Brown v. The Board of Education ended racial segregation of public schools, including colleges, in 1954. The University of Alabama (UofA) officially became integrated in 1963 when three African-American students were admitted.
Apparently no one told UofA’s sororities, which were quietly allowed to discriminate against women based on race until last year. The Crimson Tide Greek organizations drew national attention last year after the school’s newspaper detailed the racial bias during sorority recruitment.
Alabama has the nation’s largest Greek system, with around 25 percent of it’s 35,000 students belonging to a fraternity or sorority. In the 110 years since sorority chapters formed on campus, only one woman who was identifiably black was offered an invitation to join during formal recruitment, and that was in 2003.
In a recent article, Marie Claire spoke to several students, both women of color and white women, about the institutionalized racism that was taking place within the Greek system. The article recounts the personal stories from African-American women who attempted to pledge and were not given bids, despite having qualities similar to white women who were given bids, and the white sorority members who stood up to those who wanted to keep the organizations segregated.
One of these stories was that of Chrystal Stallworth, a premed student with a 4.3 grade point average, who was student body president of her high school, a cheerleader, and a volunteer for an organization who raises funds to fight cancer. On paper, she would be an ideal candidate for any sorority.
After going through the multiple rounds of the rush process, Stallworth wasn’t offered a bid by any sorority. She told the magazine,
“I was really upset … It was probably one of the worst weeks I’ve ever spent at Alabama … It made me feel like I didn’t belong, which is hard, especially for an incoming freshman .. When I got back on campus, I started noticing when I would see all the girls in sororities, there were no minorities, or if there were, maybe a few Asian women. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have a best friend who is in a sorority at the University of Oklahoma. Her sorority is so diverse … That was the point I realized, Whoa, people still do see race here.”
Another African-American woman said that she was discouraged from rushing the all-white sororities during orientation. “Someone told my mom sororities don’t take black girls,” Halle Lindsay told Marie Claire. “Everyone around here knows that, but being from out of state you wouldn’t really know.”
Kirkland Back, a member of Kappa Delta, the oldest sorority on campus, explained that her sorority puts the women rushing in different rooms depending upon how interested in them the sorority is. The Rush-to-Pledge room is reserved for those rushees to whom the sorority is most interested in extending bids.
Back said that during her time on campus, she only ever saw two black women in the Rush-to-Pledge room — and one of those was a mistake.
“This past year, a black girl ended up in the Rush-to-Pledge room. Someone messed up and seated her in the wrong spot … so you can imagine the sad hilarity of watching a bunch of really privileged white girls freaking out. They were like, ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God! What are we going to do? She can’t think we actually like her!’ So they were like, ‘Nobody talk to her. … She’s gotta know that she’s not welcome. She’s gotta know this isn’t going to work out.'”
A member of Alpha Omicron Pi said, “We were told we do not take black girls, because it would be bad for our chapter – our reputation and our status.” A member of Phi Mu said that there was “a list of girls who were to be dropped from rush. Anyone who was a minority was automatically added to it. Sometimes they’d say things like, ‘Oh, she wore an ugly dress,’ but it was so obviously wrong, so obviously racism.”
The article states that the university’s administration was aware of the segregation taking place, but did not intervene as the policy is to let the Greek organizations handle their recruitment themselves. Last year, many women in these sororities began speaking out about the racism within the ranks, and the administration finally stepped in.
University President Judy Bonner “mandated an informal round of rush, known as continuous open bidding, during which the houses were allowed to add members in the hope that the extra spots would go to minorities.”
And some spots did… a whopping 21 of them. The university’s sororities are now 0.4 percent black.
“[UofA] now has one of the most diverse Greek systems in the nation,” boasted university spokesperson Cathy Andreen, despite the fact that the National Panhellenic Conference does not keep numbers on the race of members, as they would likely make the organizations in the conference look incredibly ethnically un-diverse.
This fall will mark the first rush that will be fully integrated. While 0.4 percent is better than 0.0 percent, UofA still has a long way to go.
You can read the entire Marie Claire article here.