Alabama editor reflects on yearPublished 9:32pm Thursday, May 8, 2014
When I was young, I would rummage through my mother’s dresser drawers. I loved her, and so I wanted a glance into her life – the details of her preferences, the objects of her comfort, the evidence of her history.
I remember seeing a flash of bright red underneath old T-shirts, just enough to allow curiosity to replace whatever mission I was on before. I pulled at a corner until the fabric gave way. It was her tattered sorority shirt, red with gold trim and giant Greek symbols for “chi” and “omega.” It was a relic of the past, no doubt tucked away since college, having traveled with every move simply due to the daunting time required to comb through faint reminders of what was.
I loved it. To me, the fade signified love, the frays signified history, the holes signified the unknown.
One day, though, my mom threw it away. And I cried.
Many years later, as I was preparing to leave my small high school behind, I struggled with the idea of the person I wanted to become. Before I even set foot on The University of Alabama’s campus, I had to decide if I wanted to join a sorority. It would automatically be a guiding force to help me through the transition into college life. But I never considered myself a sorority girl.
My decision was finally determined with advice from my mom: “I think you’ll regret it if you don’t try it. You’ll always wonder ‘What if?’” So I joined Chi Omega sorority. I have made the best friends, learned how to get involved and been encouraged to make good grades. I was shown through example what a female leader looked like and was inspired to do so in my own capacity.
But this year, I was shown the ugly side of leadership, the side that pushes aside individual thought for the protection of an unwavering brand, the side that abandons those who don’t agree. At the University, leadership has become the avoidance of conflict, the maintenance of tradition and the continuance of the brand. Too often, people latch on to the idea of an organization, an abstract construction that holds no true worth, and value systems and moral integrity get lost in the resulting attachment to loyalty.
But real leaders speak up, speak out and make a change. Real leadership is not joining a group because it’s the best. Real leadership is joining a group because you think it has the opportunities to make you stronger and you have the skills to improve it. It’s pointing out flaws and fixing them. It’s always taking time to self-reflect and improve weaknesses. It’s making decisions that are true to your value system but that may make you unpopular, trusting that it will naturally, or eventually, be what is best for the group and for those who follow.
For the first time in my life, I am OK with being unpopular, and I am OK with the criticism that comes with speaking out. Because for the first time in my life, I am the person, and the leader, that I want to be.
When people ask me about the past year, the first thing that comes to mind is anger. I am mad at some in my sorority for treating me like a traitor; at the administration for denying problems like Machine control and First Amendment infringements to The Crimson White; at campus leaders for wanting only to discuss crucial issues on campus or doing nothing at all and at students for continuing the pointless Greek vs. non-Greek battle.
People so easily displace their values for the theoretical idea of an organization, its brand and its reputation. We are so quick to adhere to rules and regulations, often forgetting the ethical frameworks and the individual thought that are pushed aside by them. When we do this, we lose our humanity, and, with it, any ability to think for ourselves.
My experiences over the past year have caused me to become extremely cynical. It is hard as a journalist not to be. But with every dishonest and narrow-minded comment, written or spoken, comes just as many that are honest, empowering, thoughtful and beautiful. I have seen the power of young minds, good service and strong ideas.
I have helped give students a voice to speak out against injustice, and I have heard the victory cries of it being overcome. I have witnessed both the yelled and whispered appreciation from the vast dichotomies that divide this campus, who have found common ground in righting a wrong.
And I am constantly enamored by the inherent bad and the unwavering good in human beings.
But even more so, I am enamored by our ability to grow. For the majority of people, mistakes are made and learned from. Problems are highlighted and fixed. Inconsistencies are pinpointed and cleaned up. We have the ability to self-reflect and develop. It is a wonderful thing. But we must never forget to keep doing it.
So, when I think a bit longer, the second thing that comes to mind is the power of people.
We have witnessed amazing changes at The University of Alabama, all because a small group of young men and women, students about to enter a world of extreme responsibilities and consequences, could sift through a conformity of thought and ideas to recognize their own value system, and act on it.
And so although that T-shirt gives you comfort and wraps you in its warmth, don’t forget that it is only a T-shirt, with its fade, its frays and its holes. You are always more than the body it encompasses and takes in as its own. and you have more to give than the loyalties it demands.
Mazie Bryant, granddaughter of Troy resident Wiley White, was the Editor in Chief of The Crimson White. This column is reprinted from that newspaper.