The Crimson White

Bending the arc

CW | Amy Sullivan

Leigh Terry

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My first memory of senior columns is a feeling of anger at the dishonesty I saw in several of them. As a freshman, many of the seniors I admired wrote about how they wish they had partied more, spent less time studying and cared less about UA and their futures. These were people who had already won premier UA and national awards and had lined up incredible post-grad opportunities. I didn’t buy their “regrets” then, and I don’t buy them now. I know if I gave them the choice to go back and do it again, but they had to seriously risk their grad school and job offers if they did anything different, they would do their college careers just the same.

As they should, because UA, Alabama and the nation needed them to make that choice. I needed them to make that choice.

They bent the arc.

My two driving quotes are from two very different historical figures. On the topic of slavery, Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” One hundred and eighty years later, Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

More so than the Ying Yang Twins or Lynyrd Skynyrd, those quotes have been the true soundtrack of my college years. Occasionally, they have driven me to the edge of reason, but always they have driven me.

Cammie Cook has already told you what happened to us in 2013. Her backstory is my own, so I won’t repeat it here. It took two agonizing months after my first in-house sorority recruitment for me to learn enough courage to see my favorite quotes as anything but a tortuous reminder of mine and my Greek system’s failings. Thanks to my family and a few close friends, I eventually started to see how those quotes could fill me with happiness and motivation again.

On October 19, 2013, I decided to make it my mission to bend the arc of UA’s moral universe just a centimeter more toward justice by the time I graduated. I also decided I could only hope to do it through rigorous honesty: by holding up a mirror to campus and hoping it didn’t like what it saw. A month later, I started writing opinions for The Crimson White. I started fighting back—timidly behind the legs of my braver friends at first, but later on my own—against the forces on campus I saw trying to keep UA’s moral arc from bending toward justice.

I am far from the most beloved woman on this campus, but love me or hate me, each of you should know that I have always strived to make my life an open book to you and to give you honest advice – even when you didn’t ask for it.

By exhausting myself in this pursuit, I lost friends and gained stronger ones, all the while feeling like I was just hitting that little head-sized punching bag that hangs from the ceiling in Rocky, just making the bag hit me back harder and faster. However, things did get better. My class elected the second-ever black and one of the few-ever independent SGA Presidents. The NPC/IFC Greek systems didn’t just accept black members, they elected them to be officers. The UA Feminist Caucus forced myself and others to redefine womanhood on campus.

Ironically, my friends won top awards from the University for breaking the barriers that its own Board of Trustees set up over centuries of intentional effort—on the site of a building burned in the name of abolition, no less.

We bent the arc, together. With leaps forward and gut punches back, we fought, and now as Yardena Wolf, one of the women I’m most grateful to call a friend, said, it is time to leave that fight to a new group of those who tremble for their campus.

My final words to you (and to your friends, enemies and most of all your indifferent classmates): be rigorously and heartrendingly honest with each other. Come clean about all of your secret societal affiliations. Come clean about your ambitions (goodness knows I had plenty). Come clean about your core values because honesty breeds trust, and secrecy – no matter how well-intentioned – breeds corruption and strife among classmates. One of my few regrets was not telling my beloved Opinions Page sooner how deeply I wish to see the Machine’s reign of terror over my sisters and brothers come to an end.

Learn from my mistakes. Learn from my classmates’ triumphs, and keep bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice. Otherwise, I tremble for my University and my state when I remember that my God is just.

And his justice has awakened. 

Leigh Terry is a senior majoring in economics and political science. She has written for The Crimson White since November 2013, is a recipient of the NOAA Hollings Scholarship, and has served as Opinions Editor of The Crimson White, President of the Coordinating Council of Honor Societies, and in a variety of roles for The SOURCE and the Student Government Association. After graduation, she will be attending Yale Law School.

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Bending the arc