Avoiding Racial Justice at AlabamaRoundup
tags: racism, desegregation, colleges and universities, Autherine Lucy, University of Alabama
Antar A. Tichavakunda is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Cincinnati and author of Black Campus Life: The Worlds Black Students Make at a Historically White Institution.
The University of Alabama fumbled its recent changing of the name of the building that houses the College of Education.
The building was originally named after a once Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan and two-term governor of Alabama, Bibb Graves. Following sustained activism from students pushing for a more inclusive campus, the University of Alabama system Board of Trustees voted Feb. 3 to rename the building after the first Black University of Alabama student, Autherine Lucy Foster—but rather than remove Graves’s name entirely, the board initially opted to rename the building Lucy-Graves Hall.
The decision was met with swift critique and pushback, and the Board of Trustees voted Friday to remove Graves’s name completely and rename the building Autherine Lucy Hall. The damage, however, had already been done. By initially keeping Graves’s name, UA ignored the unwritten university playbook of responding to demands for racial equity.
Any playbook worth its salt involves an element of deception. Playbooks are about trickery. Playbooks outline methods to disguise intentions within the formations of players. Consider a play-action fake in football. A fake handoff is used to distract opponents from the true intention, a pass. The handoff was never the goal. The goal was deception and distraction.
The University of Alabama is like many other historically white institutions of higher education. HWIs are alike in that they have a history of alienating and excluding nonwhite students. The policies, traditions, symbols and practices at HWIs were designed by and for white people. HWIs also use a similar playbook to respond to demands for racial equity. Across the nation, such universities leverage racial symbols rather than taking meaningful, more costly, steps to racial justice and redress.
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