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Press Release:

UA Announces Steps to Further Recognize Its African-American History

TUSCALOOSA, Ala., April 15, 2004 – The University of Alabama academic community is taking several steps to more formally recognize the African-American history of its campus and by the fall 2004 semester will establish an administrative unit focusing on diversity and inclusiveness issues, UA President Robert E. Witt announced today.

“The University has made dramatic progress in recent decades,” Witt said. “The progress we have made is because we are a community. The progress that is to be made in the future will come from the strength of this community.”

Witt’s comments also included praise for the students who formed the Coalition for Change and developed a proposal to “help make the campus a more welcoming and culturally diverse institution.”

Among the steps announced are:

  • Placement of a historic marker near the grave sites of two slaves buried in an on-campus cemetery.
  • Placement of historical markers recognizing three buildings behind the UA President’s Mansion as former slaves’ cabins and work rooms and preparation of a brief written history of those buildings.
  • Establishment of an administrative unit to focus on diversity and inclusiveness. Since January, a University task force has been reviewing the need for a multicultural center including discussion of how such a unit would function on campus and how it might be organized. The task force will complete their report in May. The unit’s focus, location and administrative reporting channel will be decided after the task force report is reviewed. A decision will be made within 60 days.
  • Re-submission of an application for a federal historic marker to be located near Foster Auditorium, the site of former Gov. George Wallace’s unsuccessful 1963 stand to block two African-American students from integrating UA.
  • Creation of an advisory group comprised of former and current UA leaders to make recommendations on the best way to honor the memory of the pioneers and the unique historical role of Foster Auditorium. Witt announced that Vivian Malone Jones, UA’s first African-American graduate; former UA President Joab Thomas; former UA Trustee Cordell Wynn; Andre Taylor, the first African-American president of the UA National Alumni Association; and former UA administrator Dr. John L. Blackburn are among those who will serve on the advisory group.
  • Inclusion of more references to UA’s African-American history, including the slaves’ grave sites in African-American heritage tours, slave cabins in President’s Mansion tours, and specific acknowledgement of the historical significance of Foster Auditorium.
  • Recommendation to the faculty curriculum committee that it review UA’s core curriculum to ensure it adequately recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusiveness.
  • Establishment of monthly meetings attended by UA leaders for discussions of diversity issues with students.

Witt said UA is strongly committed to the continuation of its targeted hire program, designed to increase the number of minority faculty and administrators. Since 1991, the number of UA senior administrators who are African-American has grown from 2 percent to 9 percent.

“Have we made progress?” Witt asked. “Yes. Have we made sufficient progress? No. Are we committed to making an aggressive effort to continue to increase the numbers of African-American administrators, staff members and faculty? Yes.”

Witt said he had originally planned to announce steps toward promoting diversity as part of his address at the spring faculty/staff meeting April 21, but representatives of the student-formed Coalition for Change presented a proposal this week and asked for a quick response. He met with the students this morning. The student leaders and the president then met with the news media to discuss details of the plan. Witt commended the outstanding leadership of the students involved, Rondee Gaines, Zenobia Harris and Robert Turner.