More, but not enough

More%2C+but+not+enough

Foster Auditorium hosts events such as volleyball and women’s basketball. CW | Layton Dudley

Vel Lewis

Whenever I see my grandma and we talk about school, she tries hard to hide the tears that stroll down her cheeks as she exclaims how proud she is of me. She is happy that the opportunity to attend college and achieve an education is available to me. She and many, many others have sacrificed so that I could have the opportunity to attend The University of Alabama, a college that was denied to them. Like those who marched in the Civil Rights Movement for basic human rights, they were never doing it for themselves, they were doing it for the future. They created these opportunities for us unselfishly.

I only applied to The University of Alabama. I could not imagine myself spending my four years anywhere else. I knew it had problems and I hoped that I could one day be there to make a change; apparently I was not alone. On August 20, 2012, classes began, and UA brought together one of the most impactful, courageous groups of now graduating seniors campus has ever seen. Time has a way of producing the right leaders, and I can honestly say the Class of 2016 has changed UA’s campus for the better.

The Class of 2016 is quite possibly one of the last classes to experience the worst of the toxic climate at UA. When we arrived, the old strongly held beliefs were not challenged. Blatant exclusionary practices, corrupt behavior and racism continued unchecked. It was a place that did not openly welcome those from the outside. While my classmates have taken campus forward, I fear that past will be future if action is not taken.

The University is making critical steps towards diversity and inclusion, but work still needs to be done. The culture that UA fosters is a breeding ground for childish, petty secret societies. Many who are selected to elite groups and honor societies, win awards and are tapped on the Mound are awarded for their allegiance to old Southern “values” rather than true merit. Many opportunities continue to solely be based on who you know, and all too often many are overlooked because those with the power to enact change refuse to see outside of their metaphorical bubble. To see those who have never had opportunity. To see those who continue to be excluded. These are testaments to the power-hungry exclusive culture that UA breeds amongst its students, but it does not and should not be this way.

And yet, the path for positive change is met with still more roadblocks of tradition. Fraternity and sorority houses are knocked down and rebuilt on the same land, even more lavish than before, while the University refuses to build safe spaces or accommodate minority fraternity and sorority houses. Buildings names of white supremacists, slave owners and eugenists need to be removed or signs need to be placed to acknowledge the wicked past of those whom they glorify. Men’s honor societies, who in 2016, only extend one hat to a black man and see nothing wrong with it, need to end. Fraternities should not have parties that openly celebrate Confederates and klansmen, where they dress the part and continue to live out the values of the past by refusing to admit minority students, by claiming it is part of their “heritage.” Whose history and heritage are you really claiming? UA must take a stand against these and many other blatant injustices because the reputation of this University is degraded and the value of our degrees is reduced with each front page scandal highlighted by national and international news organizations.

I am proud of the leaders who have fought and sacrificed for a better tomorrow. Every day I walk on campus, I am proud of the progress that has been made during my short four years here. It gives me great joy to see realms of campus available to all and not a few. I know that I will not get to enjoy the same privileges new students do, but seeing opportunities granted that were once denied to me and to those who look like me brings me great joy, happiness and pride.

What we have done has opened doors for other students that follow us. We do not take the credit, but bask in the potential impact that will be made on future leaders. As we pass the torch on to those who follow, I only hope you too, will ensure that the doors opened for you are continue to stay open for those who follow, that you will continue to be a beacon of light and do good for the world, for Alabama, and this University.

On May 7th, I will walk across the stage to receive my degree, and my grandmother will be there to witness such a momentous event. I hope she will not hide her tears as she has tried to do before. They are signs of struggle, progress, hope and most importantly, pride. I know she is proud of me; proud to see what was impossible for her, possible for me. I only hope even more will be possible for you.

Vel Lewis is a senior majoring in public relations and political science. She has served as Student Chair of the Blackburn Institute, Director of Multicultural Affairs for the Student Government Association, and Historian for The XXXI Women’s Honor Society. In addition, she is the recipient of the 2016 Autherine Lucy Foster Award. After graduation, she will be moving to France to teach English.