When I first heard the news, I didn’t know how to truly put my feelings into words or what action to take next. I remember feeling livid, and honestly void of hope for this place I call home. The disappointment I still feel toward this institution at this moment is profound and is not only felt by me but countless other students as well. Dr. Riley’s hiring made me truly believe that The University of Alabama was taking a step in the right direction in terms of equity and inclusion. We were sticking true to being a place that fosters diversity of opinion.
Even though he was only here for six months, Dr. Riley left a positive impact on a multitude of students. An example that really sticks out in my mind was his presence at the inaugural BRIDGE: A Men of Color Initiative this summer. This was a program that helped incoming students as men of color gain a true community on campus and learn how to navigate the sometimes curvy road the University has for minorities who try to accomplish a great deal here. It was abundantly clear how much respect those 70 young men had for him when he spoke or entered a room; everyone sat up a little straighter in his presence. He was a true sign that education was the key for many people and that you can move up a system while still being able to speak your mind and voice your opinion, even if they might be unpopular.
His impact was not limited to the African American population at the University, as many experienced the support and genuine care exemplified by Dr. Riley. He always went out of his way to speak to students, to see how they were doing, what they were involved in, if there was anything he could do to help them grow and if there was any way he could help them to better voice their opinions. Unlike a lot of people and organizations at this university, Dr. Riley was the Capstone Creed personified, and he put everyone else ‐ students, especially ‐ above himself.
Whether you agree or disagree with the content of the media that came under scrutiny is irrelevant. What truly matters is his ability to express it with the context in which he does, and that is something that is protected. It shouldn’t be so that the person hired to share diverse opinions over an inclusive office be dismissed for sharing such things. However, just because Dr. Riley is no longer at The University of Alabama doesn’t mean his presence is no longer felt and his mission no longer stands.
I want students and faculty to realize that they should stay strong in their convictions and beliefs and have the confidence to speak their minds when they want to. Never let someone take away your voice. Rep. John Lewis stated, “When you see something not right, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something and stand up for what’s right,” and now is one of those times. If you truly believe in our Capstone Creed and believe in diversity of opinion, I challenge you to step up, have your voice heard and show it.