Your energy is precious: a letter to my colleagues, friends, and students at the University of Alabama

Your energy should not be needed to justify your own humanity. School – and any endeavor – takes time and energy. Being placed in an environment where your value is under constant scrutiny is not just dehumanizing, is not just demoralizing, it is limiting.

When a student group at the University of Alabama (Students for America First) announced that they were inviting white nationalist Jared Taylor to speak on campus, it was no surprise. When the University’s immediate response was slow and weak, it was no surprise. It’s never a surprise when marginalized students are further alienated from their peers, and when the University itself is complacent.

I – like many of us – have contemplated leaving. None of us signed up to be treated like this. Many of my peers are treated poorly in different ways. People of color contend with not just structural racism, but overt racism (see Taylor, see commentary on the rise of Trump in Alabama and KKK activity on UA’s campus, see more of the same commentary, including racist graffiti on campus – warning, it is extremely graphic hate speech directed at black people, see an earlier analysis of Students for America First), women contend with sexism, trans people experience transphobia, queer people of all kinds regardless of their sexuality deal with homophobia (see my experiences as a queer person in Alabama), and if I’ve missed a marginalized community that is treated poorly inside the walls of this institution, it is because there are too many to count.

This place doesn’t just extinguish lives – as it did with Megan Rondini, and the many slaves owned by the University, including Moses, Jack, and Isaac – it extinguishes time. It’s time that never comes back, because in order to achieve our dreams we have to overcome the barriers that prevent us from getting there. So many have done this before us, so many had barriers impossible to overcome. But that does not excuse those that still exist. Yes, to gain an education is to struggle in some way, but there are impediments which are in no way related to furthering some legitimate pedagogical goal.

Institutions which care about their students don’t foist upon them the labor of correcting the trajectory of past wrongs. They do not leave the work to just one or two departments, or create token positions to give the minimal illusion of engagement (even though the people in those positions are often earnest in their desire to help). They are proactive in engaging with students, responding to needs, creating programs and opportunities for those who might otherwise slip through the cracks. At the University of Alabama, they too often slip through. Like I said, so many of us have contemplated leaving. That is not to say that everyone who leaves is giving up on some dream – but there are certainly too many for whom this is a reality. For many, the energy required just to exist in a place which has never embraced you is such an affront to their dignity that they must leave.

I am writing this to implore everyone here to think about the obstacles that stand in your way. If they are few, seriously engage with others and you will see that this is not universally the case. This institution needs to stop claiming our time. It is not for us to reclaim it, it is for them to give it back.

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