Witt defends traditional greek system

When asked whether it was important for black students to be admitted into traditionally white sororities, UA President Robert Witt said Wednesday that greek organizations should be free to determine who they do or do not accept into their numbers.

“Approximately 25 percent of our student body participates in the greek system at UA,” Witt said in an e-mailed statement. “[This] includes traditionally African-American, traditionally white and multicultural sororities and fraternities. As independent social organizations, it is appropriate that all our sororities and fraternities – traditionally African-American, traditionally white and multicultural – determine their membership.

“The University offers a wide range of options for students to become involved on campus. I encourage all students to take advantage of the many academic, social and volunteer opportunities available at the University during their time on campus.”

Witt offered this response to five questions fielded to him regarding his comments on integration in 2003, the importance of a desegregated greek society, the administration’s role in racial integration in fraternities and sororities and more.

Eight years ago, with the lack of racial integration in the University’s greek system making headlines farther and farther away from campus, President Witt was a supporter of the desegregation of the campus fraternities and sororities. In August 2003, Witt reversed a policy that former UA President Andrew Sorensen implemented that held the events of rush week until after classes started.

“Sorensen changed the policy to promote diversity,” Witt said in a 2003 interview with The Crimson White. “After talking with [Panhellenic President] Heather Schacht and [SGA President] Katie Boyd, I was convinced that the sororities were making a good-faith effort at diversity.”

Witt said he was optimistic about diversity in the greek system but cautioned everyone involved. He said they needed to have realistic expectations about black students joining sororities, saying greek integration would be difficult for two main reasons.

“Number one, we’re not dealing with a large pool [of black women],” Witt said. “Number two, the first African-Americans who are accepted are going to be subjected to a lot of media pressure.”

In spite of these obstacles, President Witt said he was optimistic that a multicultural student would be accepted into a traditionally white sorority or fraternity that year.

He was right. In 2003, Carla Ferguson, a black student, was offered membership in the Gamma Phi Beta sorority.

With Ferguson’s admittance, attention on the matter flared and then died down. It seemed as if Gamma Phi Beta had made the first step toward integration.

However, segregation has remained a staple for many of the University’s sororities since that time. Last month, eight years after Ferguson seemed to have opened the door for racial integration in the University’s greek society, a handful of black girls, such as freshman Sherles Durham, rushed Alabama’s traditionally white sororities in the largest rush in the nation. They all were dropped from recruitment by every sorority.

‘A taint on the University’s image’

In April 2011, Faculty Senate President Clark Midkiff said the issue of segregation of traditionally white fraternities and sororities did not die in 2003 and is still a major problem and a taint on the University’s image.

“I don’t think the greek system is inherently racist,” Midkiff said, “but it does not look good that most fraternities and sororities have no African-American members.

“It would be great if our greek system was integrated,” he added. “It’s something that can be used by people who dislike the University as a means of painting a bad picture.”

He explained that other universities, when they were seeking to recruit a minority student of particular interest and talent, could easily point to Alabama’s lack of racial integration, particularly in its greek system, and scare away potential students from an environment that seems unwelcoming.

“The situation needs to improve,” Midkiff said. “I don’t think most of these people are any more racist than your average Alabama student, but they certainly are not political activists, by any means, against racism.

“There probably have been one or two people that have said things like ‘the University owns the land that those fraternity and sorority houses are built upon. We should kick them off campus if they don’t become integrated,’” Midkiff said. “But that was not ever the majority opinion of the Faculty Senate.”

“I don’t think it’s productive to demand anything from them,” he said. “I think the administration would prefer that this issue not be exaggerated, and I appreciate that because this can be used to embarrass us, but I do think the administration and Student Affairs need to do something, somehow, to encourage greeks to be more friendly to having African-American members.”

Midkiff mentioned the delay of rush week until classes start, the policy that President Sorenson implemented and President Witt reversed in 2003.

“What they did, for example, at Ole Miss, is they did away with the rush before school starts,” Midkiff said. “Because rush before school starts makes girls loyal first to their sorority, and then later, as they become students, to the University itself, and it should be flip-flopped.

“The Ole Miss system, with its rebel flag and its rebel mascot, is obviously one of the old Southern schools,” Midkiff said. “And they are, I think, considerably more integrated that we are.

“My personal belief on this matter is that it never works when you force people to do things against their wishes,” Midkiff said. “What you have to do is change their wishes. Somehow — and I don’t know how — but somehow, the University and everybody else that’s interested needs to point out to these fraternities and sororities that it would be good if they were more open to all members of the campus community.

“Somehow, we need to all be friends,” Midkiff said. “And maybe, sometimes, more than friends — brothers.”

Will Tucker and Patty Vaughan contributed to this report. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lindsey-Weiner/1011420783 Lindsey Weiner

    As proud of I am of our university at points, I am even more so embarrassed and disappointed at others. Dr. Witt and the administration are cowards. If I would have read some of these quotes out of context, I would have no clue what freaking decade we are in. Grow some balls Witt and your talking mouthpiece of the admin. I guess as long as you’re making money off of students in anyway possible, you don’t really care. http://cw.ua.edu/2011/09/15/witt-defends-traditional-greek-system/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=78204484 Jenny Shaneyfelt

    It would derail everything the groups stand for if they were forced to include a certain group of people with toned skin. The choice should be based on personality fit not appearance. The University should give incentives to groups who are integrated. For example, front row reservations at football games, extra parking….The University is prideful about traditions, but groups should be rewarded for breaking traditions that aren’t healthy for the student body. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chance-Cunningham/1008330031 Chance Cunningham

      “It would derail everything the groups stand for if they were forced to include a certain group of people with toned skin” is potentially one of the most racist things I’ve ever read. I may be misreading that, I hope I am, but if you’re saying that accepting “a certain group of people with toned skin” would “derail everything the groups stand for” then you are obviously for social and institutional discrimination based on race.

      “The choice should be based on personality fit not appearance.” I agree. When the vast, overwhelming majority is one type of white female, though, I doubt that the choice is based explicitly on personality. The incentives idea is only a band-aid over a symptom. The problem must be treated at the source; That is, in the deepest darkest corners of power at this university.


      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=78204484 Jenny Shaneyfelt

        No that is not what I meant. Being FORCED to include a someone SOLELY because of their skin and not because they mix with the group, contradicts the purpose of a sorority. Not to mention how degrading it would be for the girl who got in without any one member’s vote. I can hear the chatter now “well she just got in because they had to fit the quota and not because we wanted her or like her.”

  • Anonymous

    Sororities and fraternities are just like country clubs. They can offer a bid to whomever they like based on their membership criteria, and do not have to adhere to laws that companies have to adhere to under federal law due to them being private entities. The only race that is being focused on in these articles is African-American. AOPi had an Indian girl as their social chair a couple of years ago, and Gamma Phi has had Asians. The CW does not choose to acknowledge these facts as they always do, and tries to make the Greek system look bad to offset all of the good we do for Tuscaloosa, and the many individual philanthropies our Greek system supports.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chance-Cunningham/1008330031 Chance Cunningham

      Except that your “country clubs” sit on state-owned ground. They also accept state money, despite what you say. We all know they do. I could look up a few examples of people derping and the record of them accepting said funds making it to the CW, but I won’t bother because it won’t change your indoctrinated mind. Also, accepting one or two minorities into your little group doesn’t make you not racist, it makes you look like you’re desperately shouting, “See guys! We’re not racist!”. Your grip on a campus “democracy” for the past 100 years hardly makes anything you say believable. The Machine exists. You can look at the links below if you don’t believe me. Of course, your indoctrination has you already saying, “No, it doesn’t.” Let’s face it, we’re looking at one of the last bastions of institutionalized racism in the United States. Don’t even start me on your overt class discrimination; I’d say it’s more pervasive than your racism. It’s cute how you’ve pretended that the last 60 years of civil rights history doesn’t exist, but it’s time for this bigotry to come to an end.


      • Anonymous

        Let’s see here, I did not refer to the machine at all in my response. I’d appreciate it if you want to get your rocks off on that argument, then please do it where it is appropriate. Could you please define derping for me? I can not seem to find it in any self respecting dictionary of the English language. Sororities do not accept state funds, I’d like you to see your proof. The sororities usually pull in $250000 minimum a semester by member dues. I don’t think they need to accept state funds. Also, for future reference, a blog such as ugly tusk would not count as a valid reference in an argument. It is opinion piece, that doesn’t even validate anything really. Your second link is pretty weak in argument too. It links to a wikipedia article, and I have yet had anyone validate that as a valid source. It’s kinda like me referencing Big Foot and saying he exists cause wikipedia says its true.

        • Anonymous

          Then why not, like private country clubs, have sororities and fraternities move onto private property? If sororities are pulling in that amount of money, and they only want to allow a few “token’ minorities in, why not make them private institution and carry on off campus? I’ll tell you why, because it would not be tolerated. Just like any other business, and let’s face it fraternities and sororities are just businesses, they would face not only civil lawsuits for discrimination, but would face criminal charges. However in the end, they would all close because who would want to join a club that would have ”them” as a member right?   

    • Anonymous

      Then shouldn’t they be off a public school campus? If sororities and fraternities at the University of Alabama want to continue in their private country club ways, they will have to change locations or change their “membership criteria”.  How much longer are the students and the staff at this university going to allow this blatant racism to exist ON THIS CAMPUS? Are 25% of the student population that much more important than the laws and civil liberities that we have fought to establish in our country?
      I do have to applaud the traditionally white sororities and fraternities, they know that the majority of the independents don’t vote during SGA election time and they have almost 100% voter turn out! Instead of me/us complaining, we need to VOTE!! If you don’t like the ways things are going, change who’s making things the way they are. VictoryLap, I think you are extremely well spoken, and I agree with a lot of your points, but it’s up to all of us to change the way you think.

  • Anonymous

    Sororities and fraternities are just like country clubs. They can offer a bid to whomever they like based on their membership criteria, and do not have to adhere to laws that companies have to adhere to under federal law due to them being private entities. The only race that is being focused on in these articles is African-American. AOPi had an Indian girl as their social chair a couple of years ago, and Gamma Phi has had Asians. The CW does not choose to acknowledge these facts as they always do, and tries to make the Greek system look bad to offset all of the good we do for Tuscaloosa, and the many individual philanthropies our Greek system supports.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BYET73EDWVTJFCFGGZ7XSAPR7Q ChellG

    I have no problems with having white or black sororities. White women have every right to keep their sororities pure white and not admit black, dark skinned Latino or Asian women. However, I do have problems when the same white women complain about black students segregating themselves at lunch tables and of course white people complaining about black cultural centers and Latino studies saying that whites dont have separate organizations anymore. White people have separate organizations in this country. There are several at the University of Alabama. They should not be called traditionally white sororities. Call snow a snow! They are plain and simple sororities for white women only! So the viable solution would be to give blacks a cultural center and keep white sororities white and stop complaining about black students segregating themselves!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chance-Cunningham/1008330031 Chance Cunningham

      “I have no problems with having white or black sororities.” Then you have no problem with institutionalized race discrimination. You may as well have no problem with blacks being forced to ride on the back of a public transit bus, or having to drink from separate water fountains, or attend different schools. Race discrimination (or that loaded word “racism”) is race discrimination no matter what level it’s perpetrated on. To say that the “level” of discrimination matters is wrong. Discrimination is wrong no matter how big, small, or institutionalized.

      “White women have every right to keep their sororities pure white and not admit black, dark skinned Latino or Asian women.” No, they do not. Maybe if every sorority and fraternity house, “traditionally african-american” ones included, didn’t sit on state-owned land and accept the dollars of Alabama taxpayers your argument could work, but this is not the case.

      Furthermore, all of those ideas you presented are similar to the ones Jenny Shaneyfelt did. They’re all just band-aids over the wound of a living, breathing relic of pre-civil rights era thought.

      It’s 2011 and we’re still not past discrimination based on the color of one’s skin. How pathetic. Then again, I am arguing with someone who said “caste to India is race to America” on Yahoo! Pulse.


      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BYET73EDWVTJFCFGGZ7XSAPR7Q ChellG

        Nope, not white or black for that matter…not even close…living in Virginia for the time being. From another country, now a US citizen. My point was not whether it was right or wrong. All racial discrimination is wrong, whether caste or race. However, the reality is no one really wants to integrate. Some blacks may try and integrate white sororities, not because of wanting to pair up with white men, but because of white privilege. Whites have access to all the right connections. Now that is a valid argument for integration. Yes, if they plan to remain separate they should not be subsidized by the university. Yes, we are still not past discrimination based on skin color and we will never be. The data on the number of people, particularly white women who date interracially essentially indicates that while 80% of white women (according to Gallup) may not oppose IR, most will not engage in it and many white women have views similar to the US vice consul in Chennai, India that dark skinned people are “dark and dirty”, and I am one of those dark skinned people. That is the reality. We once had a missionary from Alabama in India who said that caste discrimination and idolatory are the main reasons for converting to christianity. He is from Tuscaloosa and still lives there. Obviously he has not been to the white sororities of UA. If hindus in India are idolatorous pagans and worship idols, the white christians in the sororities of UA are idoloatorous pagans and worship white skin color. Yes, caste in India is no different from race in America. The only thing we dont do in America now is to lynch interracial couples…and yes we still lynch inter-caste couples in India…heck, we even lynch the same caste couples if the parents dont permit them to marry for one reason or another. Am I proud of either my American or Indian heritage? No! However, I still think that they will lynch interracial couples in Alabama if there were no civil rights laws which are strongly enforced! Just three months ago some teens in your neighboring state ran over a black man which is now in full view of international TV and this with civil rights laws in the books!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chance-Cunningham/1008330031 Chance Cunningham

          These are responses to the points which you disagreed with me:
          1.) I never insinuated what race you are because, unlike you, I don’t care what race you are.
          2.) “All racial discrimination is wrong, whether caste or race. However,
          the reality is no one really wants to integrate.” That’s quite a
          contradiction for two sentences right next to each other. I guess we all
          just want to live in blatant moral disregard, right? Furthermore, I
          don’t care if they want to integrate or not, they shouldn’t be allowed
          to exclude people from their group based on race in any way. Maybe it
          would work in your world where all you see is the color of one’s skin
          and immediately judge them there following, but you have a sad view of
          human potential.
          3.) “Whites have access to all the right connections.” I agree with
          this, though I find it morally disgusting. Again, if you had any hope in
          humanity you wouldn’t simply resort to accepting race relations as they
          currently stand. Race relations in Alabama are better now than they
          have ever been, but that doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the road.
          4.) “Yes, we are still not past discrimination based on skin color and
          we will never be.” Again, what a sad view of the capacity of human love
          and intelligence. If we just resort ourselves to this train of thought
          then yes, we never will be a able to see through something so irrelevant
          as race.
          5.) “The data on the number… and I am one of those dark skinned
          people.” I seriously don’t know anyone, of any race, who views people of
          a different skin color as “dirty.” That’s just absurd. I don’t know
          what poll you’re talking about, I don’t really care, I’d just advise you
          to be more mindful of where you get your information. Business
          interests have their hands all over the pockets of the American media,
          and this sounds like some junk they’d spew to keep the old wars raging.
          I’m sad that you’ve generalized a whole race of people based on some
          nonsense poll.
          6.) The missionary that visited you in India is exactly who I’m fighting
          in Alabama. That guy just sounds like a lunatic. I’ll save my rant on
          religion for another time.
          7.) “Yes, caste in India… marry for one reason or another.” The first
          and second sentences in that passage are in direct contradiction to each
          other. I’d say that the presence of lynching is more than enough to
          prove the two dissimilar.
          8.) “However, I still think that they will lynch interracial couples in
          Alabama if there were no civil rights laws which are strongly enforced!”
          I think this is the nail in the coffin for my argument of your sad view
          on human potential.
          9.) I don’t know the particular story you’re talking about but I doubt
          that it exclusively had to do with race. Even if it did, my love is for
          Alabama first and that’s where my fight will happen first.

          I don’t know what your connection with the university or Alabama is, but
          please, stay away from them with your sad, warped viewpoints.

          • Anonymous


            You clearly have way too much time on your hands, and you are way too bitter about not being able to be Greek. I know life probably sucks, but you just have to deal with it.

            Holla Back,
            Voice of Bama

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZZZII7QKXX2NPSTUETG7DX6UCQ icantdeny

            I like where you are coming from but you are living in a fantasy world i have no idea where to even begin on the differences between races ranging from biological differences among other things. Because of those very reasons and because of human evolution the very differences we separate ourselves with have been evident forever. For you to wish to change things overnight and force integration is absurd and it will fail miserably. What you are not seeming to understand is that both sides whites and black’s have little desire to see full integration. You really need to study human history, human evolution, human psychology and look in detail at racial differences start at the multiregional theory its gaining more light and coming back full force do to recent finds that disprove out of africa. Anyhow point being is you really need to study human evolution and human history and than you will have your answer.

            You have an egalitarianism view and are attempting pseudhistory. I like what you have to say i really do but you can only change so much. 
            You would have more success preaching set things to children as there minds are not made up.

  • http://twitter.com/reedtwatson Reed Watson

    Note to anyone who isn’t from Alabama who might have stumbled upon this article:  THIS IS REAL.  

    You might think this is satire… but you are wrong.  This is really the University president and he is really endorsing what you think he is endorsing.  

    Don’t worry, some of us are embarrassed too.

  • woods.darian

    I love my school, but the people are a different story. I mean what year are we in? Are whites still trying to feel empowered by doing ignorant things and making ignorant decisions as such? Can someone answer how in the world the sorority will go down the drain if a black was admitted? If image is what the Greek system worried about then they need to check who they already have, because MOST of the people already in one are a TRUE embarrassment to the white Greek system. I am disturbed that Witt is being so stupid also. A true president of anything does take into consideration its members, but also does what is best for the unit. He is being a scary a** punk that is scared of what will happen if he upsets the whining a** white greeks and their parents. WHO CARES???? how about we realize that this world and society is going to have to change whether it’s wanted or not. If you don’t believe me, I leave you with this…. my president is black and yours is too…. that’s right even you too greeks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZZZII7QKXX2NPSTUETG7DX6UCQ icantdeny

    Multiculturalism has always been largely a fail. The fact of the matter is that forcing others to intergrate people into systems that are outside establishments and basically like country clubs with selective membership. To force someone or a group to have to allow ___ people is a slippery slope. Regardless of race it wont be to much longer until X group decides to complain about XX group and how XX group is “racist”, “Bigoted” or “sexist” or some sort of behavior they dislike and than they will take advantage of such a system and force XX group to do things they may not want to do.

    The black fratnerities and sororities by and large have little interest in intergration as do the white fraternities and sororities. It will vary city to city and school to school. However keep in mind throughout human history people have stuck to their own.

    • zach jonez

      “Multiculturalism has ALWAYS been a failure…”

      Lets see, the two most successful ethnic groups by any fair measure in this country are Japanese Americans and Jewish Americans. Especially Jewish Americans have contributed well beyond their numbers in almost every facet of American business, intellectual and yes, even sporting life (not always as players, lol). e

      If Cal-Berkely having so many Asian Americans they need to be discriminated against, and the Ivy’s having all but one of their presidents being Jewish at one point last decade is “a fail” to you…then you are a hopeless dolt.

      Now, if by “multiculturalism” you mean the integration of AA’s into American life, you might have a bit more traction, but of course 400 yrs of slavery and another 100 or so of Jim Crow offer a small impediment and still we see AA women doing better and better socioeconomically.

      Oh and the largest group of births in this country in 40-50 yrs no matter what you or I think will almost certainly be mixed hispanic(mestizo)/White births, so these outdated ideas of race/culture are going to be obsolete any way you slice it regardless.

      Welcome to cracker land Alabama where segregation is good and “sticking with your own” is a basis of human development.

      You nimrod, you would still be smearing feces on caves in England/Germany if it wasn’t for mediterranean peoples not “sticking to their own”, savaging you militarily and enslaving/conquering/administrating you but teaching you how to read and be civilized in the process.