Our View: Witt, UA cannot defend systemic segregation

As students of The University of Alabama, we were both saddened and embarrassed last week when President Witt defended segregation in the greek community.

“It is appropriate that all our sororities and fraternities – traditionally African-American, traditionally white and multicultural – determine their membership,” Witt said. Effectively, he said that it is acceptable for organizations who build houses on University land, in some cases with University bonds, to continue to disqualify certain students from membership because of their race.

Obviously, that is not appropriate.

Segregation in the greek system isn’t limited to “traditionally white” or “traditionally black” organizations. Since President Witt arrived on campus, two new all white sororities have been established. They had no “traditional” race affiliation, yet neither have any black members.

Witt’s statement was only a partial response to five questions submitted to him by The Crimson White. If he had answered them in full, we may have been able to offer more insight into his thinking on this subject.

Unfortunately, when it comes to equality in the greek system, like other challenges on campus, the administration seems to prefer ignoring the issue to having a full and constructive conversation about it.

The Crimson White last asked Witt about diversity in the greek community in February, after a racial epithet was shouted at a black UA student from a fraternity house. When asked whether the segregated nature of the greek system contributed to that incident, he simply replied, “No.”

When asked to elaborate, he said, “I’m strongly tempted to say what part of ‘no’ is unclear, but I don’t think there was any relationship between the incident and our greek system.”

Witt classifies fraternities and sororities as “independent social organizations.” But when greek organizations want to throw parties, they are required to register them with the University. If they violate rules pertaining to alcohol or hazing, they can be put on social probation or kicked off campus. Only when they repeatedly discriminate against potential new members because of race does the University classify them as independent groups that govern themselves autonomously.

President Witt came to our campus with a great vision, and he has had phenomenal success in recruiting more, smarter students who have boosted our rankings and won prestigious awards. We are a better university as a result.

But when it comes to the cultural and leadership issues that define the character of our campus, President Witt has no vision. He just passes the buck.

It is one thing to lead a University through a period of outstanding numerical growth; it is entirely different to challenge a University’s students, faculty, and alumni to abandon the cruel and tired traditions that have divided this campus for far too long.

Our president is so averse to addressing these issues that he doesn’t even pay lip service to progress. He could have made a statement highlighting the excellent work leaders in our greek community are doing, through groups like Greeks T.I.D.E. and other forums, to promote diversity and equality. Instead, he chose to disregard those student-driven initiatives and defend the indefensible status quo.

Perhaps most troubling, though, is that President Witt’s recent comments on racial divisions in the greek community were much more defensive than his earlier comments. In 2003, he said he was optimistic a multicultural student would be accepted into a white sorority that year. Eventually, Carla Ferguson became a member of Gamma Phi Beta, realizing Witt’s vision.

But no black girl going through rush this year was successful. Why does the administration care less now than it did then? Is our culture so engrained with prejudice that, after eight years on campus, President Witt has become less supportive of greek integration? Or has his willingness to lead just diminished?

Going forward, it is our sincere hope that President Witt and the UA administration will at the very least speak candidly about the racial issues that seem to produce national headlines for our campus every few years. Students, staff and alumni should demand real answers from the leaders of this University.

 

 

Our View represents the consensus of The Crimson White editorial board.

 

 

 

 

Questions submitted to President Witt:

 

1. Dr. Witt said in 2003 that he thought the small pool of black women, coupled with media pressure on them, was impeding the integration of sororities. Those comments were made almost 10 years ago–the university has grown to 31,000+ students since then, significantly increasing the pool of candidates. Media coverage on the issue, as well, has significantly dropped off since Melody Twilley was on campus in 2000-2001-2002. In Dr. Witt’s view, what is impeding the acceptance of minority students, specifically black students, into traditionally white sororities today?

 

2. Is it necessarily important for the image AND culture of the University for black students to be accepted into traditionally white sororities? Please address both separately (image: how prospective students and alumni–donors–view the University; culture: the different sentiments and opinions of students on campus as affected by the University’s history, which includes a legacy of segregation.)

 

3. Dr. Witt said in 2003 that he was confident “sororities would make a good-faith effort at diversity.” Does he feel they have done so?

 

4. Does Dr. Witt support active administrative involvement in the integration of sororities? Why or why not?

 

5. Does Dr. Witt agree or disagree with the sentiment, expressed in past faculty senate meetings, that segregated sororities should not be allowed to reside on campus? Why agree or why disagree?

 

Response received:

 

The University offers a wide range of options for students to become involved on campus, including nearly 400 organizations that appeal to a wide range of students’ interests and needs. I encourage all students to take advantage of the many academic, social and volunteer opportunities available at the University during their time on campus.

 

Approximately 25 percent of our student body participates in the Greek system at UA, which includes traditionally African American, traditionally white and multicultural sororities and fraternities. The organizations that make up our Greek system regularly participate together in campuswide programs and co-sponsor events and initiatives. As independent social organizations, it is appropriate that all our sororities and fraternities – traditionally African American, traditionally white and multicultural – determine their membership.

  • Jeb

    As much as I think the Greek system does discriminate based on race and wish the university would do more about it, I also think we should consider an alternative view when examining Witt’s comments. Simply chalking it up as “supporting segregation” seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. I do not know the man, or his history beyond what you have discussed, so I only offer an alternative perspective for the fundamental beliefs behind his statement.

    Perhaps he was trying to take the same view as those that have protected the Boy Scouts from being forced to admit openly gay individuals. While I don’t agree with this specific Boy Scout position, as it tends to reflect the simple-minded view that if somebody is gay and you put them around children that the children will either be molested or “turned gay,” I also believe that such an organization as theirs has the right to define their membership. The same goes for all sorts of groups. If the Congressional Black Caucus wants to admit only black people, then go for it. If the NAACP (which is quite obviously a race-based organization) wants to define their membership requirements as first and foremost being black, then who cares? They don’t though. Witt’s point “may have been” that the university, nor anyone else, has the right to tell a private club that they must include somebody in their membership.

    The problem with this view is highlighted in your article above though. The university provides land, money, and permission for events to these organizations. Just like corporations that take bailout money from the government, this gives the university a foot in the door to demand changes… and they should, or risk being associated with the same negative ignorant viewpoints that segregation promotes. If, however, these organizations wanted to move off-campus and quit accepting money from the university, then I would say that nobody has the right to demand changes to their membership requirements.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

      As an Eagle Scout who dissents strongly from the official BSA policy on homosexuality (and atheism for that matter), I’d like to point out that there is another way in which it is similar to the stance that the UA administration takes on integration of the Greek system. The BSA also takes a good deal of government money, not least of which during the National Jamboree, during which it pays $1 to rent land on a military installation, and receives the help of US military personnel in order to set up its event. In both of these cases, it’s legal, although not moral a private group to have its own membership requirements, but public money should not be allowed to go to a group with bigoted policies.

    • Anonymous

      I strongly agree with the last sentence, but as long as they’re on campus receiving special privileges from a public university, they must not discriminate.  

      Also, not to nitpick but the NAACP’s membership is NOT all black, as anyone familiar with the organization could tell you.  I’ve known NAACP members of all races and seen people of all races at NAACP events and functions.  In fact, many of the NAACP’s co-founders were white.  The organization is dedicated to ending racial injustice, but it enjoins all Americans to contribute to that end and welcomes members of all races and it always has.

      • Jeb

        Agreed about NAACP’s membership. I specifically mentioned in my post that they do not discriminate based on race. (See the sentence immediately following my statement about the group: “They don’t though.”) I applaud that and wish others would follow their example.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tgustin3 Tripp Gustin

    Very nice. President Witt’s response annoyed me as well — just because something is traditional doesn’t make it right, especially when it comes to something as obviously backwards as segregation. I wish people would stop making excuses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yoshiisnoexpando Sam Gerard

    Saying this “To each his own” concept for fraternities and sororities is just a cushion for segregation. I’m only a freshman, but it seems as if the greek members of our campus seem to almost rival one another. 

    I seriously doubt I’ve seen a frat pledgee wearing a red tie and blazer mingle with the ones with tucked-in collared shirts and jeans. While I am confident some of the frats and sororities do things to benefit the campus and community, it does not seem to be a prevalent element on our campus. They are not as zealous as we like to let on or assume. People need to realize the overall poisonous nature of these organizations: To promulgate racism, elitism, and unmitigated hatred on campus. 

    • Anonymous

      If you’re a freshman, it seems you’ve only been on campus for a month. So how would you notice if these organizations have an impact on the campus or not? And why is it only Greek organizations that seem to promote elitism? You don’t see students of average intelligence bashing the Honors organizations for thinking they’re smarter than the next guy. There’s plenty of groups on this campus that I disagree with but I’m not saying just because I don’t like them they don’t deserve to be here.

  • http://twitter.com/SororityHippie Flower child

    Hilarious. Before you write an article that directly calls the entire greek system- and the majority of the campus- racist, you should do more research and consider a few things. First, why not find out the number of women and men of differing races that actually chose to go through recruitment? Less than ten women chose to do so. Ten out of seventeen hundred women. Many of which dropped out on their own. Should a women who doesn’t meet a sororities grade or activities standards be allowed to join the sorority just because she’s black? No. Same goes with the black sororities. To continue, as a white sophomore, with a black roommate, (whom I chose to live with; racism??) I thought I would look more into this issue and ask her thoughts on the subject. In doing so I learned so much information, that I could in fact write a counter article bashing the blatantly racist black sororities and fraternities. The majority of black men and women do not want to be a part of the “white” greek system. If a black woman chooses to rush the “white” greek system, she will not be allowed to rush with the black sororities as this is seen as degrading and embarrassing to do so. Black sororities and fraternities are equally, if not more against the so-called desegregation of the greek system.That being said, did you consider the interracial “white” fraternities currently on campus? Yes, those do exist. How about the multiple dinners and parties that the “white” and “black” greeks host with one another? Or that the racial slur shouted from a fraternity house last semester was indeed the act of one drunk idiot and not an act of the entire fraternity. Try not to be so biased next time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarahhhann Sarah Ann Hughes

      One thing to point out– you mention that this column calls “the majority of the campus” racist. Actually, only around 30% of campus is affiliated with a Greek organization. Just to be clear.

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps a climate of systematic racism could be part of the reason why so few people of color (especially Black people) want anything to do with the white supremacist country clubs that pass for the white fraternities on this campus?

    • Anonymous

      The CW needs a dislike button. I find your apologist rant to be unconvincing. If a black guy tried to rush an old row fraternity how many would give him a bid? You and I both know the answer to that question, so quit trying to rationalize it and quit acting butthurt over being called out. 

    • Anonymous

      Not sure where your roommate received her information from but if a black woman chooses to rush the “white” greek system and that doesn’t work out she is not barred from applying for membership into a “black” sorority. I know people who have done it! And how can you say that the black sororities and fraternities are blatantly racist?? UA’s NPHC has lots of diversity in their sororities and fraternities. So, the next you want to bash the black greeks, know your facts. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Fulton/100000019043153 Dan Fulton

    TIME FOR CHANGE!!!
    SEE:
    http://bit.ly/etKRUQ

  • Anonymous

    I spent 6 years at the University of Alabama, and have never been so proud of the Crimson White.  This Editorial Board has done a wonderful job with investigative journalism and thoughtful reflection.  BRAVO!

  • Anonymous

    “Our View represents the consensus of The Crimson White editorial board.”  Obviously there was not unanimity on the editorial board regarding this issue.  How many are on the board, and how many dissented?

    More to the point.  The editorial board’s “view” is really nothing more than an effort to put a negative spin on President Witt’s statement, which is really nothing more than libertarian approach to private campus organizations.  Editorial board just what is your solution?  I doubt we will see such an editorial from the CW proposing a comprehensive solution.  That would simply be too revealing.  It is no secret that the powers that be at the CW are simply anti-Greek, period  The race issue is just a convenient bloody shirt that the CW can perennially wave to cast Greek organizations (i.e. the non-African American ones) in a negative light.  While occasionally there is an article portraying a Greek organization in a positive fashion, many more by certain CW writers practically seethe with resentment against a system they see as nothing more than the bastion of the privileged elite.

    Just a different verse of the same old song. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.n.dethrage Stephen Nathaniel Dethrage

      As a CW writer, I generally steer very clear of the comments section, but your comment that the “powers that be” at the CW are anti-greek is clearly uninformed. Our news editor is greek. Our assistant news editor is greek, Our opinions editor is greek. It is possible to be against the flaws in an organization and not the organization itself.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7VA2CVBUSCPPIQYSZPIKXV7T5Q newlifexc

        So that is 3 individuals that are Greek out of how many?  Your “contact us” page lists 16 individuals.  Are these 3 individuals part of the “consensus” that supports the opinion expressed in the original editorial?  I know full well that there are a few Greeks on the CW staff.  Does that somehow convey to it some special objectivity on the issue?  I guess you are presuming to speak for the editorial board when you state “it is possible to be against the flaws in an organization and not the organization itself.”  My point was that it is all to EASY to point out what one sees as flaws in an organization and not suggest anything constructive in the way of a solution.  And that is all the original editorial does.  Again.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BQYS344JLO6ANEFMH65QBT6AYY Sean

          Witt said about 25% of the campus is greek. If 3 out of 16 people in leadership positions at The CW are greek, that’s about 19%. Not terribly far off. And The CW has never made it a habit of turning away people from working with them due to their status as a member of a greek organization.

          As for a constructive suggestion, I do believe the editorial board was suggesting that maybe the administration shouldn’t be so “look the other way” about segregation in our student organizations of this campus and should attempt to enact change. Fraternities and sororities on BOTH sides of the racial equation should look to be more inclusive and less derisive. It would be grand if separations like greek and non-greek or black and white or whatever else didn’t exist. A step toward that is challenging the perpetuation of it. A step toward THAT is not being silently ignorant about the issue.

  • Anonymous

    Unless President Witt said, “Black students should not be allowed in traditionally white greek organizations and I stand by this discrimination 100%” then do not say that he said that. The quote you guys blew completely out of proportion said nothing like that. I don’t understand how him saying students should be free to choose, got turned into ” he said that it is acceptable for organizations who build houses on University land, in some cases with University bonds, to continue to disqualify certain students from membership because of their race” That is seriously the most rediculous accusation I’ve ever heard. And btw: What about the social events that the “majority black” and “majority white” organizations have together? Not to mention the already existing interracial fraternities. I am not greek, but I am extremely offended by the way your paper is attempting to portray the President of the University as well as some very respectable organizations. What a bias article.
    Also: the last piece of that line I quoted… who SAYS it’s because of their race? Unless these organizations handing them a letter saying: Your race disqualifies you from being a member, then don’t make such absurd assumptions.

    • Anonymous

      I also want to ask why this article deems Gamma Phi Beta a “white sorority”. Do these assumptions and classifications not contribute just as much as the others?
      And on another note: How many girls when through rush this year? Oh that’s right… 1700+. And an earlier article mentioned a “handful” of african american girls rushed yet none of them were admitted due to race. Because I’m sure the other several hundred girls that weren’t picked was because of race too. Weak reporting. This shouldn’t even be a story unless all the bases are covered and they clearly are not.

  • John Markle

    Even if they aren’t “independent” organizations, why would you want to be in a social organization if you are only there because the university forced the organization to.  I do believe that there is racism in the greek community, but realistically there is no fix to it.  We could make fraternities and sororities initiate people from other races, but do you think just because someone wears a house’s letters that everything will be okay?  If so you are ignorant.  In reality, forcing other races upon the Greek community will only hurt the organizations as a whole.  If you want to be in an organization not because they wanted you but because they had to, then this is definitely your route.  But if you know that they don’t want you, then what is your real purpose behind rushing?  Either way, this article was designed that no matter what Witt responded, the article’s purpose would have been the same

    • Anonymous

      I agree completely. And here’s another thought: If you supposedly aren’t let into an organization based on your race, why would you want to be let into one for that very same reason? Who would want to know they’re in an organization ONLY because the university told them you had to be bc of your color? Idk about you, but I wouldn’t want to be in that position. And to think this whole back and forth came from one girl saying that she didn’t get in bc of her color. Heaven forbid it have anything to do with her character or anything remotely related. (sarcasm btw)

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

    Segregated sororites are a microcosm of white flight from minorities in the communities are large. Higher the number of minorities or foreign students admitted, higher the number of white women who will want to pledge into sororities. Just stating a fact, not supporting segregation. Secondly, you dont have to grow up in Alabama to be a segregationist. Your parents could teach you to be a segregationist even in a foreign country. Jared Taylor of American Rennaissance grew up in Japan but despises Asians and the Japanese. There is this young lady in a sorority at a southern university (wont mention the school) who is very segregationist. She grew up in Singapore. Guess where she learnt her attitudes. At home in Singapore. she brought home a local Chinese female classmate and her mother had fits and wont let the Chinese girl in…this was back in 2004 when the girls were 13….and this happened in the Chinese girl’s country! As the song in South Pacific states…”you have to be carefully taught to hate!” 

  • http://twitter.com/bamabelle2k9 Stacey Mickles

    As an alumnus we should all be embarrassed by this article. This is 2011, when are people going to get over their hang ups about race especially in our fraternity and sorority system. Most other campuses around the country don’t have this problem but we do all in the name of feeling comfortable around people who are just like us and tradition which is a bunch of crap. I remember most of the girls in these sororities hated and were jealous of each other and most of the girls in them were phonies and back stabbers. That was almost 20 yrs ago and I see nothing has changed. I don’t understand why ANY black or white girl would want to join them, but the point is if she does and has a great background, then why can’t she? Or why can’t he for that matter? Oh that’s right tradition. It amazes me too that these same people standing up for the segregated greek system have no problem putting on their ties and their sun dresses and cheering for the Crimson Tide on Saturday which is made up of mostly black players, but I guess that’s ok because that’s a tradition too.

    • Anonymous

      Are you implying that guys should be allowed into sororities and that every greek organization is racist, thus them cheering for black football players is hypocritical? Since when did this become about white organizations hating the black population? This is about the “segregation” of the greek system, which also includes mostly black organizations also. And believe it or not, they too, don’t mind the way things are now.

  • http://twitter.com/BonnieBLatino Bonnie Bartel Latino

    Let’s see….first week of classes, there was a column about diversity in various organizations on campus…next came the CW’s stance on block seating…now this “Our View”…Do I see a trend in the CW?

    I certainly hope so.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, CW.
    Why is it that the word “traditionally” seems to make the phrase “traditionally white organization” sufficiently noncontroversial? Any criticism of this article which fails provide a thoughtful answer to this question has clearly not seriously considered the social conditions at UA that make this investigation necessary.