Day 1 at The University of Alabama
It has been 8 years since my last first day of school. In fact, I can’t even recall what happened on that day in August back in 2004. It was simply another day, one that just so happened to be the start of my last semester at The University of Alabama. I’m sure a lot of upperclassmen felt that way. The semester went by, I graduated, I went in the real world, but I never left Tuscaloosa. First days of class have happened multiple times since I had my last one, and that concept started working the gears in my brain. What exactly does a first day of class look like now? What does it look like in 2012? I know the campus has changed since I was a student. New buildings have been erected. Enrollment is nearly double what it was when I first became a student. Technology has advanced to the point of nearly everyone being connected, whether it’s by phone, tablet, or laptop. Curiosity finally got the better of me because I decided to see what a first day of class looks like in 2012. Would it look different than it did in 2004?
The University of Alabama has kept its class schedule the same since I was a student so due to the first day of class being on Wednesday, August 22nd, classes operated at 50 minute increments starting at 8:00 A.M. I decided to arrive on campus just after 7:30 to witness those students stuck with early morning classes and to avoid any potential parking issues, since that has become a major concern due to the ever increasing enrollment numbers. As expected, there was moderate activity around the Ferguson Center, that’s the student union building for those not familiar with the layout of campus, and the various buildings surrounding it. Upperclassmen with a campus organization were in the process of serving breakfast to students in the courtyard as they walked to their first class of the day. I was even asked by three different students for directions to various points on campus. Outside of a few cosmetic changes here and there to buildings and decor, things weren’t really that different.
As more students started to arrive on campus, I started to notice the first real big difference of the day, and that’s the presence of smartphones and other connected devices. Back in 2004, people had cell phones, but they weren’t really smartphones while social media was still in its infancy to the point that Facebook didn’t come to The University of Alabama until November of that year. Now, like everywhere else, all the students have smartphones. The same goes for people using laptops or tablet devices. If I passed by students sitting on a bench or in the shade somewhere, there was a good chance they were using one of these devices. I’m not saying this as some old person bashing technology. Far from it. I’m usually checking things on my phone quite frequently and make no apologies for it. It was plain to see that the abundance of usage was by far one of the biggest differences from a first day of class in 2004.
I milled about outside for a little while longer until it was time for me to actually sit in on a college class. Specifically, it was Freshman Composition, otherwise known as English 101, which is a mandatory class every freshman must take. I wanted to get a chance to witness one of these classes because it really is something every freshman experiences on their first day of class, unless they have some bizarre scheduling quirk. Luck was on my side as Barry, a good friend of mine, offered to let me sit in on the section of the class that he instructed. I tried to blend in the best I could, but I got the impression the students knew I really didn’t belong in the class. It didn’t matter much, though, because their attention quickly turned to what to make of this new class situation. Watching the first day of this class reminded me a lot of my first day in the same class back in 2000. The students were apprehensive as some were experiencing their first college class overall, while the instructor did what he could to make them comfortable and relax. When the class went into an introduction/tell something about yourself segment, I fondly recalled doing the same thing when I was in the position of the students. Like most instances of this exercise, some were more open than others. Some couldn’t name an interesting aspect about themselves. Others had fascinating stories to tell. A lot of students came from places other than the state of Alabama, and it was personally rewarding to hear that there were fans of the New England Patriots and the Detroit Red Wings in the class. As Barry progressed to handing out the class syllabus, I snapped a few final photos and made a quiet but gracious exit.
Even though I got out of the class around 10:00 A.M., I made my way to the Ferguson Center because I knew the lunch rush was going to be hitting sooner rather than later. I was not off base in my guess. Even though I got a bite to eat around 10:30 A.M., the lines began to swell at the various options inside the student union building, some of these options being new while others being in the same spot I left them 8 years ago. I remember large crowds being present for lunch years ago, but it seems the numbers have gotten even bigger. The same goes with the issue of parking on campus, which was evident when I went out to look at a completely full lot right next to the Ferguson Center. Alabama keeps increasing enrollment each year, and while it has benefits, it also has drawbacks. Logistical issues still remain, and they will only get bigger if they aren’t addressed. Frankly, I don’t see the people with the power to address these issues all that anxious to do so.
I made a final stroll around campus after lunch and did decide to visit Reese Phifer Hall, which is where my major, Critical Studies in Television and Film, was housed with the rest of the communications majors. Like a lot of the places I visited, things looked familiar but did have new touches to them here and there. I couldn’t help but stop by and take a photo of students in room 216, the big auditorium class, as they were waiting for, based on my guess, MC 101, TCF 100, or TCF 112 to start. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When I left campus, I came to the realization that the first day of classes didn’t look all that different than what they did 8 years ago. Even though technology might be a bit different and a lot more students might be present, things really haven’t changed much. For freshmen, it was their first real day of a new chapter in their lives. For upperclassmen, at least a large number of them, it was just another day that so happened to be the first day of school. I imagine if I go on campus the first day of class 8 years from now there will be some visual differences, but overall, things will look rather similar. I just might have to do that if I’m still in Tuscaloosa at that point in time. If not, I might have to make a trip back.
The full collection of photos from this project can be viewed by visiting