, class or opinion. Besides, you might learn to admire the beauty in those differences.
DeAnna Locket is a freshman majoring in journalism. Her column runs biweekly.