The University of Alabama has always been embroiled in controversy. Campus buildings were reconstructed after being burned by Union troops in 1865, and in 1893, the first female students were enrolled into the university thanks to lobbying from Julia S. Tutwiler. Just as these events showed the indomitable spirit of the institution, there were also moments that showcased its ugly side. The most famous of these is the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door”, when Gov. George Wallace tried to physically block the entrance to Foster Auditorium to prevent African American students Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at the university.
Even before this moment, the enrollment of Autherine Lucy Foster as the first African American student at the University of Alabama in 1956 ended after a mere three days due to racist mobs threatening safety. Although Autherine Lucy Foster could not complete her time at the University then, she returned to pursue a master’s degree and graduated in 1992 with a master’s in education at the same time her daughter, Grazia Foster, graduated with her bachelors in corporate finance. Furthermore, the university awarded Foster with an honorary doctorate degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
Stories such as these have become enshrined as a part of UA history, especially the story of Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster. From the campus marker in front of Graves Hall to the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower, Foster’s legacy is present throughout campus and remains even more impactful for young women. Her influence is seen in the program Lucy’s Legacy. Lucy’s Legacy is a living-learning community for first-year female students, named in honor of Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster and housed in John England Jr. Hall. The program, though highlighting the experiences and history of women of color on the UA campus, is open to all first-year women and functions as a way for freshmen to transition to college life academically and socially.
Lucy’s Legacy first began in the Fall of 2019 and is the brainchild of Kiara Summerville, Assistant Director of First Year Experience. Summerville says, “The creation of this community was a way to continue the legacy of Autherine Lucy’s pathways that she created for women, particularly women of color to attend the university.”
Continuing this pathway, the women are required to take a Women’s Studies 200 course to highlight the intersections of being both Black and a woman, and they navigate campus life alongside their living-learning community. Composed of current Lucy’s Legacy members and their mentors, the program includes women from both in and out of state serving as a connection on campus.
These sentiments are echoed by Lucy’s Legacy alumna and mentor, Arianna Morse, “You really build community and connection and family, sisterhood,” she said. Morse, a sophomore majoring in Secondary Education English, is from Auburn, GA and was initially interested in the program because coming from out of state to a Predominantly White Institution complicated the normal difficulties of making friends and adjusting to campus life. Being a part of the first class of Lucy’s Legacy helped to solidify relationships with fellow community members beyond the program that are replicated through the current freshman class and their own connections.
Just as Morse questioned the idea of community and how that would look for her, another out of state student and current Lucy’s Legacy member, Jazzmine Burge, had similar questions. “Some students before they hit their first year at UA, they hear like, you know, maybe rumors or myths or horror stories about, the state of Alabama and being an African American woman or male,” she said. Rumors and stories aside, Lucy’s Legacy placed the UA campus in a different light for Burge with the living-learning community playing a large role in that perception. “I was actually going to be able to be around people of my color or people that have the same mindset of everything else of me,” Burge said.
Similarities have formed the foundation for connection among Lucy’s Legacy members. Just as this organization speaks to the care and development of young Black women and women of color, there is also an organization that speaks to young Black men and men of color known as BRIDGE. BRIDGE also began in the Fall of 2019 with goals of creating a legacy at the University by supporting men of color through creating a vision plan, forming a community and learning about being a UA student. The involvement of Asst. Director Kiara Summerville along with UA faculty and staff formed the BRIDGE committee that worked together to enhance the young men’s time at UA as both productive and enjoyable.
Both of these programs hold a special place for Summerville, as she said, “I always tell people, BRIDGE and Lucy’s Legacy for me is a way of reaching back into my own undergraduate experience. So, I was very involved as a student leader, but I can’t say that there were, that I had access to a large number of, Black faculty or staff, to support me. I had faculty and staff support, but they were not necessarily, people of color, some of them were, but not all the time.”
Support from like-minded individuals is shown through BRIDGE members’ participation in the program, as demonstrated by current member sophomore Thomas Rodgers. Following advice from his sister, a current Lucy’s Legacy mentor, and his friends led to his interest in BRIDGE. “It was an amazing way for us to learn that we are not alone here on this campus and for us to like, just remember that, we’re here for us basically, and this is the place where we can keep our paths going,” Rodgers said.
Being a support system for one another is a prominent part of BRIDGE and applies to both BRIDGE members and mentors, known as BRIDGE Builders. As a BRIDGE Builder, this relationship is discussed through terms of accountability by current mentor, Brekeese Pierce. “Being able to hold me accountable, having that representation, seeing other men of color, who are driven just as much as you are, who are doing big things in the community and have a clear purpose and vision. I think that’s very imperative,” he said. Pierce, a junior from Huntsville, AL, elaborates on this through comments about the importance of seeing fellow Black men as confident and as an uplifting image against negative stereotypes.
Programs such as Lucy’s Legacy and BRIDGE are communities of connection through friendship and support that extends beyond campus grounds. Despite being young organizations, their work will leave a lasting impact for generations to come and allow students of color to form their own stories in bridging historical divides.