The following letter is reprinted from an email sent to UA president Stuart Bell, interim vice president of student life Kathleen Cramer, vice president for strategic communications Linda Bonnin and dean of the graduate school Susan Carvahlo by GeColby Youngblood, a student affairs professional at Tennessee State University.
The original subject line was titled, “Disappointed Former Prospective Ph.D. Student | G. Youngblood” and the email was sent on Friday, Sept. 6 at 7:05 p.m. Youngblood told The Crimson White his opinions are his own and in no way is he speaking on behalf of Jamie R. Riley, who recently resigned from his position as dean of students at the University of Alabama.
This morning, I opened my Twitter application to learn, via several sources, that a prominent colleague, Dr. Jamie Riley is no longer employed by the University of Alabama. Although I am familiar with the standard “we cannot comment on issues regarding personnel” general statement, I have very carefully considered letting each of you know that I am, now, a very disappointed, former prospective student of the University of Alabama.
I am a full-time student affairs professional at Tennessee State University, in Nashville. I have accumulated nearly 10 years of experience working in both higher education and K-12; and now, I am looking to apply for Ph.D. programs to advance my career. I had hesitantly considered applying to the University of Alabama. It is relatively close to my current home in Nashville and to immediate family in my home state: Mississippi. There is a commercial that regularly plays on the radio (Nashville is Music City) that brags about the University of Alabama being where “Legends Are Made.” And, even more influential, there had been my Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother and former Executive Director, Dr. Jamie Riley, serving as the University’s Dean of Students.
So, when I saw my good brother’s face plastered all over Twitter this morning, accompanied by the caption “resigned,” my stomach churned. I frantically read the tweets and the original article to grasp for a reasonable answer. But I never found one. To my disappointment, that article, published by Jessica Reid Bolling of The Crimson White, reported that Dr. Riley apparently had “resigned after pictures of past tweets surface.” I read that full article, including Dr. Riley’s alleged tweets.
Afterward, I kept circling back to a part in the article that states Dr. Riley’s alleged tweets had allegedly been reported to the University of Alabama by “Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative” website. The article stated that Dr. Riley had tweeted that the “American flag” and the “police” are racist.
This information made me question several things:
1) Did the University of Alabama engage an ultra-conservative, unaffiliated (so I assume) political group?
2) Did that group develop credibility—or, at the very least, access to communicate with the University regarding a vetted, senior-level employee?
3) Was there somehow a misstatement of fact, lacking historical context, on Dr. Riley’s behalf?
4) Why did Dr. Riley resign in such close proximity to these alleged actions, and in less than a year after accepting an awesome opportunity?
One can only guess. But after developing context, I understood, and then I became angry.
I thought: “here is the University of Alabama, again, being a historically racist institution, to the detriment of a Black person.”
Dr. Riley’s alleged tweets, although apparently years old, helped me recall that the University of Alabama is still the same college where the former Governor of Alabama stood outside of a campus building to block the entrance and hinder the enrollment and integration of its first two Black students. Those tweets reminded me that Alabama police once commanded dogs to attack peaceful Civil Rights protestors, blasted them with the full pressure of a water hose connect to a fire hydrant, and beat them from one side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge back to the other.
Those tweets refreshed my memory that Alabama is where white supremacists bombed a church and killed 4 little Black girls. Those tweets helped me recall that an Alabama officer arrested a middle-aged Black woman, Rosa Parks, for refusing her seat to a white person, even though she had sat down first after a full day’s work. Those tweets reinforced the fact that Montgomery, Alabama, is the former capital of the Confederate States of America—a region that claimed to profit under capitalism but suffered losing a war in hopes of retaining the right to refuse paying slaves for their labor. Those tweets reminded me that all of this happened in America—in Alabama.
Is the University of Alabama committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity in University leadership?
Is it committed to those ideas in any of its comprehensive functions?
Why do I feel the need to ask myself these questions?
Who else is asking themselves these questions?
Dr. Riley’s tweets helped me realize a truth: the University of Alabama is a privileged academic space idolized by a state that, arguably, owns one of the most racist histories in the world—a hubris space, that is not, and never wants to be, a space intended for me, nor other prospective scholars like me.
Perhaps, the University of Alabama is where “Legends Are Made”—but must it always develop greatness from the wrong side of history?
GeColby J. Youngblood, M.Ed.
Men’s Initiative, Program Coordinator/Success Coach
Tennessee State University