Barriers still stand in sorority rush process

Sherles Durham, a freshman, went through Fall 2011 rush, only to be dropped from recruitment in the third round of events. She suspects her race came into play in the decision to drop her. / CW | Drew Hoover

The first headlines in newspapers across the country on Sept. 11, 2001 didn’t come from New York City. Before four airliners changed course and changed history, one of the top national stories that day was about a girl, a dream and the sororities at the University of Alabama.

Sept. 9, 2001 had been bid day. Melody Twilley (now Melody Zeidan), a black sophomore, had just been summarily rejected by all traditionally white sororities at Alabama for the second year in a row.

“It was probably the worst day of my life,” said Zeidan. “I had gotten used to the media attention at that time, but… clearly I was not happy that 9/11 happened, but I was glad not to have the media coverage on me.”

Her second attempt at rush started out full of promise. Zeidan had attained recommendations from contacts and alumni from nearly every major sorority. Everything was moving smoothly, she recalled, until the third round of the selections process.

In one-on-one interviews, the girls of one particular house asked if she had an agenda.

How could they not ask? Every girl in rush had seen the cameras following Melody that year. Questions had to be swirling about why this girl, different but determined, was really trying to join a traditionally white sorority.

“I told them I’m here for the same reason as everybody else, which was that I wanted to have the sorority experience,” Zeidan said. “I wanted them to understand that I wasn’t getting in to prove a point.”

Ten years after Zeidan’s experience, traditionally white sororities at the University of Alabama are still segregated — but that’s not to say a few black women haven’t tried to join. They have — most recently in 2011, as part of the largest rush class in the nation.

—-

Zeidan grew up in Camden, Ala., the daughter of a successful timber businessman. She came to campus boasting a 3.85 GPA and was part of so many extracurricular activities at the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile — the school she attended her last two years of high school — she can hardly remember the full list. Joining a sorority, she said, simply seemed to her like the right thing to do when she got to Alabama in 2000.

“I went into rush with a blank slate,” she said. “All I knew about sororities was that you join when you go to college, and that is how you make friends.”

No one seemed to treat her differently at all during rush week, and Melody enjoyed herself. Ultimately, though, she wouldn’t get a bid — at first, Melody said it didn’t bother her. Thinking only a small percentage of girls got in, and with other things on her plate, she moved on.

Several months later, during SGA election season, something changed her mind. The hottest topics on campus at that time were segregation, racism, and something about a “Machine.”

“I was talking with somebody about…that, and I mentioned that I had gone through rush. She said, ‘Oh, you know they don’t take black people, right?’”

Melody was shocked.

“I asked, ‘What do you mean, they don’t take black people? You can’t not take black people, that’s crazy. Come on, it’s 2000, guys,’” she said. “I was embarrassed for Alabama. Why would my school I love so much be acting so utterly stupid?”

After the shock came the pain of rejection — months late, maybe, but no less hurtful.

“It didn’t occur to me to be offended until then,” she said.

If being rejected from rush hurt her, she said, it was a letter to the editor in The Crimson White that made her mad. The letter, from an independent male student, said it wasn’t a “race thing” — black people just weren’t trying.

Melody read it and angrily wrote back.

“I, an African-American female, participated in Fall Rush 2000, and I have the T-shirt to prove it,” her letter read. “I was dropped from rush after the second round of events, and I will leave it up to the reader to decide why.”

Her letter got her regional media attention, something Melody said she didn’t expect. To deal with it all, she found a mentor in English professor John Herman — the person who first suggested to her the idea of going through rush again.

She did. Knowing her chances were slim as a sophomore, Zeidan went through everything — the door songs, the crafts and the friendly conversations — again in the fall of 2001. And, at the end, she again went through the rejection.

—-

This year, Sherles Durham came to Alabama from Douglasville, Ga., with a 3.6 high school GPA. Sherles was vice president of her senior class and regularly volunteered at her community’s local Special Olympics. Like Zeidan, Durham rushed to make friends but said she didn’t expect to pledge.

“I just wanted to make friends out of the experience,” Durham said, “which I did.”

This fall, 1,711 women participated in rush, according to a University spokeswoman. Of those, 77 were released without a bid. Durham was one of them.

“Thursday [of rush week], I got a call telling me I had been dropped from recruitment,” Durham said. “I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, because I thought everything was going so well.”

She was out in the third round of events, making it one round further than Melody Zeidan had 11 years before. She said she wouldn’t change her rush experience but noticed something seemed wrong.

“I’ve been trying not to look at it this way because, you know, sometimes when it’s brought into question, some people get offended, but I think race might have come into play,” Durham said. “If all the girls who went into rush week were completely covered or blocked from view in some way, I think the outcomes could be completely different.

“I don’t understand what I could do as a person to make someone want me in their group unless I pretended to be someone I’m not,” she said. “Sometimes I doubt whether I should have done it or not, to not have just wasted the time and money to be disappointed.”

—-

Melody Zeidan went on to enjoy her college years, starting student groups that focused on promoting diversity and even founding a sorority herself, Alpha Delta Sigma. Her life wouldn’t have really been any different had she been part of a traditionally white sorority, she said.

Even so, Zeidan said she has little advice for the girls who have gone through the same experience she did in 2000 and again in 2001.

“As far as consolation, I don’t have anything to say. I’m still hurt, and it’s been ten years,” she said. “For encouragement, accept that that’s maybe a part of life. Being rejected just means that somebody couldn’t appreciate how great you are. It’s not really something that you get over easily…to say that I don’t care anymore would be a total lie. Even ten years later, looking back on it, I’m still very upset.”

It’s especially upsetting, Zeidan said, when a person’s race decides the outcome for them.

“There’s nothing I could have done,” she said. “That whole lack of control over the situation is…heartbreaking. It’s like saying a person is born not good enough.”

Melody insists, though, that her cause was very personal.

“It wasn’t my opposite stand-in-the-schoolhouse door,” she said. “To this day I don’t think integration for integration’s sake is important…I just want every person at Alabama to find a place where they fit in best.”

Sherles Durham said she won’t rush again. For her, that place is not Sorority Row.

Stephen Nathaniel Dethrage contributed to this report. Read Thursday’s edition of The Crimson White for part two of this series, where we look at administrative policies toward integrating the greek system.

  • Anonymous

    I KNOW race played a part in Miss Durham not being offered a bid! Trust me anyone in a sorority knows!

  • Anonymous

    My daughter’s HS best friends were of every race and ethnicity.  Now that she is in a sorority at UA I joke with my friends that she has entered “White Girl World” and I would bet that the majority of the pledges came to UA with only white kids as their FB friends.  Until this changes UA will always be judged harshly by non-southerners. But how to change?????

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20703981 David DeMedicis

      How to change? Easy. Encourage your sorority to recruit black women. At Mississippi College, most local fraternities and sororities had black members. It wasn’t that big of an issue. It’s pretty sad when MIssissippi of all places is 50 years ahead of you in race relations.

      • Anonymous

        Yes. Because accepting someone into an organization simply based on their race is legit. I’d be thrilled if I found out I was accepted somewhere just because I was needed to fill a quota or because it was ‘encouraged’.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20703981 David DeMedicis

          How are you “qualified” to be in a sorority? What are their qualifications? Also I didn’t say “accept,” I said “recruit.” If you get 20 black girls interested in rushing “white” sororities, I’m sure at least 1 will pass their admissions “standards” (in quotes for a reason). From what I gathered from the article, only one black girl ever ten years is interested in joining a “white” sorority. Being new to Alabama, you may have missed this story:
          http://cw.ua.edu/2011/02/07/details-about-witts-race-e-mail-emerge/

          • Jessica Shepherd

            Qualifications depend on the sorority. At Alabama one is required to have a 3.0 high school GPA to even be considered. Different sororities have different GPA’s that must be kept throughout college, as well as required study hours. Qualifications also include : collecting recommendation letters (proving that you are able to make and keep strong connections with others), providing a well organized resume, and throughout the rush process girls must be sociable, timely, friendly, and mature. Being someone who has not gone through rush, you may be completely ignorant in this topic @David DeMedicis. Perhaps you should stick to bashing things you have some sort of a clue about.

        • Anonymous

          Qualified sorority girl? Come on, the majority are dumb, self-centered, ignorant girls who have’t had to do a days work and depend on daddy for everything.

          • Anonymous

            It’s interesting you feel this way. Do yourself a favor and walk into a sorority house.. Every girl you run into ask them what all they are involved in on campus, ask them their GPA, ask them about their accomplishments… You’ll quickly learn that “dumb, self-centered, ignorant girls who haven’t had to do a days work and depend on daddy for everything” is a far cry from what the majority of these girls really are. And I’m not defending them because I’m greek because I’m not. I’m just saying you have no proof of this claim whatsoever. It’s because of people like you that stereotypes exist.

          • Anonymous

            As a graduate of Alabama and a former member of a fraternity on campus that was the majority of what I saw. Sure there are members who are hard working, outgoing and involved in many activities around campus, but the stereotype isn’t that far from the reality.  There is absolutely no reason besides racism as to why minorities should not be allowed in these houses if they meet the academic standards, hate to say it but that is the truth.

        • Anonymous

          This is true, but the greek system here at Bama has the potential to change so much here, and we have to start somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    Should we also note that this goes both ways. When was the last time a white female was welcomed in to a historically black sorority?

    • Anonymous

      When I was a student (20 years ago) the President of Phi Beta Sigma was white. There were white members of at least 2 groups (of the 8) while I was there. Now the NPHC system is not a open as I would like for it to be, but it’s a heck of a lot more open than the IFC and Panhellenic systems are.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CU7IPLYJESZIY5CCEMZMCD62EI liberty

      In 2007, my chapter, Lambda Zeta of Delta Sigma Theta (a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council) at the University of Alabama accepted a white female in the sorority as well as other NPHC sororities in years past and current. Those barriers are being crossed all across the United States. What’s has been considered historical is becoming more inclusive and diverse as we grow as a community. Therefore the question should not be when was the last time someone was welcomed but more so when was the last time someone saw past “historical” to be able to follow their heart without the fear of being rejected based on something superficial.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CU7IPLYJESZIY5CCEMZMCD62EI liberty

      In 2007, my chapter, Lambda Zeta of Delta Sigma Theta (a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council) at the University of Alabama accepted a white female in the sorority as well as other NPHC sororities in years past and current. Those barriers are being crossed all across the United States. What’s has been considered historical is becoming more inclusive and diverse as we grow as a community. Therefore the question should not be when was the last time someone was welcomed but more so when was the last time someone saw past “historical” to be able to follow their heart without the fear of being rejected based on something superficial.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20703981 David DeMedicis

      *facepalm* Yeah, since white girls in Alabama are banging down the “black” sororities’ doors. They have all the status, money, and job connections.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=682148110 Hazina Campbell-Dorius

      I recently worked with a white girl who pledged and crossed Sigma Gamma Rho, a historically black sorority. It actually happens a lot. Black people are a lot more forgiving and open than given credit for. The bottom line is that segregation is a form of racism, no matter who is doing it. It’s sad, though not suprising, to see this BOLD and ACCEPTED form of racism alive and well in Alabama in the 21st Century. Shame.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KGWKE5TCPXSU5QNO4WYY5JIWCM Leon

      When was the last time a white female tried out for one? Honestly, most of the white students haven’t even heard of most of the black sororities and fraternities, let alone pledge one.

    • Anonymous

      when was the last time one actually tried to?

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying that this makes it all right, but many years ago a black girl was accepted into one of the “white” sororities.  I know that one isn’t enough, but I feel that this gets overlooked a lot.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to see the demographics of the other girls who weren’t accepted into the sororities. I’d be willing to be there are tons of other girls who are white, overweight, and who aren’t considered ‘pretty’ by traditional standards. Why aren’t they protesting?

    Furthermore, neither of these women ever provided a sound reason for *why* they believe they weren’t accepted because of their race. In fact, Melody Twiley plainly admits the thought of not being accepted because of her race didn’t cross her mind until ‘someone’ questionably stated that that sorority ‘doesn’t accept black people.’ She clearly didn’t pick up on any animosity or subtle racism during rush. However, if the guy who said ‘black people don’t work hard enough’ wasn’t quoted out of context, then I very much agree that was a boneheaded and quite ignorant of a statement to make.

    And the most recent girl didn’t provide any reason whatsoever as to why she thought she was discriminated against other than ‘something didn’t feel just right.’ I’m sure it didn’t. It’s rush. You’re being sized up in every way imaginable to see if you’re made of the right stuff. How do you think the sisters in the sorority felt? I’m sure they knew they’d be placed with the stigma of rejecting a girl that didn’t live up to their standards simply because she was black. Should they have accepted her anyway, just by virtue of her race? That would definitely be a different form of racism.

    It honestly just sounds like the typical ‘I didn’t get _______________ because I’m black’ argument.

    • Anonymous

      From my experience it’s not just a ‘because I’m black’ argument. Transfers from other universities to Alabama, that are in good standing nationally with a sorority that they are already part of (initiated members), that are trying to affiliate have been told that they’ll have to go through rush again because they’re ‘different’ from the other ladies of the sorority. It’s against Panhellenic rules for an initiated member to participate in rush. Grades and extracurriculars were exemplary. The only thing different was the fact that she is black.

      Try to tell me that Rush at the University of Alabama is not racist and prejudiced.

      • Anonymous

        So they singled out a black transfer, whose qualifications were on par with national standards, and made her go through rush again? If this girl knew that it was against the rules, why didn’t she report them? And if it’s so well known that this sorority is racist (judging from the comments) why hasn’t something been done about it?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20703981 David DeMedicis

          Because this is Alabama

        • Anonymous

          When a young woman is dropped completely it isn’t because one specific sorority refused to recruit her, which means it is very possible that this is an institutional racism situation. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=772429585 Lanisha Hinds

           What would you suggest they do? institute some form of affirmative action? Yes, that may ‘fix’ the minorities are not getting in problem, but in the end, who wants to be in an organization that are forced to take them? I have dark skin and am a Panhellenic woman at a Florida school and even though there is a lot more diversity here, there are a number of chapters that are known to only accept a specific look. Only those members know the truth, but not all rumors are false.

  • http://twitter.com/polo205 Jason Freeman

    Why would you wanna join anything other that a D9 org? She shouldve turned the other way anyway, what presence do these orgs have in our communities after undergrad anyway. D9 orgs are always more accepting and welcoming than those other bs orgs out there.

    • http://twitter.com/IamCarmenS Carmen Sandiego

      Well, it is possible that both girls may not have fully been accepted into a D9 org, or maybe they couldve felt that way. That may sound silly to you, but as an African American girl who’s been considered “different” many times in life, that can be a reality, whether it’s because they feel those orgs may think they’re not “Black enough”, that they may not fit into what the orgs think a member “should” look like, etc. I graduated from an SEC school that was predominately White at the time when I got there in 2004, but there was often segregation WITHIN the Blacks on campus, which is why I brought that up.

      A friend of mine attended the University of Memphis with hopes of joining a particular D9 org, went to interest meetings, etc. The members didn’t like her and rejected her as soon as they could (I believe it was for more personal reasons than for the sorority though). After that she rushed with a White sorority, who accepted her just fine. So, I think it depends on where you go to school..

  • Anonymous

    77 girls didn’t get bids?  That many black girls went through rush?

  • Anonymous

    77 girls didn’t get bids?  That many black girls went through rush?

    • Anonymous

      Racism is alive and well within our greek system, b/c of those over our recruitment process here with their backwards thinking ways. Face it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tarheelborn92 Charles Jackson

    this is just another reason why i hate the greek system at alabama. as a student at bama the whole greek sytems favors whites is like a have vs the have nots. these sorority’s and fraternities are racist this girl was more than qualififed and no one accepted her i guess some things never change. so i say damn these lilly white sorority’s and the whiteness they have to maintain. 

    • Anonymous

      There were a few hundred girls that were also just as qualified, and some MORE qualified that also didn’t get it. and they were white. Were they discriminated against bc of race too? Like I said… she’s ONE girl. If she wants to make it about race that’s her perogative but might I point out that there are sororities and fraternities at alabama made up strictly of black men and women? But you’re right… it’s all about maintaining whiteness for them too I’m sure.. do your research before you start making accusations like that.

      • Anonymous

        Your reply was quite ignorant. It’s wrong on both sides. But if YOU do YOUR research, you will find that every year, every single black female who goes through sorority rush is CUT. And, there are actually a few members in the historically African American greek system who are white. Have you ever taken a look at the greek system at Alabama, especially the sororities, and noticed something? Every single face is caucasian. This is a great university, with so much potential, but we have to be honest with ourselves on where we as a university stand when it comes down to race. As an out of state student, I was quite surprised to find how socially segregated this school still is, and both disappointed and embarassed to even speak of it to my friends back home about it. The Panhellenic system here is a perfect example of the last minute pieces of the old south still left over, and it’s past time for change. We don’t want to admit that this could possibly still go on at our amazing institution, but it’s REAL kid, face it, and cut the crap with the “She just didn’t fit” stuff, this is much bigger than just one person. Wake up.

        • Jessica Shepherd

          Every single face isn’t caucasian dumbass. Look again.

        • Jessica Shepherd

          Also, sweetheart. If you are so opposed, guess what? You don’t have to be a part of it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O7Q5RN37FNYVVYEJA6PHL73N4Q Amy Alumna

    Plenty of white women with equal or better grades were dropped. No articles about them, though.

    • Anonymous

      And yet every single african american girl that rushes gets dropped before they can even reach the last round…hmmm…OPEN YOUR EYES.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UF3X7KHUR53C4IVKR5MIG64TWE youknouwa

    First thing, I wanted to correct some of the numbers used in the
    article. It said that 77 girls were dropped from rush without a bid,and
    that 1,711 girls rushed. I had a friend who rushed and she said that she
    was in the bottom of the alphabet and the last girl’s number was 1,749
    granted not a huge difference, but when they claim that only 77 got
    dropped without a bid? Its posted on the university’s website that 1,312
    girls received bids… You expect us to believe that 322 girls just
    decided to drop rush? I don’t think so. Sure a lot of girls decided to
    do DG or may have decided that sorority life wasn’t for them, but DG
    took 244 a lot of which were upper classmen who didn’t even go through
    formal recruitment so that still leaves quite a large number of girls that got
    dropped. I understand that this girl believed that she was discriminated
    against because of race, which I’m not sure if that happened or not, but I know girls that were super involved, had
    higher GPAs, and had recs from esteemed alumni that didn’t get in and
    they were white.  The whole process is just really competitive and its all about who you know.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to point out.. THIRD ROUND! Do you know how many girls don’t even make it past the first round? The fact that she made it that far clearly says the opposite that this article wants everyone to believe. If it was based strictly on her race.. I mean let’s be honest, they would have done it right off the bat. Why waste a spot for someone you know you aren’t going to let in right? I’m sorry if she got her feelings hurt beause nobody gave her a bid but she’s not the only one so let’s not make this more than it is.
    And btw.. 77? Where do you get your facts CW?

    • Anonymous

      You idiot, all girls make it past the first two rounds. They are the introduction days, EVERYONE goes to those. The braver sororities invited the girls back for the 3rd day and then chickened out because the 4th day is skit day and those are for the girls you are seriously considering. The 5th day is Pref day and that means they are knocking themselves out to get you. Of course the black girls didn’t get invited back after the 3rd day. The sororities are not brave enough to cross that line.

       77 girls were not invited back out of what, 1500? Three of the 77 were black, okay genius you do the math.

      • Caroline

        Actually no, the third round would mean skit day. She made it to the third round…not the third day, which would be philanthropy day and the day after the first cuts are made. Therefore, this girl made it past two rounds of cuts and she was cut completely after the third round. No sorority would waste a spot on a girl that they wouldn’t ever take that late in the week.

  • Bama Girl

    I rushed 6 years ago, and I was inititated into a traditionally white sorority at Alabama. At the end of the school year, they started doing training for rush in the fall. Once I heard how they chose people to join the sorority, I turned in my pin and quit. I was ashamed to be part of an organization that was so small minded. I do not know if this particular instance was a race issue, but I am strongly inclined to suspect it is based on what I witnessed during my one year as a greek. The judgement doesn’t end at race. If you aren’t skinny enough or cute enough, that can also affect your chances.

  • woods.darian

    This is just a simple example of how all tradition is not good tradition. Although Bama is built on tradition, there are some things that simply need to change. Why in the world is it that whites have crossed in black sororities but not the other way around. It angers me as an African American girl, but it is also sad and makes the white greek system look stupid. How long will racism cloud the minds of these people. I mean do they not realize they r all being programmed. Once you join they all become the same. whether it be in behavior, clothing, expression, everything. I have seen it in girls I know personally various times. When will it change?

    • Bella

      I think that fear/racism has a lot to do with it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S2AUPQ4FBED3KSUJKHF5FCA53E Eunice Higginbotham

    According to its official Web site, Alpha Delta Sigma, the sorority Melody Twilley helped found, closed a while back. Weren’t they publicly accused of hazing before they shut down?

  • Anonymous

    Ha

  • Anonymous

    I know UA has a history of this type of discrimination. I am not sure why no reporter has not done an undercover story about it. ( just a thought) ..I also wonder why the black student population has not formulated a plan to test the system. Simply get about 25 black girls to pledge every white sorority. Also do this for the white fraternities. About 25 black guys.  How could you possibly reject every black without rasing red flags…Do you think it might work?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O7Q5RN37FNYVVYEJA6PHL73N4Q Amy Alumna

    BamaGirl, you could have stayed in your sorority and changed things. Why didn’t you?

  • TXOILMAN

    Hell Ya Bama! good to hear yall still keeping them no good coons out of the hen houses! Them NAGGERS gotta go!