In sororities, integration still elusive

Ole Miss ASB President Kimbrely Dandridge. (photo courtesy of The Daily Mississippian | Will Strouth)

Kimbrely Dandridge is a black Phi Mu at Ole Miss and president of the SGA-equivalent Associated Student Body. Dandridge’s experience underscores dramatic racial progress at Ole Miss, a university that, like UA, was at the center of the civil rights upheaval in the 1960s. While UA can also point to increased diversity among students, faculty and staff, the greek system here remains largely segregated.

Dandridge rushed as a sophomore at Ole Miss, using her freshman year to become acclimated and involved on campus with student government.

“What they look for in sophomores is more intense than it is for freshmen,” Dandridge said. “You’ve been in college for a year, and they know you, and they can look up more about you. I don’t know why I went through recruitment. I thought I would pledge a predominately black sorority, but I don’t know what changed my mind.”

A resident advisor at the time, Dandridge said she ultimately decided to go through recruitment because of some of the girls on her floor.

“Phi Mu was the only one I pref’ed,” she said. “I didn’t know any Phi Mus, so I didn’t feel like I would get in. It just so happened, like they say, you end up where you’re supposed to be, and I ended up in Phi Mu – where I was supposed to be.”

Moving forward

Guy Bailey has framed pictures leaning against the dark wood walls of his office in Rose Administration Building. In one, the University’s new president sits leaning against a post, listening as two men talk on a porch. Bailey’s in the background, with his head tilted slightly down so that unless he points himself out, a casual viewer might never know it was him. He loves the picture – but after only five full weeks in office, he hasn’t had time to hang it yet.

In an interview in his office on Oct. 12, Bailey explained that he hasn’t been at The University of Alabama long enough to have heard any concerns about racial segregation in Alabama’s fraternities and sororities, either.

“That’s something that hasn’t been discussed since I got here,” he said in response to a question about equal opportunity policies and whether they apply to the University’s greek chapters. “Normally, your policies don’t involve telling them who their membership can be or cannot be. Having said that, we would like to see the integration of the fraternities and sororities.

“That would be a very positive thing for the image of the institution and for the University,” he said. “I don’t know what the issues are or how integrated or not integrated they are, but we certainly will do what we can to encourage that and help move them forward.”

Though Bailey might have yet to hear about the degree to which UA’s sororities are segregated, Dandridge has. UA’s Panhellenic rush in the fall has traditionally been a barrier for black potential new members after the second or third round of parties.

“When I heard the greek system at UA didn’t have any [African Americans], that kind of surprised me,” she said.

Dandridge said nationally Phi Mu is a diverse sorority, and she was not the first black woman to be pledged by Ole Miss’ chapter. Although she never considered attending UA, she said if she knew she would not have received a bid from the traditionally white Panhellenic sororities, much less that she would have been dropped after the first few rounds of parties, she would not have rushed.

Dandridge did acknowledge, though, that Ole Miss’ greek community has its own flaws, as well.

“We are a big sorority at Ole Miss, but not the biggest,” she said. “We still have a long way to go, and from my experiences going through rush, I know we have a long way to go. There are so many sororities here that haven’t had an African American or anyone of color. There are only three sororities that have accepted African Americans.”

Given Ole Miss’ controversial chapter in the Civil Rights Movement – in 1962, riots that resulted in a battle between segregationist civilians and the National Guard erupted when James Meredith, a black man, enrolled – Dandridge is proud of her school as it works toward integration.

“Ole Miss has made so much progress over the years, but we aren’t a perfect institution,” Dandridge said. “If any school can relate to Ole Miss, it’s Alabama. If you think of Alabama, you think of Mississippi.”

Slow change

While UA’s greek system has been slow to change, some members of the community agree that widespread integration needs to be addressed.

Emily Parker, a senior at the University majoring in environmental science and a member of Sigma Delta Tau, a historically Jewish sorority with non-Jewish members, confirmed that her sorority does have black members, but other Panhellenic sororities do not.

“We have three,” Parker said. “No, none of the other ones have black members.”

The Crimson White contacted the Alabama Panhellenic Association on Sept. 13 and the Office of Greek Affairs Oct. 16 regarding demographic information for Panhellenic sororities and did not receive a response before going to print.

Parker said Sigma Delta Tau was founded on the principle of nondiscrimination and accepted their first African American member as a chapter in 2010. Although a big step for the chapter, Parker said there wasn’t any controversy, but she has received stares at Panhellenic meetings when with a black sorority sister.

“I guess it’s just the stereotypes on campus,” Parker said. “Segregation by choice – I don’t really understand it. I don’t understand why it’s taken so long.”

The University of Alabama last addressed the issue of membership in greek houses publicly in September 2011. Then-president and current UA Chancellor Robert Witt stated that greek organizations were independent social organizations and would be treated accordingly by the University.

“Approximately 25 percent of our student body participates in the greek system at UA,” Witt said in an emailed 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.”

Bailey, in his Oct. 12, 2012 interview, said while the greek houses remain independent social organizations, the composition of fraternity and sorority membership will ultimately mirror national trends.

“If they’re not integrated now, I’m sure it won’t be very long in the future before they are,” Bailey said. “It’s just the way things are happening around the country. Those national trends will happen here too, at some point. We’ll encourage that as we can.”

Living the Creed

Those national trends have already made their way to the South, even to the state of Alabama. Auburn University saw its first black woman join a traditionally white sorority more than ten years ago, Auburn Panhellenic President Emily Riley said.

“Our sorority chapters are supportive of one another as a community and join together based on their common values, so it has not been a divisive thing,” Riley said. “Our students of different races sit by one another in class, live with one another in residence halls and work together at the same jobs. They are all part of the same Auburn University community, so it is only natural that they would join the same organizations, including sororities.”

Riley said Auburn’s Panhellenic body ensures their members know to follow their own policies in membership selection – all of which include treating all races fairly and equally, she said.

Dandridge, however, said she thinks the issue of greek integration wouldn’t exist if sororities and fraternities took a step back and reexamined their founding principles.

“The most important thing to greek organizations should be to live out their creed,” she said. “Nine out of ten times, their mottos talk about love, trust and loyalty. Nobody’s motto talks about discrimination or judging by color. If they live their creed and motto, there wouldn’t be any of this. My sorority’s motto is about love and honor and living that love part of my creed. I’m going to love anyone coming through recruitment, and I’m going to love someone not because of their color.”

  • Student

    Great story! Thank you for being brave enough to cover a topic that most people sweep under the rug and pretend doesn’t exist. These are the kinds of stories that we need to hear!

  • Guest

    Sorry we aren’t sorry.

    • Wanderer

      Ahh, shameless racism. What could be better? Oh, that’s right. The answer to that question is anything. Anything would be better than shameless racism. It’s 2012. Really at this point you need to move past this archaic bullshit. It’s not even despicable anymore, not really. All it is is pathetic. It’s sad that an entire nation has progressed over the last 60 years and people like you are just frozen in time with a ridiculous elitism and a superiority complex that, even down here in Alabama, has no place anymore. Sorry you’re not sorry? We’re sorry, too. Time is rolling over people like you and moving on. The era when something like this was acceptable is over. The times, they are (finally) a-changin’ at the University, and to borrow from the same song, you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone. I hope you chose the former and abandon your childish elitism and racism and get with the program of the 21st century, but honestly if you end up on the sinking end of the metaphor, that’s okay with me, too.

  • guest

    I don’t understand why people seem to believe that a sorority should give an African American girl a bid, just because she is African American. There are so many factors that people do not see when choosing new members, and there have been very few AA girls to pick from. There have been a small amount of girls who have gone through recruitment in the past, but who’s to say that they didn’t bother getting recommendations, or maybe they didn’t have the grades or the diverse background that the sorority was looking for? There were 2000 girls going through recruitment this year, out of those 2000 I would guess that there were only 2 or 3 AA girls, if any. Out of those 2000, 500 were released. In order to improve the chance of an AA girl getting into a sorority more girls should go through recruitment! There are girls of color in sororities on campus, I personally know quite a few girls with Asian, Polynesian, and Indian heritage that are proud members of their sororities.

  • nowulistenhear

    Being very familiar with Ole Miss and their greek system, I feel compelled to say what I’m about to say. As mentioned in the article, Kimbrely Dandridge was not the first AA woman to pledge her sorority at Ole Miss. As a matter of fact, that young lady was Amber Evans, daughter of Rob Evans, Ole Miss’ first AA Head Basketball Coach; she pledged thirteen years earlier than Dandridge. And by the way, her brother Damon five years earlier was the first known African-American to pledge a historically white Ole Miss fraternity. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was much easier for those historically white GLO’s to integrate for the first time with the children of an Ole Miss VIP than with your average student going through recruitment.

    And today Damon Evans’ fraternity and Amber Evans’ sorority are two of only a handful of historically white GLO’s at Ole Miss to have AA members. In fact, two years ago there was a column in the Ole Miss Daily Mississippian where a white member of a historically white fraternity complained about race being very unnecessarily a factor in greek recruitment

    And with Dandridge, according to at least one source, she was originally going to join a historically black sorority, but got turned down on what sounds like a technicality. And when she went through Panhellenic recruitment, she was told that the alumni of two houses did not want her because they “weren’t ready for a black girl yet.” That then left the sorority which happened to have had an African-American member before, the daughter of the school’s first AA basketball coach, who – happily – accepted her. There were two sororities which – like the vast majority of Ole Miss historically white GLO’s – never had an AA member who “weren’t ready for a black girl” and cut her, and one which happened to have had the experience of having one, who accepted her. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. And say that Dandridge certainly sounds very deserving of a bid from any sorority.

    So, I guess my point is, while I’m certainly happy that at least some have AA members, I really don’t think that Ole Miss’ historically-white GLO’s are really any more progressive than those at Alabama. They just, in my opinion, have had circumstances that were much easier for African-Americans to be accepted for membership than those at the Capstone. I think pretty much at any college in America, the members themselves of historically-white GLO’s will accept any potential new member regardless of color (though different authorities on the subject feel ONLY a few minorities as a whole) who they like and quite honestly deem “cool” enough for their GLO. But it seems to be the alumni of them, especially in the deep south, that pose the biggest barrier to integration. Maybe someday soon, there will be a good climate for at least one Alabama Panhellenic sorority participating in formal recruitment to make a progressive move here.

    • Sharon Lovoy

      Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see that she claimed to be the first.

  • Alumna

    Why is there such a push for white sororities and fraternities to take AA members, but no push for AA sororities or fraternities to take white members? Do you really think AKA would have welcomed me in with open arms? Doubtful. They probably would have died if I showed up to an info meeting.
    While I believe integration in everyday life is important, greek life is just different. I am an alumna of the greek system at UA. When I was in college, my AA friends (yes I had AA friends) would ask what we did in our sorority. When I would tell them, they would always laugh and ask why we did the crazy things we did and how that would never fly at their houses. When they would tell me what they did at their houses, it didn’t sound very appealing to me either. It is not good or bad, just different.
    People of different races can be great friends, however in greek life (in all white AND in all AA chapters) people of similar races, religions, backgrounds, etc., will always have a closer bond just because they have less obstacles to overcome in their relationships due to the fact that they have had similar lives and experiences. Making quick and deep bonds are very important when you have 250+ members so new girls don’t feel left out and are less likely to drop. It is easy to feel alone, so finding someone just like you in the beginning is important. Two white girls from Mountain Brook are obviously going to hit it off because they have had similar lives and upbringings. Again, it is not intentional, it just happens.
    Also, another poster made a valid point that is always overlooked. The small number of AA girls that have come through recruitment in the past have not been prepared. Some have the grades, some don’t, but none have rec letters and few have community service hours. With thousands of girls coming through and mere minutes to make decisions, any info we can get about the girl and what she has to offer can make a huge difference. If we have no info, we just can’t take a chance.
    **And before anyone makes a comment about rec letters – If I ever received a packet from an AA girl who I felt had all of the qualities my chapter was looking for I would not hesitate in writing her a letter and forwarding on her resume.**
    Also, they usually come in with the feeling that they are there to prove something, like a silent protest, not there to meet other girls or learn about the sororities. It is very obvious and there is no point in wasting either one of our times and taking a spot away from a girl that actually wants to be there.
    As for Dandridge’s point about the creed, our chapters live by our creeds and mottos. By not taking a girl that does not fit within the qualities our chapter is looking for, who happens to be AA, in no way goes against my creed to love my SISTERS.
    One day there will be an AA girl who meets the qualifications of a chapter, who was well prepared and active and interested in the process, who comes in with an open mind and heart and will be given a bid to a white sorority. But this will happen because the right girl came along and the chapter decided to take her. It is not going to happen because a bunch of people who are not in greek life say it needs to happen and write articles in the newspaper.
    Greek life is its own little world, that if you have not been a part of it you would never understand. I’ve never told other organizations how to select their members or how to operate, so I am not sure why other people feel that it is their job to police the greek system. No laws are being broken here. The University cannot tell chapters how to or who to select as members because fraternal organizations are excluded from anti-discrimination and other laws. I think people need to stay out of things they know nothing about.

    • Aubrey

      There is literally so much bs in this post, I can’t address everything.. but for one: I feel so sorry for you… you actually think what you said is an intelligent response to this article?! This isn’t 1965 sweetie. Just because people are of a different race doesn’t mean they cannot bond the same way people do of the same race. Color doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. What do you think would happen if you all let in 4-5 AA women… they would all not get along with anyone just because they are black?You think they wouldn’t be able to follow your moronic rules or represent your organization just as well as you could? Wouldn’t it be even BETTER if girls of all different backgrounds could come together and bond as SISTERS??. Its funny in your response you said you wouldn’t deny a girl if she had the qualifications and also said most blacks come in with ulterior motives and you wouldn’t accept them anyway… get your ignorant racist excuses together so you can convince yourself you are not racist. What a joke…

      • oldbamaguy

        The greek system at UA has been a disgrace for decades. It has, through its control of the SGA, been a training ground for the continuing racist behavior in the Alabama government as well as the corruption in Alabama State Government.
        The pipeline of corruption runs directly from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery and back.

      • Eye roll

        Aubrey dear, you missed the point that alumna was making.

        The fact is that sororities and fraternities are private organizations. People are not forced to join, they pay large fees to belong, and they reserve the right to choose their members. The university cannot make a private organization admit anyone.

    • educatedblackwoman

      This is ignorant. I have never seen someone try to convince others as well as themselves that something is valid, when it’s completely incompetent. You say you aren’t racist, however let’s do a little math to prove that, though you may not be racist, you are at least a little skewed… Let’s say 3 AA girls on average go through the recruitment process per year, let’s set the time frame at, say the last 15 years. That makes 45 AA prospective Panhellenic members. Are you saying not ONE of those 45 young women met your requirements? The university has over 5,000 Greek students. Are you saying that all of them met your requirements? What exactly are your requirements? Grandfather’s grandfather must have been able to vote, perhaps? I am Greek on UA’s campus and I see some Panhellenic women who are, at the very best, lack-luster. Sleep in class, drunk on a Tuesday night on the strip, in the CTL for tutoring because she just failed her 3rd accounting quiz. All I’m saying is that although you may say the reason these women have not gotten any bids is because of their resumes, I feel as though your sorority and all others give leeway to the white prospective pledges because you trust them. I have no clue why though… Calling a black girl your sister won’t hinder you. It only shows your strength as an individual because you can look past color and not be prejudice. Also, I’m almost positive AKA will agree with me when I say that ANY woman despite race can join their sorority. I’ve seen many white AKAs around the nation (Eleanor Roosevelt was an honorary AKA), as well as white Alphas, Ques, and Sigmas (Bill Clinton is an honorary Sigma) If you walked into their interest meeting they would be surprised, impressed, intrigued, curious, and would fight for you to complete pleadge-ship because you can handle a challenge. That’s just food for thought.

  • Eoloysius

    When Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Chi Omega, Chi Omega, Delta Delta Delta, Chi Omega or Phi Mu (the most powerful and prestigious sororities at UA) accept a black member, then the rest will follow. It won’t happen until then.

  • Fact Check

    Fact Check CW: Carla Ferguson, 2003. Out of ~6000 girls rushing between 2002-2006, she was the only African American that rushed (and pledged Gamma Phi Beta). She had no ulterior motives, nor did she have issues “fitting in”. She contributed to the campus and represented her house just like every other girl, white or otherwise. However, other minorities were represented just fine – I bet you’d find that the vast majority of Asian-American, Indian-American, South Pacific Islanders, hearing disabled,etc that actually rushed, actually also pledged.
    Facts are facts, and it would do well for so-called press to report them. Novel idea! How about writing a quantitative article? I don’t have these numbers in front of me, but I’m also not the one responsible for writing an article about the disenfranchised minorities. I’m not the reporter. How disenfranchised are we talking? Who is being disenfranchised? What percentage of girls identify themselves as a minority? What percentage of overall rushees (pink, purple, blue, green, colors aside) don’t receive bids? What percentage of those girls are minorities? Numbers are how you win an argument. Screaming louder just digs in the oppositions heels. Let’s see the statistics. Even a journalism major should be able to at the very least contract a STEM kid to crunch those numbers.
    Now to the warm and fuzzies – could the traditionally Anglo-Saxon sororities and fraternities do more to recruit more diversity? Of course they could!
    Here’s part of the problem. Girls and guys tend to encourage their high school friends to proceed with recruitment. Without “dirty rush”, there’s no such thing as putting out fliers on the quad to increase visibility of one house or another. There’s no examining the school admission records to target a certain quota of highly intelligent, diverse (ethnically or otherwise), and involved applicants. You don’t get (Mitt Romney) binders of women who are at the tip top of their entering classes to cherry pick. You get those that apply, period. And guess what (before you scoff at the thought of me stereotyping 250+ white, brilliant, beautiful sororities girls per house), ALL of the houses are fighting for the top echelon of those 1500-2000 girls entering recruitment that year. Every house wants the total package. In reality, what you get is a little bit of cream, and a lot of milk – some of it sour. Friends, family or high school acquaintances are going to get the best visibility because they have a connection. This visibility can be good and bad, considering your reputation – yes, contrary to belief, an undiscerning young lady is not generally desirable to a sorority.
    On another hand, out of towners (think Washington state) are at a distinct disadvantage too. No one knows you. You are a resume with a cheesy senior portrait. You get 15 mins to make a good impression. That’s a tall order when each house already has a short list of the aforementioned cream of the crop and you’re just trying to make the C team, or at least fly in under the radar. Nepotism is rampant (legacies), cronyism too. How can this be?!? This is the name of the game in a social club – literally, the name, social! No one’s electing the next POTUS, or appointing the successive Pope. Are sororities to now be held to the standards of EEOC because they picked their friends to be in a collective social club? Girls just want girls they know and like and want to know better. Does this have repercussions? Does a bear s*** in the woods? Many a girl has left rush meetings crying because even her best friend didn’t make that nights’ cut. Sometimes, that’s where the chips fall. Excuse? No.
    Therefore, do something about it besides conjuring up the same sad regurgitation. Stop bashing the Greeks and not backing it up with any action. How about turning the tables with a little dirty rushing by the CW for minorities for a change? Support the Greek system, or any other social club for that matter. Bashing it, yet again, digs in the heels of the opposition. How about encouraging the Avantis to encourage Greek life as an option. I guarantee you that the NPC, IFC, NPHC would support additional chances to expand their draw. Challenge your readers to flood the market, even upperclassmen. This shouldn’t be done for shear numbers or for the drama of a Melody Twilley article, but for true encouragement of students to accept one another and, to extend the milk analogy, homogenize.

    In short, race is still a relevant story at UA, but the tread has grown thin without even a squeak in the wheel. Without numbers, this article gains no new traction and Greek life will continue status quo. Unless you want this to sound like an OpEd, go for the facts. Appeal to the reason and logic side of your jury, not the emotional vein.

  • Buba Gump

    My son is an out of state student at Ole Miss. He pledged a “top tier” fraternity and I can tell you that he enjoys the fact that there are organizations like his on campus where tradition, and exclusivity are not bad words. He told me that the vast majority of his brothers feel the same way and do not intend on bowing to the pressure from certain politically correct elements on campus to “move forward.” There is a clear anti white bias imbedded in the leftist “multicultural” or “diversity” mindset. Groups that are composed of all black or hispanic members are supported, and given public funding. The very few private groups that are all white are not only not supported, but are criticized in articles like the one Ms. Ferguson has written.