Author Topic: TRAGIC LOSSES by David Evans  (Read 1895 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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TRAGIC LOSSES by David Evans
« on: March 02, 2010, 08:01:03 am »

Even in a world (and society) fraught with violence, most of us were jolted by the news from the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) on Friday, February 12, 2010, when four faculty members and a staff member were shot by a deranged assailant.  The randomness of the act made typical feelings of remorse and expressions of sympathy for the victims, their families, friends and colleagues seem somehow inadequate.  Personally, I wanted to know more than the headlines revealed; hence, I went online to do a little research.
When I learned that the three dead victims and one of the wounded were persons of color and the tragedy occurred in Alabama, I immediately thought “racial violence.”  Racism might have been a motive, but it wasn’t the kind long associated with that state and region.  What I discovered was a loss much greater than first perceived and an ironic example worthy of note by all institutions of higher learning throughout the country.
Before the shooting, the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Alabama at Huntsville had fourteen faculty members and five of them were persons of color.  I can think of no other predominantly white institution with such a percentage of diversity--especially in the sciences.  That all three of those killed (Professors G. K. Podila, Maria Davis and Adriel Johnson) and one of the wounded (Professor Luis Cruz-Vera) were persons of color magnifies the loss and accentuates the fragility of diversity in the workplace.  Incidentally, the department chair, Professor Podila, was of South Asian descent, Professors Davis and Johnson were African Americans and Professor Cruz-Vera is of Latino/Hispanic descent.
How ironic the diversity at UAH, when we remember that in 1963 Governor George C. Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” in a symbolic attempt to prevent Vivian Malone (the late sister-in-law of current U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder) and James Hood from integrating the main campus of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.  The irony extends beyond the exemplary record of the science faculty at UAH when we consider that the alleged assailant who wreaked so much havoc was not a Ku Klux Klansman from the South, but a person from the “liberal” North who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard.
These losses are incalculable when we consider the rarity of African American Ph.D.s in science, but I hope the example of the Biological Sciences Department at UAH will energize other colleges and universities to acknowledge that a diverse faculty is possible when there is genuine commitment.