Petition seeks to right injustices, promote diversity

Petition seeks to right injustices, promote diversity

“My first month on campus I got the n-word shouted at me,” said Cheyenne Ford, a recent UA graduate who majored in African American studies and theatre. “There’s a lot of aspects of this University that we need to bring attention to that we keep sweeping under the rug and then it feels like you’re just ignoring us.”

Ford is a signatory on a petition created in early February called Whose Campus Is This? that aims to make on-campus tours’ scripts representative of the school’s history as well as its marginalized groups. Some students are hoping to see a change that includes accurate representations of the University and its race relations. 

According to the petition’s website, the signatories “seek to recreate the script, redefining it to explicitly include all aspects of the University including, but not limited to, the full history behind the namesakes of campus buildings, acknowledgement of the people that built and maintain this campus, as well as the contributions of minorities and marginalized groups.” The petition currently has 167 signatures of its goal of 200. 

Amber Scales, a junior majoring in public relations and theatre and a member of the Capstone Men and Women, said the Capstone Men and Women act as official ambassadors to the University, including taking potential students on campus tours. She said the potential students on these tours are only interested in information that directly relates to their future on campus. Because of this, Scales' views are more complex than simply "for" or "against" the petition.

“When someone is coming to a university to look at it as a potential student, they aren’t really here for a history lesson,” Scales said. “What they want to know is where they’ll be taking their general education classes, where the Rec Center is or how life works in a dorm room.”

Scales said the history conversations urged by the petition are better suited for current students here who want to learn about it rather than potential students. 

Ford said these students’ futures are directly impacted by how the past is treated. 

“Why would anyone want to come here if they feel like their history is being ignored,” Ford said. “That’s an issue that a lot of people have to face.”

She said forcing students to walk into buildings on campus like Morgan Hall, which is named after confederate general John Tyler Morgan, is “awful,” and naming the buildings after Alabama natives like Harper Lee could be a better way to honor the University’s legacy in a positive way.

“This campus was built by slaves and there are so many narratives that are just kind of ignored here because they’re not good ones,” Ford said. “That’s part of what makes this University what it is, that good and bad things had to make this place.”

Scales said she doesn’t want to ignore the University’s past and is a proponent of students going on alternate campus tours such as Professor Hilary Green’s Hallowed Grounds tour which goes into the University’s history with slavery. By doing this, students can learn about UA's campus history. 

The University does its best to provide representative resources to students and their organizations regardless of their size and prominence on campus, but it’s never going to be perfect due to the University’s size, Scales said.

“It’s a huge campus," Scales said. "We go to school with almost 38,000 people and there are 550 student organizations, plus. That’s not even in addition to the Greek life that’s on campus, so to say that everyone’s gonna have equal representation is just not something that’s going to happen.”

Khaled Berklin, a junior majoring in management information systems and a staff member at the Intercultural Diversity Center (IDC), said he thinks the faculty needs to be more in-tune with the students here, especially the ones who have been and are currently going through certain issues such as racial discrimination and overall inequality.

“There’s a lot of people on campus that want their voice to be heard,” Berklin said. “They just don’t know how to come about making their voice to be heard.”

A group called WE ARE DONE demanded plans to make the University more inclusive. The IDC was created as a part of UA's plans to combat the issue. 

“I think the University tries and thinks that they include people but there’s definitely places to improve on that aspect," said Keelin Gallagher, a sophomore majoring in human performance and exercise who also works at the IDC. "That’s why we were created and what we’re working towards creating on campus everyday.”

When instances of discrimination happen, these issues should not be swept under the rug, Berklin said. Instead, the University should address the students and faculty openly instead of acting like nothing happened.

“It’s a process,” Berklin said. “It’s not something that could just happen overnight. It’s gonna take time but it also takes dedication. You really have to put the time into it if you want to see results.”

Chenoia Bryant, a sociology professor at the University, agrees with Berklin that this problem is not going to be an easy solve. 

“Race is a contentious subject, and to truly talk about it in a constructive way you have to fully examine all of the historical and political narratives that go along with it,” Bryant said. “This means, for some groups more than others, having to sit with the fact that previous generations of your collective may have participated in or indirectly benefited from genocide and slavery."

She knows that it will not be an easy transition, however.

"It will call for separating identity from supremacy, and that will take a commitment that goes beyond the individual and is reflective of a deeper level of concern for humanity," Bryant said.

Scales said in her role in the SGA she tries to do just that. 

“For me, I serve as the Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the SGA so conversations about diversity and student opinions, life, experience, conversations about what we can do to shift our campus community to be more equitable and be more inclusive of all voices are conversations that I have all the time with faculty, students, with administration,” Scales said. “In all the conversations with Dr. [Stuart] Bell, Dr. [David] Grady and Dr. [G. Christine] Taylor, our new VP of Diversity and Inclusion, that’s something that they don’t really shy away from.”

Scales said there are welcoming communities that students must break out of their comfort zones to find. 

“Just thinking about the people who would never have been able to have an education here have paved the way for me,” Scales said. “Not only to have an education but to be a Capstone Woman and to be involved in SGA and to be a member of a Greek house that has a house right on Sorority Row, those are things those people would possibly not have anticipated. That’s the reality I get to live in my UA experience.”

Ford said the reason that decision-makers at the University do not handle the issue of inclusion well is because they may not have experienced lack of inclusion like marginalized groups do.

“That’s the thing about privilege in itself,” Ford said. “There’s nothing anyone did to earn that privilege. They were born into it so also their perspective of life is from that level. If you go your whole life feeling like you’re represented then how on earth could anybody else be? You have to actually put people in the room.”

To exclude marginalized people who are part of the University’s narrative is like only valuing them for the money and tuition they give to the University, Ford said

“That’s not why we’re here,” Ford said. “We’re here to get an education to better ourselves and figure out who we are, and some of us are people that speak out against some messed up things.” 

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