The Woke Community and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Alabama

Posted on June 27, 2023


What is “woke?” It used to be being awake, rather than sleeping. But today it is about being “politically correct,” a term I first remember hearing in the 1960s. In fact, the word woke has been politicized in the twenty-first century.

In 2017 Merriam Webster’s dictionary added this definition: “chiefly US slang …aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” And, according to the dictionary, “it describes someone who has ‘woken up’ to issues of social injustice,” as if Black people needed to be reminded of the 1960s and 1970s as we transitioned from segregation to full rights for all.

“Woke” became a calling card of those calling for “equity” for all. Instead of calling for equality, as expressed in the Constitution, equity called for all to be judged, and rewarded, just for being a member of a minority or race, such as Blacks, lesbian men and women (the LGBTQ community), or ethnic minorities for example, Hispanics, etc.

As Merriam-Webster explained it, “the word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

If you are woke, you firmly believe all whites are by definition racists and inescapable of freeing themselves from racism. This is the theory of “white fragility” which is, BTW, taught by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion division at the University of Alabama. In fact, woke became inextricably associated with correct educational structures, especially higher education, across America.

At odds with woke was the philosophy of “work” which was associated with the old, and traditional, way of advancing in college or university life for example. It was marked by accepting applicants from their grade scores and general knowledge examinations such as the SATs and ACTs and they advanced in college and university life according not only to their skills and knowledge, but also by—let’s be clear here—hard work in the classrooms and labs of higher education.

I taught at the University of Alabama for over forty years and I never—let me be absolutely clear—awarded a grade or wrote a recommendation for anything other than how a student did in my classes, whether freshman level or Ph.D. candidates. To say that there were often a lot of other factors at work, from well-off sorority girls from primo neighborhoods and high schools in Birmingham for example, to a young man from a rural county to the south of Tuscaloosa who, like presidential candidate Tim Scott of South Carolina today, worked his way up from a very tough economic and racial background, goes without saying, but, nonetheless, needs to be said.

All state universities are immensely diverse and rightly so. That’s what we are looking for: not necessarily diversity for its own sake, but for a range of students who represent the best our State and our country has to offer by way of preparation. I like to use the example of certainly the most famous element at the University of Alabama in America. Let’s be honest. It’s football. There sure are some legends in Alabama football but the question we need to ask is how Coach Nick Saban, and before him Bear Bryant, did or in Saban’s case still do it.

Crimson Tide Football Team Coming on the Field

Did they follow the rules and principles of UA’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? Does Coach recruit according to the percentage of racial categories represented by the State’s population, so many Whites, so many Blacks, so many Hispanics, so many Asian-Americans, and let’s not forget the LGBTQs. Does he look at the economic status of those he recruits–so many from the lower class, so many from the upper class, and let’s not forget a few Californians and New Yorkers to give the team the right national credentials, although girls still haven’t made it on the team. I think Vanderbilt had a girl kicker a few years ago. Go girl.

You know as well as I how Coach recruits: it’s skill, strength, speed, desire and probably a few other attributes I forgot to mention. Why doesn’t UA apply the same standards, replacing speed and strength with examination scores, extracurricular activities in high school (how about volunteering to take care of poor or indigent kids who need tutors and examples of older brothers and sisters for example), and ensure they have the right stuff to succeed at the University.

Not everyone is endowed with the same attributes. I made it in college (Duke if you are curious) in spite of my scores and interest of near zero in mathematics. In fact, as I joke sometimes, I took my one required semester of calculus twice since I liked it so much. You get the point.

While we are at it, let’s ask: How are children doing in K-12 under the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Woke rules? In the latest magazine of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (Past & Present, Spring 2023) we read ”In 2022, the test scores of eighth graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in history continued a decline begun in 2014. Scores in civics also fell and were essentially in line with scores from the 1990s. Forty percent of students scored below a basic level of knowledge in U. S. history, and only two-thirds of students reported taking a class mainly focused on U.S. history.”

UA no longer requires ACT or SAT scores for those applying for admission. And here’s an interesting tidbit for you parents and alumni. “Admission …will be based on a holistic review.”

A holistic review? I had to look it up in my Merriam-Websters. Holistic basically means taking into account the whole person which includes “both academic and non-academic criteria.” I kind of liked that, since a young person should be engaged in his or her community in some fashion. My oldest granddaughter is into running and at sixteen is doing great in track. She also scored one of the highest scores on the last SAT she took, has straight As, but her mom is a successful plastic surgeon, they live in an upscale community outside of Atlanta, and grandaugher is White. She knows the University of Georgia, with a vigorous DEI program like here at Alabama, will not take her: too many smart Whites already. So Caroline is headed off to Georgia Tech which apparently still likes to get the smart kids on board.

How do you know if they will do well in college? Ah, there’s the rub. You don’t if you don’t have any validation from test and admissions scores. But—and here we return to the subject of woke a bit deeper—if you have the right credentials in race and ethnicity for example, you will be admitted over an Asian American who scored the pants off the SATs and ACTs.

It happened at the University of California, Berkeley. They admitted so many Asian-Americans who were much better prepared than Whites, Hispanics, or Blacks that they had to back off the normal forms for determining admission and turn to a more “holistic” approach, one that ensured equity in the admission process.

What is equity in the admission process? It is virtually everyone admitted who is not a traditionally normal White, basically to ensure an increasing percentage of minorities and odd spinoffs of sexual types in the student body. Is the effectiveness of the college or university embracing equity affected? You bet it is. That, perhaps, for another column.

But a short look at the data tells us that after ten years of DEI in universities across the country, and only six or seven since it was officially created here at UA, students are graduating with diminished performances in such areas as writing, math, history, really across the board. Aren’t we supposed to be getting better? Under Woke and DEI we are going downhill. If Nick were to start his first three games this fall with big losses, what do you think the reaction would be among the faithful?

Parents, you want to send your kids here with high expectations like yours twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago, and they come out one step beyond dummies with few job prospects and an immense amount of anxiety, stress, depression, and even suicidal? Think about it.

UA historically was segregated and only in the late 1950s and early 1960s did it begin to admit Blacks, like Autherine Lucy. I don’t know if Autherine was the smartest kid in admissions scores in her day. I suspect she was. But she NEEDED to be admitted, as did the Black students who followed her, to bring segregation in education to an end here in Alabama.

There are exceptions to the general rules and we need to recognize them. We do, still, have an open society where debate and discussion should be encouraged and not shut down forcefully by the Wokes who do not tolerate different perspectives and points of view. As the old saying goes for them, and the Woke community in general whatever you label them—radical progressives, politically correct, BLM idealogues, etc.—“it’s my way or the highway.”

There is the third way, described in the documents from our Independence period in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You know the best of them as well as I do, Thomas Jefferson leading the pack with “all men are created equal.” That was an ideal we still subscribe to even though it was an ideal when first expressed and one we have tried to live up to over the centuries.

I have dozens of other points but will stop here to listen to you, the readers. Send me your ideas and, even better, the data to sustain the generalities. I am firm believer that two sources provide us with all the answers to our questions and concerns: one is Scripture and the other is true history, not one thrown at me by those picking and choosing what they wish to hear or believe.

And the saying I often turn to when in a quandary or dilemma is “do the right thing.” It’s simple but profound. What is the right thing? It’s calling upon the Bible and our history to guide us today, and into the future.

And, why not ask UA to sponsor a colloquium or seminar open to the public, and including speakers from across the spectrum of academic and political backgrounds, and address the question. Has “Woke” been successful in higher education?