University of Alabama Moves to End Segregated Sorority System

After more than a century of discrimination – and a week of bad publicity – the school will allow black women to join white sororities

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Michelle Lepianka Carter / AP

Potential new sorority members during the annual Fall Formal Sorority Recruitment on the campus of the University of Alabama on Aug. 16, 2012

Nearly a week after the University of Alabama came under fire for persistent segregation in its sorority system, school officials are set to announce a deal that would clear the way for black women to be admitted to the school’s prestigious and historically white Greek organizations.

The deal, which a university spokesperson confirmed to TIME, is the first step toward ending more than a century of systematic segregation in the school’s sorority system.

The move comes after a story last week in the school’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, about a highly qualified black student being denied a bid to join any of the school’s prestigious, historically white sororities. Despite receiving excellent scores during the recruitment process from current sorority members, the young woman — who requested that her name not appear in the paper’s story — was reportedly blocked by alumnae. The sole reason, according to current sorority members: she was black. Another black woman was also denied a bid. Some alumnae even threatened to pull financial support from their sororities if they accepted black members.

(MORE: Sorority Turns Down Black Applicant, Then Turns on Itself)

“The issue is the alumnae and not the undergraduates,” says Gentry McCreary, who served as Alabama’s director of Greek affairs from 2007 to ’11. “There’s definitely some fear, whether real or imagined, that there would be some repercussions if a sorority took an African-American member. They’re able to subvert the will of the chapter, and it’s gone on for far too long.”

The new agreement will allow sororities to offer new bids to candidates who were not accepted during the recruitment process. The deal was reached following an emergency meeting Sunday night between the university’s president Judy Bonner and sorority-chapter advisers. The agreement is expected to allow sororities to extend bids to the young women mentioned in the Crimson White article. If they accept the offers, it will end one of the last bastions of segregation at the school.

“The allegations are that young women were not selected because of their race,” Bonner said via e-mail. “If these allegations are true, then that is discrimination. It is against the law, University policy and the policy of the national organizations. No University organization will be allowed to discriminate against students based on their race.” 

The story and ensuing media attention have rattled a tradition-bound institution that prefers to deal with its problems in private. As news media descended on the leafy campus, some sororities instructed members not to talk to reporters and to avoid wearing their sorority letters to make them less identifiable. Swaps, weekly parties organized between fraternities and sororities, were canceled Thursday night, and fraternity recruitment, which takes place after sorority rush, was suspended for the weekend. 

(MORE: At University of Alabama, Sisterhood Is Prejudiced)

Even football can provide only so much distraction. The school’s victory Saturday over Texas A&M, the only team to beat them last season, would normally provide this pigskin-crazed campus with a week’s worth of chatter. But it has been eclipsed by the tumult over a practice that is anything but news to students and alumni.

In the early 2000s Melody Twilley (now Melody Zeidan) rushed two years in a row but never received a bid from one of the historically white houses, despite being a National Merit Scholar with a 3.85 GPA. Many other well-qualified black women have been turned away in the years since. 

“The sting of rejection never really fades completely,” Zeidan says. “What needed to happen is what’s happening right now. Actives needed to speak out about what goes on after the rush parties. Actives in the houses are voting, and they’re being told by their alums who they may and may not vote for.”

Campus Greek organizations are subject to administrative oversight, but they have traditionally been allowed to make their own membership decisions. In response to questions about sorority segregation in 2011, Robert Witt, the university’s president at the time, said fraternities and sororities are “independent social organizations” that can choose their own membership.

Tradition exerts a powerful pull at Alabama, the last of the large Southern universities to maintain a segregated sorority system. Less than a decade ago, white Greek students were handed prized reserve seats to football games by the Student Government Association. One fraternity, Kappa Alpha, had an annual Old South parade where they cavorted around campus in Confederate garb. Minorities were routinely shut out of positions in student government because they couldn’t get endorsements from what is known around the state as the Machine, a secretive coalition of traditionally white fraternities and sororities that controls campus politics. Administrators rarely intervened.

(MORE: Fifty Years After Bombing, Birmingham Is Resurrected)

The national attention on a relic of a bygone era presents substantial image problems for a school that is growing aggressively and trying to recruit high-achieving students. Alabama has increased its enrollment by more than 14,000 students in the past decade and invested millions of dollars in raising its academic standards. Sixty percent of students in this year’s freshman class are from out of state. This large and diverse student body has spent the past few years rejecting many of the university’s traditions, one by one. The Old South parade ended in 2010. Reserved football seating was opened up to a more diverse group of students the same year. A black student was elected to an executive position in student government in 2012.

While members of the school’s Greek community praised the effort to increase diversity, some say the official response is not enough. “It feels like a very quick solution to a very slow problem,” says Kirkland Back, a senior and member of the Kappa Delta sorority. “Young people never like Band-Aid solutions.”

Yardena Wolf, a member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, calls the open bidding a “knee-jerk reaction to the media attention.” Wolf moved out of her sorority house after none of the black girls in this year’s pledge class were offered bids.

“I think that the only time the administration or the sororities would ever take accountability for something is when there’s all this outside pressure,” she says. “I wish it could be coming more from a place of love during real rush, and I wish this had happened a month ago.”

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153 comments
Gr8Pizza
Gr8Pizza

What about the Whites joining  National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC)   at the University of Alabama  good luck!

WallstreetB
WallstreetB

Who cares, its the University of Alabama. It isn't like anyone expects much from it's low achieving students and racist, trailer trash alumni... If students there are complaining about the campus being racist/segregated, there are 100s of much better academic institutions which they could of gone to (given how many of them are from out-of-state).   Honestly, you have to be the biggest bonehead to pay the University of Alabama out-of-state tuition.  Your employment prospects with a Alabama degree are poor (Forbes has Alabama ranked 200 something and the Wall Street Journal doesn't even have them in the top 100 recruiter survey).

bill1
bill1

yeah, the 1890s.

thabe331
thabe331

What else do you expect from that bigoted state?

Porchfish
Porchfish

How dare you even consider integrating sororities and fraternities in "ahbayama". That would be like peein in ower "Southern Comfort" y'all !  Don't you see alla our negroes on the football field every 'sattidy' ?  So since when has that not been enough for the rest of y'all ?

libsixty
libsixty

I have lived in AZ, FL, PA, UT and SC. Yes this kind of prejudice happens everywhere, but I can unequivocally tell you that Southerners have prejudice down to an art form.

delta13894
delta13894

What happened is a shame but these private and privately funded groups have the freedom of association. Membership is decided often by secret ballot and there is a set # or % of votes it takes to give out a bid (invitation to apply for membership) . As a member you do not need to explain why you vote for or against someone. Some of these organizations have roots in the Christian faith and actively discriminate against non Christians. Why? Because membership requires a belief in Jesus which is at the core of the organizations structure. Yes self imposed segregation does exist. While acting as rush chairman a few black guys dropped out of rush not from fear of not fitting or getting in but because of peer pressure from traditional black fraternities.

DaveLizewski
DaveLizewski

So when do whites get to join black fraternities and sororities? Are black scholarships now open to whites? Is the United Negro College Fund banned?

pauldpierson24
pauldpierson24

I'm a proud white racist who will not change anymore. Blacks can have their Back Caucus in congress, black news, BET. black colleges, black Miss America. All that's OK but let any other group do it, it's racist. Fine, call me a racist, time blacks for change.  

PepeluTivrusky
PepeluTivrusky

Stupid story and complaints. Private organizations have a right to determine who they want in their organization. There was a black only Fraternity at my school and nobody gave a damn because it is their right. If they don't want you then you shouldn't want to be a part of their organization anyway because you clearly have different views.

DumbNiggero3
DumbNiggero3

naw I would keep out blacks and cite violence as the reason and it is a valid reason..


An analysis of ‘single offender victimization figures’ from the FBI for 2007 finds blacks committed 433,934 crimes against whites, eight times the 55,685 whites committed against blacks. Interracial rape is almost exclusively black on white — with 14,000 assaults on white women by African Americans in 2007. Not one case of a white sexual assault on a black female was found in the FBI study…Though blacks are outnumbered 5-to-1 in the population by whites, they commit eight times as many crimes against whites as the reverse. By those 2007 numbers, a black male was 40 times as likely to assault a white person as the reverse.”

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

"... despite being a National Merit Scholar with a 3.85 GPA." GPA isn't the only factor in the selection process, despite the insinuation cast by the article.

rso7269
rso7269

Really?  Really??

Ditch the race card.  Do you think an Asian, Mexican, or white person would be accepted into a black greek house?  

KennethD.AstonSr.
KennethD.AstonSr.

I am  never shocked when stories like this emerge. Sports, schools, business and everday life has a deep rooted system of racism and racist attitudes in America. The selection of Miss America being the latest example. The good people who speak out aganist such actions, only find themselves the victims of this ugly action. The young lady who spoke out against the Alabama sorority, will catch hell on that campus for her actions.

mitchellglaser
mitchellglaser

A couple more giant steps like this and Alabama will only be a hundred years behind the rest of the country.

cjmhem22
cjmhem22

You do not have to be black to be discriminated against by these sororities at the University of Alabama. If you have the wrong earrings on, the wrong label in your dress, had the wrong boyfriend in high school, you will be dropped during rush.  If any one of these actives has a grudge against you for anything, it will be broadcast to all of the other active members in every house and you will be dropped.  Thankfully, I never had to endure any of those shallow, petty b#^%H*s but I do know for a fact this happens.  It doesn't matter what color your skin is, unless you have your lips attached to the right persons behind, you can forget it!!  This so called "open bidding" process the University President is enforcing is not going to do anything but hurt a lot of young ladies.  These sororities are not going welcome anyone into their "circle" under these circumstances, I do not care what any of them say.  And those Pi Beta Phi people are the absolute WORSE!!  They need to be removed completely from the campus of the University of Alabama. 

Speedracer61
Speedracer61

 I swear all you people who talk about Alabama being in the past, rednecks, racist, etc are the true idiots. I have lived in AL, TX, PA, and spent plenty of time in NM and CA and what happens in AL is no different than what happens in all these states. I have seen racism to a much greater extent in many places other than AL  The segregation of fraternities and sororities is true for both black and white organizations on about every campus in the country. This isn't news to anyone that has ever spent any time on a college campus. Actually that fact that UA is addressing this issue moves them ahead of probably 90% of the campuses in America. It just amazes me that there are so many people that want to criticize them instead praising them. It just shows you how people only see the negative.

Gr8Pizza
Gr8Pizza

@thabe331 I hope you realize that all your responses are extremely bigoted and I have lived both in NY and in GA  there is as much racism in NY as in GA probably more

MikeSmith3
MikeSmith3

@libsixty I'm moving into your house today.  Sure, you don't want me there, but it's my right to live where I want and you can't discriminate against me.  Oh yeah, I don't want to pay you anything for rent either, but you don't mind, do you?  You might want to clean the place up a bit, I'm having some friends over in about an hour.  Got anything in the fridge?

comment1
comment1

@delta13894 Except these "privately funded groups" use university property and resources and must be bound by the law.  A "shame"? It is more than that.

fhsmct
fhsmct

Sorry to burst your bubble BUT each and every one of the predominantly Black sororities and franternities have long had white members. Ex: Omega Psi Phi (my fraternity) has had white members as far back as the early 1960s, of not before then . . .

lenie.adolphson
lenie.adolphson

@DaveLizewski White people ARE permitted to join the NAACP and white Jewish people started the NAACP.  Many white people are members and give money to the NAACP.  I was waiting for someone to post this because that train is never late

Porchfish
Porchfish

@DaveLizewski  nice logic there davie boy but your KKK slip is showing ! How many white Alabama boys and Girls can you name that have applied for membership in a "black fraternity or sorority" let alone name any that have been turned away. Of course if all white fraternities and sororities were integrated would there still be a need for black counterparts ?  How about we simply eliminate all of these bastions of racism and class discrimination period !

smartgirlatl
smartgirlatl

@DaveLizewski  Yes, there are many non blacks in black fraternities and the United Negro College fund has been open to needy students of all races for years.  Sorry to ruin your stereotype.

lenie.adolphson
lenie.adolphson

@pauldpierson24   The organizations, schools, networks, pageants, and the others you named were started because black people were not allowed to join white organizations. They were excluded from everything in this country by law and by custom, so yes they had no choice but to start these organizations.  For years and years black folks begged white people to allow them to join their organizations and they were denied. Furthermore, everything you named in your post is not something that whites cannot be apart of, I am sure you know that whites watch, produce and are involved with BET,   The difference here is that when a black person wanted to join she was banned. 

Porchfish
Porchfish

@pauldpierson24  "Change anymore"  very humorous. Your statement implies that you changed your racist attitudes sometime in the past. I think your post here belies that claim. All of the black organizations you list were created because blacks were not admitted to their all white  counterparts.   THIMK ! (ha ha )

fhsmct
fhsmct

Hate to burst your bubble but the Black Greeks have long had white members. Ex: my frat, Omega Psi Phi, has had white members since the early 60s, maybe even before then . . .

PepeluTivrusky
PepeluTivrusky

For the record I am not racist like so many of the people commenting here.

fhsmct
fhsmct

No white on black sexual assaults? and I have some land east of Daytona Beach, prime waterfront views, to sell you . . .

fhsmct
fhsmct

No white on Black rape? You're kiding me, right?

bama2008
bama2008

Violence isn't inherent in any 1 race. Too bad there are no stats on how many black men and women were lynched and beaten to death by Whites. What about Black, female slaves raped by Whites? White, Black, Yellow or whatever are ALL capable of violence. Your comment saddens.

mitchellglaser
mitchellglaser

@UleNotknow Ha! Here you are again, pretending you can't read! The article falls all over itself detailing all the terrific qualifications the girl had and what a perfect candidate she was. 

TheChad
TheChad

@UleNotknow You should go to the school newspaper website and read the original article. It wasn't simply about her gpa. Furthermore, the article makes it BLATANTLY obvious that GPA ISN'T the only factor....

smartgirlatl
smartgirlatl

@rso7269 Yes they would in fact they are already members.  Many Non blacks, mostly Hispanics and some whites have been joining traditional black fraternities and sororities for years. 

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@rso7269 Absolutely. Racism seems to be a one-way street to the tabloids.

TheChad
TheChad

@rso7269 They all have... NPHC organizations have been more than welcome of people of ALL ethnic backgrounds. My fraternity has been integrated since the 40s. Try again.

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@cjmhem22 Despite the utmost efforts of race mongers, "discrimination" is not a dirty word. It merely means to make a distinction. As far as discriminating  BECAUSE of race, it goes both ways, believe it.

raimondo
raimondo

@cjmhem22 Well now at least the black potential pledges can receive the same amount of discrimination same as everyone else instead of being immediately disqualified on the basis of their skin color, so that's a step forward.

thabe331
thabe331

@Speedracer61 And I have extreme doubts that more than a few of these girls actually wanted minorities to join their club. 

mitchellglaser
mitchellglaser

Oh yeah, we're supposed to praise them because they were dragged into behaving like human being by bad press. You think they were acting like 90% of the college campuses in America? In the South, maybe. We remember Gov. Wallace standing in the doorway of the school.

thabe331
thabe331

@PepeluTivrusky These racist bitches should have the hammer brought down on them by nationals. This breaks all of their creeds. They are also not completely private because they represent the school. Oh and racists never think they're racist

Porchfish
Porchfish

@PepeluTivrusky  these "Institutions" are racist in nature and do NOT have the right to their racist inclinations as you claim. They all receive state support (location, legitimization, de-facto funding) and are therefore covered under "state " laws . Sorry to bust your just a little bit racist bubble !

bhenning60
bhenning60

@bama2008Where are you living? The 1700 hundreds? 1800's, the 1900's, I'm sorry but I live in the current world where what Dumb******3 is a fact.  It is where our society is today.  Not saying that this has a direct relationship to the article but what he has presented us is data about recent years.  Which will also be a part of history, just like when white people were murdering black people before I was ever born. Also so bring up a point all about slavery, which is over.  When is this trend of violence in today's world going to be over.  History does repeat itself, just in a different form, in this case a new generation.  And yes all people of this earth are capable of violence.

TheChad
TheChad

@UleNotknow

Never mind. I got my answer. You ARE defending racial discrimination. SMH....

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@mitchellglaser Nice try, but despite his racism, Governor Wallace's attitude was no different than that of half the country back then. Nice try - but it was happening all over the country, not just in Alabama - and despite the progress made since the 60s, it still is... not just in Alabama.

mitchellglaser
mitchellglaser

Typically amazing denial of reality (and history) from our friends south of the Mason-Dixon line. Where do you think they blew up that church full of little girls, in Vermont? Where did MLK famously march, in Montana? Where do they defend their traitor flags to this very day, in Oregon?

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