Steven Oliver and Kendra Key met in the contest for the student government presidency at the University of Alabama this year.

More than fourteen thousand students, well over half the campus population, voted — the most in UA history. The race was close, with less than two percentage points separating the two candidates. But in the end Olvier, a white man, defeated Key, a black woman, by two hundred and sixty-one votes.

UA is the flagship campus of Alabama’s state university system, and it has never had a black student body president. In the fourteen years since its current student government was established, seventeen students of color have run for campus-wide office. All have lost. 

Race is not the only factor in Alabama’s student government elections, of course. (The campus’s student body is more than eighty-five percent white, to start with, which means the majority of Key’s support came from white students.) Oliver ran with heavy support from fraternities and sororities, and the divide between greeks and independents played a major role in the campaign.

But the fact that UA’s student officers have been — and remain — all white has significant consequences for the student government, and the campus as a whole. UA’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, grapples with those consequences in two articles — here and here.