UPDATE: Before I could press “publish” on this piece, word from Tuscaloosa is that multiple black women were accepted as pledges in the sororities at the University of Alabama. Congrats to those girls and to the students who recognized a wrong and sought to make it right. Read the article.
It’s been a long couple weeks at the University of Alabama. The women’s greek system there has been accused of refusing to offer a rush pledge a spot in every house to a qualified candidate who just happens to be black.
In a word, the Crimson Tide greek system is being accused of racism.
Officials at the University of Alabama are asking the national organizations of its 16 Panhellenic sororities to investigate claims of racial discrimination, after a high-achieving African-American student was denied acceptance from all chapters.
The university’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, first broke the story Sept. 11, when active members from several sororities on campus spoke out, saying alumnae and chapter advisors prevented them from offering a bid to the student in question, either by intervening in the chapter voting process or in some cases threatening to withhold financial support if the student pledged.
Several students who spoke to the Crimson White said the student was an ideal candidate for any student organization: She was salutatorian of her high school, had a 4.3 GPA, and comes from a prominent family in Alabama. According to USA Today, the student is the step granddaughter of Alabama Circuit Judge John England Jr., who sits on the university’s board of trustees, and the stepdaughter of state Rep. Christopher England, a Democrat.
The politics of the family of the girl at the center of the storm is pretty much beside the point. According to MY source who is into sorority and panhellenic politics, the real issue for them was that the alumnae and chapter advisors interfered in the chapter voting process, something that is apparently verboten in the panhell system. It seems, though, that this has been going on for a long time at the University of Alabama, the very last of the deep south universities to not have at least a start of an integrated greek system. (Ole Miss has one black sorority alum from 2003. Not a great record, but better than nothing.)
Note that it was the students of the university that turned in the advisors for misconduct.
From what my source tells me, in the rush process, there are a handful of blacks at all universities who participate every year. Of that number, a subset actually are offered a spot in one or more of the houses, just as there is a subset of white girls offered spots. It is the same with hispanics and other minorities. In some places, in what are known as traditionally “white” sororities, pledge classes are no longer monochromatic (unlike the traditionally black sororities).
As with any other college sort of organization, the people who have gone before – in this case alumnae who are members of the various houses – return to guide the next generation in tradition and, hopefully, a form of excellence. In addition, the alumnae financially support the various houses. This patronage is what keeps a lot of greek houses going. As the above quote references, alumnae threatened to withhold those dollars if this black student was offered a spot.
There are other allegations that are even more troubling. Basically, the active members of the chapters were prevented from voting on the candidate and that decision did not come from them, as it was supposed to, but somewhere higher. As all sororities are integrated at the national level (although, not that well in some cases), those decisions came from the advising stratum. That would be the alumnae, probably of that university – and reading between the lines this has been going on for quite some time. It was somewhat under the radar, but really not blatant until now when a candidate came along who was exceptional enough that all the sorority houses SHOULD be actively fighting to have her as a member. She was refused membership and it was noticed.
From The Crimson White (an excellent piece of reporting, BTW):
The Tri Delta member said the student’s “excellent scores,” influential family and “awesome resume” would have made her a more-than-qualified candidate for Panhellenic recruitment and would have ensured her a bid from a sorority if she wasn’t black.
“Not a lot of rushees get awesome scores,” the Tri Delta member said. “Sometimes sisters [of active members] don’t get that. [She] got excellent scores. The only thing that kept her back was the color of her skin in Tri Delt. She would have been a dog fight between all the sororities if she were white.”
My source tells me that each of the sixteen sororities have had national representatives in Tuscaloosa and that all advisors have been changed. The national organizations are decidedly NOT happy about this. And rightfully so. The bad publicity alone is a huge blow to these groups who are not always held in the highest esteem. But the racism charge is not the worst of it.
What the episode demonstrates is that bribery is very much alive and accepted among the people who seek to control others with their money. This case features a university greek system which really are private clubs. It’s not like cash was going into political campaigns as private clubs are just that – private. But when threats of extortion are used to control the membership and influence a vote that really puts the guilty parties in a horrid light. That racism was the motivation makes this entire episode even worse.
For sorority girls, who are supposed to be ladies (and from the south, no less), to act this way is most unseemly. Hopefully, the younger generation will take that to heart.
Oh, yeah, Jesse Jackson took the time to comment. No word, though, on the Chicago murder rate or the wave of black on white crime sweeping the nation.