Alabama Was Amazing
Alabama was amazing. It is truly my favorite stop so far. It went smoothly; well, smoother than we all thought it would go. The trouble was that Oakwood University sent an e-mail to all their students that not only let their students know we were coming, but told them that if they felt ‘unsafe’ to call Campus Police and also that we were ‘trained very well and any form of debate would be fruitless and unsuccessful’. It really sounded as if they painted us as a militant group looking to cause trouble. Well, it scared us because the last thing we wanted was students thinking we were out to push any sort of agenda at all costs.
Anyway, our Bus was led to a building so far off campus, in such a roundabout way, that no student saw us. According to a “source” we were led to the Health building that is only technically on campus. We were ushered into a room with photographers and video cameras and although we were treated respectfully (and by this I mean people shook our hands and introduced themselves and we were offered seating) there were about 6 to 10 students and the rest of the people were administrators and faculty. The seating was in rows with an aisle down the middle, and at the front was a pulpit; decked out with a bold cross. It was set up for service, yet the paper that was handed out stated “Dialogue” albeit in quotation marks. It was almost painful to see my fellow Riders so nervous, because I love and care for each one.
It was slow to begin, but as uncomfortable as it was to talk to each other a nice flow of conversation ensued. I want to extend my thanks to those students who acted so bravely. They reminded us why we travel around leaving jobs, friends, loved ones, and other comforts. We redirected attempts to reduce our whole identities to a sex act eloquently and Oakwood students brought the conversation back to common ground and shared Christian values beautifully. After an hour that quenched no one’s thirst, they ushered us into lunch. There we were able to continue “dialogue” with students as cameras inches from our faces worked furiously to annoy, distract, and intimidate. We were not allowed any type of releases on this material, as our acceptance to speak to students on campus “annulled our right to refuse to be photographed”. We have also not been told how this material will be used. And, of course, we were not allowed to photograph or videotape. If I wasn’t as resolute in my love for God, this display would have shaken my faith. Most of the people there were Theology professors, ministers and preachers; the students were all Theology majors (as fitting of the criteria “the list of invited Oakwood staff and students” had to fulfill to attend). And yet as the strangers, the foreigners, the marginalized, and the oppressed we were treated with disrespect and injustice. Even as I write this, I feel pressured to erase the words and be grateful for what we were given as I am sure Oakwood would like us to be. But I’m outraged that I should be happy with crumbs as they ate so fully in front of me.
If the school would have given us a proper welcome, let us speak to those students that really needed to speak with us. If the administrators would have treated as full human beings and allowed us the intellectual dialogue and not stood between the possible relationships that as Equality Riders we strive for, than we would not have felt the need to rally outside campus. Our intent was to hold a vigil; however, students began arriving almost immediately and they wanted to talk! Imagine that! Adult college educated people interested in learning about others. It was an interesting stop for me. Our last few stops had been primarily White schools and communities in which I felt as if on the perimeter of all conversation and social interaction. It actually wasn’t very noticeable until I started speaking with students at Oakwood, a Historically Black Institution (HBI). Once I did, I felt more comfortable. And that’s all I can say about that, only because some things have no words.
Students followed us to Chilli’s and even to our hotel lobby afterwards to continue conversations and talk about their own experiences. It was quite noticeable that students were outraged at how we were treated, the policy against LGBTQ students, and many policies that were oppressive for all students. Even though I came away with a feeling of fear, fear that once we left students would feel like there were too many problems for students to fix, the connections we made with LGBTQ students on campus lead me to believe that in the very least, we spread hope and affirmation. And that’s pretty okay with me, too.