To the UA Community, Admin, and Trustees:
As you are aware, there has been a recent flurry of changes in the names of UA buildings. As the University removes the names of white supremacists from their buildings, we, the graduate students of the Gender and Race Studies department, rejoice at saying goodbye to names like Manly and Morgan. However, in light of the most recent renaming of Lucy-Graves Hall, we question if the University understands these changes are a reflection on the current values and standards for diversity on campus.
The imminent change of Bibb Graves Hall to Lucy-Graves Hall has not only shocked us, but has sent ripples of confusion and disappointment throughout our community at large. The Crimson White published their own editorial opinion, criticizing the change and noting the historical issues inherent in it. Here, we hope to reiterate their view and look more broadly at the issue of performative allyship here at UA.
Bibb Graves was not just a Ku Klux Klan member; he was a ranked officer. His position as Grand Cyclops was not a position one could acquire without a firm commitment to the values for which the Klan stands. As the first Black student to attend the University of Alabama, Autherine Lucy was unable to complete her degree due to the volatile and dangerous environment created by rioters and lynch-mobs on campus. In short, Autherine Lucy Foster deserves better than to share this honor with someone who actively stood against the change she represented on this campus. The name change not only reflects poorly on the University's public image, but it seems like nothing more than a hollow promise used to make the University appear more diverse than it really is. Invoking the name of the first Black UA student is an empty gesture when she is named alongside an officer of the KKK.
We all deserve better than empty gestures. We deserve true and significant action that acknowledges the structural changes that are necessary in order to make our campus a safer place for everyone. In our studies, we see again and again how justice delayed is justice denied. This institution's noncommittal stance toward racial reconciliation and diversity, in addition to its refusal to acknowledge the harm it has caused, continues to perpetuate a culture of racism at UA. It is unacceptable for the University to honor the accomplishments of Black people on campus in name only without subsequent action. The call to rename our buildings is not about image. It is about a real commitment to institutional change. How can we move forward, heal, and live up to our potential if we refuse to understand—fully understand—our past?
In previous years, students from the GRS department have outlined plans on how we, as the Capstone of Learning, could live up to our name. We’ve included below some of the requests student activists brought to the attention of leadership in the summer of 2020. We ask you now to consider that UA can only become an exemplar of learning in the South if we are able to fully acknowledge and reckon with our past. This is the University of Alabama, where legends are made, but we challenge you to ask: What will those legends be? What is our legacy to be?
In order to move toward a more equitable and just place for everyone on campus, we suggest these general actions to start:
Invest in Students, Faculty, and Staff of Color
Address Discrimination within Greek Life
Make Reporting Racist Incidents on Campus Easy and Effective
Learn and Acknowledge UA’s History of Slavery and Segregation
Create a No-Tolerance Policy for White Supremacy
For more detailed information on our vision for our campus visit: www.uadeservesbetter.com. We hope you—whether you are an administrator, trustee, student, or faculty member—will consider this call to action and join us in making UA a better place for all of us.