An article that took a hard look at the racism that is seems to be an intrinsic part of sorority life at the University of Alabama blew up this week. The Crimson White, UA's student newspaper, reported that two black women were rejected from four traditionally white sororities this rush season because of pressures from the alums of those chapters. But what we know is that this isn't a UA-specific problem.
The Crimson White article made a point of noting that while other southern schools have tried hard to diversify their Greek life, UA has fallen far behind. But on Wednesday I got an email from an anonymous sorority girl at "a very large southern University" who said that racism runs rampant at her school as well:
I have heard multiple stories (not my sorority in particular) that have turned down black women because they are afraid of losing funding from alumna or socials with fraternities who won't interact with sororities who have black women due to the fact that they also could lose funding from their alumni.
It's so disturbing that this practice continues to happen, but I think it occurs a lot more than we think. Especially in the south.
The comments on the original post indicate that this anonymous sorority girl is right, and that these practices aren't so different than those used 40 or 50 years ago. howlingfrog writes:
My mother was in a sorority at Ohio State in the mid 60's, and they refused to let a close friend of hers in because she was black. My mom considered quitting in protest, but decided to stay in to try to change things from within. She failed. It's one of her biggest regrets to this day.
A big problem with Greek life is the divide between the overall, national organizations (who, in the case of UA, have stridently denied that they had anything to do with preventing black women from joining their organizations) and the local chapters. In the case of UA, their race issues seem to stem from their chapter alums, a point reiterated by students who talked to Total Frat Move. Explains Steakasaurusrex:
This used to happen fairly frequently in the 50s and 60s at colleges around the country. It's a little surprising—though only a little—that it's still happening in certain places. At my college, where I was an active member of a Greek organization, a number of the fraternities were "local" as opposed to "national" as a direct result of this kind of behavior from alums or members of the national chapters. Basically, many of the chapters separated from their national fraternities in reaction to the constant blackballing of African Americans and Jews. It had gotten so bad that members of the fraternity from other colleges were coming in to monitor the rush process and keep out "undesirables," so most of the houses told the national people to go fuck themselves.
Good for some of these girls for at least speaking up. The bigger a shitstorm this is, the more the University will have to deal with it. Of course, they're fucked if the alumnae really do pull funding, but what a way to go. "Sorry, we don't exist anymore because our alumnae are super duper racist!"
But Megganna elaborates, and argues that sometimes, it is the national organization's issue:
Before I transferred schools, I was in a sorority. They were an independent/local sorority (I don't remember the exact term). It had been formed at the school in the late 1800s after the school first let women in. It operated by itself until the 1920s when the sorority became affiliated with a large national sorority organization. They were a part of that organization until the 1970s when my sorority voted in a black president. Though the national organization denies it now (of course), they threatened my sorority because they couldn't stand there being a black sorority president. Instead of caving, my sorority became unaffiliated and once again became just an independent sorority, as they had been at the time of their founding. To this day it is still an independent sorority, even though many old alumna would like it to join with a national sorority again (haha, yeah right). After 40 years, it's gross that things still haven't changed.
It can't be denied, however, that at sororities at University of Alabama have a particularly bad race problem, as ohello writes:
I was in a sorority at the University of Alabama - graduated about five years ago. We had a situation in which one of the active members of the house had a very good family friend from home going through rush. As in, they grew up together and now active girl wanted rushee BFF to be part of her sorority, naturally. Well, unfortunately, the girl in question was partially of African American descent, and also an upperclassman transfer.
During voting, when she came up, there was a screaming fight that ended with our active Member in tears, being told that her best friend from home "wouldn't fit in here" - I shit you not. "She wouldn't fit in here" was the code phrase for "girl X doesn't fit in with the look we want in our sorority" and was typically reserved for girls they thought were overweight or bleached their hair too much, too much makeup, etc. You know, a pleasant way to say "she's not cute enough and her GPA doesn't make up for it" because we would NEVER deviate from being ladies.
Recruitment at UA is a very shallow ordeal, and really disgusting, but this was the lowest I had seen, especially since everyone knew why "she wouldn't fit in here." I still remember her name, the issue of her being offered a bid was so hotly contested - in secret of course, all throughout the week, until the final vote.
Not offering an opinion, just offering some anecdotal evidence that yes, this is systemic and it's carried out behind closed doors, through code, and it doesn't matter if it's your best friend in the world: you will be overridden by the house
And Elagie adds:
My niece goes to [UA] and is in a sorority. My brother was pretty stunned that there were no black women in her sorority and asked about it (we're all from Connecticut/Massachusetts and don't see as much, or as overt, racism here.) The answer was that no sorority there wanted to be the first (no doubt because of fears of loss of prestige, membership, and financial support from alumnae.)
I don't know for sure but I believe he talked about it with my niece because they came to the grudging conclusion that she would join (and she is happy that she did) since, in that University at least, if you aren't a cheerleader or in a sorority, you are pretty much a social pariah. I wish she could have chosen another school (although she was bound and determined for some reason to go to school in the south) or at least taken a stand against the sorority's rules — but guess I can understand that she wasn't up to making her years there a torment to fight a battle that (especially as an outsider and a Northerner at that) she was never going to win.
And for anyone doubting racism is real, from gourmet goober:
Trust me, the University of Alabama is not the only campus guilty of this. When I was attending the University of Southern MS for graduate school, I was approached in the dining hall by three women who took offense with me wearing a Kappa Delta shirt. They asked me point blank where I got it from and if I was a member.
The shirt was actually from a fundraiser that my good friend ran while I was at my undergraduate institution (Ball State). I helped her do the publicity for the Shamrock run, and as a way of saying thank you-she gave me a shirt. When I explained that to them, one of them said that they were relieved, because there is "no way a porch monkey would be rushed as a member". I was honestly so stunned, I didn't respond. I just watched them walked back into line to get their nachos.
To be fair, that was in 1997. But, I'm not holding my breath for integrated sororities there today.
As one black person to another i'm sorry that happened to you. I was spit on from a high rise dorm and called a jungle bunny when I went to UGA in the 00s so it's not unusual that that happened to you in 97. i remember my hall mate who was in Tri Delta begging me to flat twist her hair. So I did and as I was doing it I asked her why she wanted it so badly she responded "cuz we're having a pimps and hoes party for my sorority and I need a black hairstyle". I was stunned and got up and left her hair half done without saying a word
We want to figure out where this is happening. Is it just happening in the south? Is it predominantly at sororities or are frats just as bad? Are you a woman or man who chose to join a historically black Greek organization to avoid facing racism from other sororities and fraternities? Take to the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
What school you attend/ed:
What year it is/was:
What Greek organization it is/was:
Just like Melanie Gotz would have wanted, we're going to talk about the black girl.
Image via Corey C./Flickr