UA elitism causes barriers to success

Ian Sams

I can mark the night of Wednesday, March 4, 2009, as the moment perfectly reflective of my time at The University of Alabama. In a crowded apartment at the Bluff, surrounded by two or three dozen friends and strangers, I sat with Kendra Key as she lost the SGA presidency. After two days and 14,000 votes, she came up short, losing by 261 votes.

Over the next two years, it seems like I’ve often come up 261 votes short. Or one vote short. But, almost always, short.

Campus politics, for a century now, have been closed. The Machine, even during times of growth and broad progress at the University, grasps their power tightly. If other students—namely independents and non-Machine greeks (but increasingly non-Machine backed students from Machine greek houses)—gain positions of influence, then it’s always on their terms.

Many often critique that if independents would simply vote, then they would win every election and own influence in most corners of campus. But that criticism fundamentally denies the power of hopelessness among our university’s largest segment of students.

Time and time again, I’ve met that hopelessness swiftly and painfully, and people I know and love have been bitten by it. Fundamentally, most students at this university feel their voices could never make it into the arena, so they’ve simply given up.

And I can’t blame them.

But what’s become ever more apparent throughout my time here is that the barriers don’t simply spawn from some fraternity’s dark basement on a Sunday night.

The Honors College, with its well intended but all too exclusive programs, seems to pick the winners from day one. The elite are chosen on the basis of their high school merits, and those students remain coddled by the University throughout their times here.

Just look at this year’s list of UA Premier Award winners. The awards are deemed “the highest honors” students can receive at Alabama, and this year four of the six student recipients are University Fellows, members of the elite program housed in the Honors College. Two of the winners, from their first days on campus, were paired with UA President Robert Witt and UA Provost Judy Bonner as faculty mentors.

It’s not a conspiracy; but it is a glaring correlation. Giving students access to the top two officials on campus as incoming freshman has an effect. The odds of their success, with these mentorships, are undeniably higher than those of most other students.

But, again, it doesn’t end in the Honors College.

At this very newspaper, I’ve seen an elite mentality develop. The Crimson White used to give the students who sought truth on this campus an outlet. Now, on too many days, it seems to be little more than a newsletter or calendar for campus events.

Diversity in the Honors College became a pressing question for campus, and this newspaper stopped investigating. Sweeping changes were made to how SGA elections are conducted, and the CW never asked a question. And even last week, the first independent elected to lead a political branch of the SGA since 1986 took the reins of the SGA Senate, and the paper saw it as the third most important story of the day.

The CW has decided that it will unilaterally pick what’s news and what isn’t.

So, can we really be surprised that many students come up short at UA? Isn’t it clear by this point that unless you’re greek, or an elite Honors student, or someone with an in at the newspaper that you may have barriers to success on campus?

Recently, it’s been the buzz on campus to talk about progress. In truth, I believe we’re moving forward (though this column, to the unfamiliar eye, may suggest otherwise).

But if we’re going to be serious about progress, if we’re going to create a united front to tackle the issue of student equality on this campus, we’ve got to take a hard look at the institutions we create and maintain—beyond just the greek system—and the elitism we seem to readily uphold.


Ian Sams is a senior majoring in political science.