The Final Barrier: 50 years later, segregation still exists

By Abbey Crain and Matt Ford | CW Staff

 

“Are we really not going to talk about the black girl?”

The question – asked by Alpha Gamma Delta member Melanie Gotz during her chapter’s sorority recruitment – was greeted by silence. The sorority’s active members and a few alumnae gathered in the room to hear the unexpected news that there would be no voting on potential new members that night. The chapter, they were told, had already agreed on which students would be invited back for the next round.

Gotz and several of her sorority sisters, however, were far from satisfied. They wanted to discuss one potential new member in particular.

By any measure, this candidate was what most universities would consider a prime recruit for any organization, sorority or otherwise. She had a 4.3 GPA in high school, was salutatorian of her graduating class and comes from a family with deep roots in local and state public service and a direct link to The University of Alabama.

The recruit, who asked to remain anonymous, seemed like the perfect sorority pledge on paper, yet didn’t receive a bid from any of the 16 Panhellenic sororities during formal recruitment. Gotz and others said they know why: The recruit is black. She and at least one other black woman, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of personal safety, went through formal recruitment this year, but neither was offered a bid.

Like other black women before them, these two students tried to break what remains an almost impenetrable color barrier. Fifty years after Vivian Malone and James Hood became the first black students to desegregate The University of Alabama, there remains one last bastion of segregation on campus: The UA greek system is still almost completely divided along racial lines.

With each passing year, the University falls further behind other universities in terms of greek integration. The Crimson White reported in 2012 that other large Southern universities, such as Auburn and Ole Miss, have integrated their greek systems to a further extent than the University.

“People are too scared of what the repercussions are of maybe taking a black girl,” Gotz said. “That’s stupid, but who’s going to be the one to make that jump? How much longer is it going to take till we have a black girl in a sorority? It’s been years, and it hasn’t happened.”

Gotz was the one to openly question the motives behind executive members and alumnae of Alpha Gamma Delta as to why they dropped the black student that she and others wanted to become a pledge.

“It was just like a big elephant in the room,” Gotz said. “So I raised my hand.”

In response, Gotz said alumnae in the room cited the chapter’s letter of recommendation requirements as a reason for the potential new member’s removal. Active sorority members then began standing up to voice support for the recruit and challenge alumnae decisions, Gotz said.

“It was just so cool to see everyone willing to take this next step and be the sorority that took a black girl and not care,” Gotz said. “You know, I would say there were probably five people in the room that disagreed with everything that was being said. The entire house wanted this girl to be in Alpha Gam. We were just powerless over the alums.”

Monday, The Crimson White contacted Alpha Gamma Delta Chapter President Alex Graham who declined to comment on the situation.

However, Karen Keene, an Alpha Gamma Delta alumna, denied the allegations.

“Your information is wrong,” Keene said. “It wasn’t anything to do with someone. It was policy procedure, and if anything, we have to follow policy and procedure with our nationals. That’s all I can say.”

The Crimson White also contacted Alpha Gamma Delta national headquarters Monday. The statement released by the sorority’s national organization said:

“Alpha Gamma Delta has policies that govern its recruitment process. These include policies about the roles undergraduates and alumnae play in the recruitment process. In addition, Alpha Gamma Delta policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in all of its activities including recruitment. We take seriously any allegation that recruitment policy was not followed.”

An active member of the University’s Delta Delta Delta sorority, who asked to remain anonymous, also said her chapter’s alumnae interfered with the proper voting on the same black student being recruited by Alpha Gamma Delta sorority members.

“To my knowledge, the president and the rush chair and our rush advisors were behind [pledging the recruit], and if we had been able to pledge her, it would’ve been an honor,” the Tri Delta member said. “However, our [alumnae] stepped in and went over us and had her dropped.”

The Tri Delta member said the student’s “excellent scores,” influential family and “awesome resume” would have made her a more-than-qualified candidate for Panhellenic recruitment and would have ensured her a bid from a sorority if she wasn’t black.

“Not a lot of rushees get awesome scores,” the Tri Delta member said. “Sometimes sisters [of active members] don’t get that. [She] got excellent scores. The only thing that kept her back was the color of her skin in Tri Delt. She would have been a dog fight between all the sororities if she were white.”

The Tri Delta member said she knew of other Panhellenic houses that wanted to pledge the recruit and were also hindered by alumnae members.

Contacted by The Crimson White Tuesday, Tri Delta Chapter President Callan Sherrod would not publicly comment.

While some sorority members attribute alumnae as the main cause for lack of chapter integration, that is not the case for every sorority.

“We’re one of the few sororities on campus that alums are allowed in the voting process, which also kind of breaks my heart, because some of the other sororities that didn’t have to deal what we dealt with,” Gotz said. “Why didn’t they take this awesome black girl?”

A member of Chi Omega, who asked to remain anonymous, said her chapter dropped the black recruit because of its rush advisor, Emily Jamison, who is listed in the UA directory as director of UA, president’s and chancellor’s events.

“I know [the recruit] got perfect scores from the people in chapter the first day, and she got cut after the first day and I know it had to do with our advisor – is the one that dropped her,” the Chi Omega member said. “Her name is Emily Jamison.”

The Chi Omega member said the black recruit was originally on the slideshow of potential new members the sorority hoped to pledge and received perfect scores from active members, but she disappeared off the slideshow after the first round of recruitment parties.

The Chi Omega source said Jamison was one of only two people allowed in the room when votes were being sent; however, the source was not present in the room and does not know if other names were dropped.

Emily Jamison responded to the specific allegations with a statement to The Crimson White:

“As a private membership organization, Chi Omega’s membership selection process is confidential; however, our criteria for membership is simple, we seek women who reflect our values and purposes. Our recruitment processes and procedures were followed, and while I cannot take away the disappointment a potential new member or chapter member may feel, I can share that all women were treated fairly and consistently in our process.”

The Chi Omega member said the chapter’s philanthropy chair resigned from the sorority following recruitment. Additionally, she said members of the chapter called Chi Omega national headquarters, asking them to investigate whether the decision was made with discriminatory intentions.

“Our philanthropy chair really wanted her and was rooting for her and left before the parties and everything when she found out [the recruit was dropped],” the Chi Omega member said. “She was living in the house – she just packed up all her stuff and left the house and left rush.”

Whitney Heckathorne, director of communications for Chi Omega nationals, said, “Our membership policy embraces women from different ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. Our sole membership criteria is that our members live and reflect Chi Omega values, and so I can speak from the national standpoint that certainly singling out someone because of race is not something that would reflect Chi Omega’s ideals.”

A member of Pi Beta Phi, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that, upon learning that the chapter planned to pledge the same black student recruited by Alpha Gamma Delta and Chi Omega, Pi Beta Phi alumnae threatened to cut financial support if the recruit were to pledge.

President of Pi Beta Phi, Livia Guadagnoli, responded to calls from The Crimson White on Monday with an emailed statement:

“Recruitment is a mutual selection process. The Fraternity does not share why or why not a member was selected for membership – even with alumnae of the chapter. The decision to extend membership resides solely at the chapter level. To ensure all membership policies were followed at the University of Alabama, an International Fraternity Officer arrived on campus during recruitment to support the chapter.”

John England Jr., circuit judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit and one of three black members on the UA system Board of Trustees, said he is confident UA system leaders will take appropriate action to ensure that no student in any organization is denied acceptance because of race.

“I made some inquiries and found out there were other black young ladies who were also not accepted through the rush process,” England said. “So I have requested the leadership on The University of Alabama and the UA system to find out what’s going on. I have talked to them about my expectation that no organization will accept or deny a potential member based on race. It is not something we at The University of Alabama will accept.”

The topic of integration is no stranger to the University, and its greek system remains largely segregated today, 50 years after then-Gov. George Wallace stood in a Foster Auditorium doorway in an unsuccessful attempt to block black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering.

“Someone has to break the rules to make a change, and everyone is scared to do that,” Gotz said.

She went on to describe what she expressed to her chapter after the recruit was dropped.

“I honestly knew coming in tonight that it probably wouldn’t be changed,” Gotz said. “You know, but I really, really hope it ignites something for you guys; it sparks something for the future that this can be something that we accomplish.”

Despite the lingering questions of greek segregation, there has been intermittent progress.

In 2003, Tuscaloosa native Carla Ferguson became the first black woman to pledge a traditionally white Panhellenic sorority through formal recruitment. She accepted a bid to Gamma Phi Beta and remains the only black woman to have pledged through the formal recruitment process, over a decade later.

Sigma Delta Tau, a Panhellenic and traditionally Jewish sorority that does not participate in formal recruitment, has reportedly also pledged black members in the past.

The University’s National Pan-Hellenic Council, composed of traditionally African-American greek organizations, has accepted a diverse array of members over the years. According to a 2011 article in The Crimson White, Zeta Phi Beta pledged white member Eve Dempsey in the spring of 2007, after integrating in the 1980s.

UA Dean of Students Tim Hebson responded to The Crimson White’s questions regarding sorority recruitment with an emailed statement:

“Every UA organization should be committed to making sure that its policies are held to the highest ideals and that its actions and decisions help make sure this campus is inclusive and welcoming at every opportunity. Our student leaders, our student body and their parents, our employees and our alumni will work hard to continue the progress of the last 50 years as we work together to make access to opportunities available to all.”

Nevertheless, questions still remain about the future of greek integration.

“We’re in the 21st century,” Gotz said, referring to racial segregation in 2013. “We’re the only campus I know that has greek life the way it is. We have entirely separate black and white fraternities and sororities, and it’s just sad.”

 

Editor’s Note: Editor-in-Chief Mazie Bryant and Managing Editor Lauren Ferguson, although members of greek organizations, did not participate in the reporting of this story.

Editor’s Note: A quote from the Tri Delta member was clarified for accuracy on September 17 at 9:30 p.m. The word “this” was replaced by the phrase “pledging the recruit” in brackets.

 

  • GanjaSeed

    There is also the argument that says that if black people continues to form and support organizations that makes race a criteria, real or ostensible, for entry, they have very shallow bases to criticize whites who want to keep racially exclusive organizations. You don’t want white people in your outfit why should they want you in their’s?

    • Lisa

      As a black woman, I agree to some extent but we are talking about the Greek system. Historically black sororities and fraternities exist ONLY because they weren’t allowed to join the “white” ones back then. If you look outside the scope of UA, these sororities and fraternities at other college aren’t all white. There are technically no “all white” or “all black” sororities. We see at UA these sororities/fraternities have only white men and women and automatically assume they are “white only”. Not the case at all.

    • genek1953

      Historically black colleges and fraternity/sorority organizations were formed because the whites-only mainstream rejected blacks. White applicants are not barred from these schools and organizations, and whites who reject the idea of segregation have from time to time entered them. There just haven’t been that many whites who were willing to go that far to make their stand against racism.

  • GEAUX96

    Another reason why i would not advise anyone to step foot in ALABAMA

  • Shiznaw

    This is a non-story. The Black Community will not be called to arms to defend one of its member’s – Judge England’s step-daughter, who has been born into privilege – for some false right to join an all white sorority with a history of discrimination. Good luck with that, but it’s not a cause we will support.

  • Steve Lane

    Yes, Ms. Gotz, we’re in the 21st century, so who freaking cares about sororities.

  • Sally

    This does not only happen at the University of Alabama it also is happening at other universities not only to African American students but Hispanics and other races. If you are not Caucasion good luck getting in. My niece last year with a excellent GPA and great credentials did not get a bid at the University of Illinois Urbana. It is time to make changes to the selection process.

  • Stephen Voss

    Id like to know why this “advisor” is still employed by University of Alabama? If I were her boss Id have have the university police escort her out of the building

  • TeeToeJackson

    I’m an SAE in California. When I pledged I was the only black member in the chapter (that’s changed since then). I’d love to visit Mother-Mu, but if I showed up at event I doubt I would get in.

    PA

  • TeeToeJackson

    The solution here isn’t to force the chapters to integrate. We’ll just have one token at every house. The key here is to let the chapters have a more active role in choosing their pledges instead of alumnae effectively vetoing the chapter’s recruitment choices.

  • Jo-Ann

    How many white girls are in black sororities? Why do we have blacks in our miss America contest but no whites in the black contest?

  • Guest from Sweden

    Excellent reporting of the Crimson White (fun name in this context, btw) and you made news in Britain’s best newspaper. Good timing of the events, 50 years after Wallace. Very symbolic, although I guess this happens every year without publicity. One thing bugs me: UA officials must have been aware of what’s been going on for long. Why haven’t they taken action? This includes the black trustee.

  • Tracey Mallow

    What I do not understand is that every last one of these nationally recognized sororities has members of color in OTHER chapters. Do these old “advisors” not see these young ladies wearing their letters in those national publications? On line? Do they not recognize the color barrier has been broken by other chapters? The chapters do. They chose these girls based on their qualities as a person. That is why they chose them. Doesn’t matter what color they are. The first African American girl to rush on my campus was fought over by three chapters. We had been bugging her for years to Go Greek. Still wish she had chosen to wear letters.

  • Lee Dutra

    What the hell good are sororities and fraternaties anyway? Just a bunch of kids who want to belong to a club and act stupid getting drunk and having panty raids. Any self respecting young woman, or man, no matter what race would do well to steer clear of these idiotic clubs.

  • Doncreegan R.

    This is nothing new or should it be! Well maybe this might make me rethink whether or not should allow my child to even attend a university, but instead get educated abroad?!

    A crying shame, than again this IS the south we’re talking about here!

  • Matthew Carothers

    Simple solution for the University, they can ban any Sorority or Fraternity that rejects any applicant based on race, religion, etc…. and if the problem is with the Alum interfering with the process maybe the University should revoke that alum’s degree.

  • BarryG

    In fairness, it’s pretty clear this black woman was not living up to their values … which center on being white.

  • Rosenkranz

    Can we target the Black sororities and the Jewish sororities next? How about the Asian groups?

    Let me know…

    These don’t sound “segregated” but grouped by culture.

  • Charlie Tilford

    My mother was a Pi Beta Phi at Middlebury College, in Vermont, Class of 1935. In the ’60s the local chapter voted to pledge two black girls. The national organization said they were not allowed. I’m proud to say that my mother, with other local alumnae, supported the local chapter, and told them to go ahead, with their financial support, even though they would be dropped by the national organization. They did this, and survived for several years as an independent sorority, until the national nominally changed its rules and reinstated them. I’m appalled but not surprised that things have changed so little in Alabama.

    I’m an engineer and rock musician. We play Skynerd’s “Gimmee Three Steps”, but “Sweet Home Alabama”–NEVER!!!

  • DaveMed

    I wonder how many white girls the black sororities have…

    Why all this picking on white groups?

    This liberal push to forcefully mash all cultures together will end badly.

    • MAB

      The white groups were the only ones that didn’t allow black members. That’s why they’re “picking” on them. The black fraternities and sororities allowed white members already. I don’t think you care about facts though, racist.

      • DaveMed

        Naturally, my last comment was deleted. I’ll try again:

        Black fraternities such as Phi Beta Sigma have manifestly pro-black drives and goals, such as S.W.W.A.C. But when whites try to help and interact with their own, they are termed “racists.”

        • MAB

          Manifestly pro-black goals and drives include raising money for the American Cancer Society and raising awareness about different types of cancer? You might want to actually look things up before you come in here trying to justify segregation.

          Black fraternities and sororities on Alabama’s campus did not have the explicit discrimination against white members joining them. That’s why they weren’t criticized.

          • DaveMed

            The discrimination doesn’t matter, and should exist. Black groups have every right to focus on their own communities’ issues (although, they seem to often focus on “people of color” – i.e., everyone but white people), just as White groups do.

            From the wikipedia page (which I can’t link to, or my comment won’t go through): “Project S.W.W.A.C. (Sigmas Waging War Against Cancer) is a concentrated and coordinated effort to reduce the incidence of cancer in the African American community.”

            If you really want me to list all the pro-Black causes of these fraternities, I can. But all everyone has to do is google Phi Beta Sigma (which is just one group of many) to see what I’m talking about.

          • MAB

            >The discrimination doesn’t matter, and should exist

            Too bad psychology tells us otherwise.

            Apparently pro-Black causes include trying to raise awareness for issues that affect all people but also affect Black Americans in different ways. You might want to look up cancer health disparities, btw.

            Oh, and those “pro-Black” causes normally raise money for decidedly not “pro-Black” causes, such as the American Cancer Society. Your idea of “pro-Black” is basically attacking groups for trying to address the disparities between the groups in American society. You’re just completely ignorant.

          • DaveMed

            “Too bad psychology tells us otherwise.”

            Is this an argument? Psychology is not a person, by the way. It’s a discipline.

            “Apparently pro-Black causes include trying to raise awareness for issues that affect all people but also affect Black Americans in different ways. You might want to look up cancer health disparities, btw.”

            I’m well-aware of the racial differences in predisposition to various types of cancers, thank you very much.

            “Your idea of “pro-Black” is basically attacking groups for trying to address the disparities between the groups in American society.”

            Wrong again. I’m not attacking anyone. I’m saying that these groups emphasize goals that significantly benefit their own people. All groups should be allowed to do the same.

          • MAB

            >Is this an argument? Psychology is not a person, by the way. It’s a discipline.

            Yeah and disciplines have certain things that aren’t considered controversial. The othering and exclusion of people based on race being a negative for people and society isn’t controversial.

            >I’m saying that these groups emphasize goals that significantly benefit their own people. All groups should be allowed to do the same.

            They emphasize goals that significantly benefit all Americans. Just because they target their awareness campaigns at a specific segment of American society doesn’t mean that they’re “pro-Black.” They also raise a lot of money for groups such as the American Cancer Society and March for Dimes. Do you complain when people only go out and raise money for prostate cancer because that only affects men and not women? That’s essentially what you’re complaining about.

          • DaveMed

            I’m not complaining about anything but the double standard. From the group’s own website (http://www(dot)pbssouthwestern(dot)org/programs.htm): “To develop a sense of pride and commitment in the community toward healthy living that will reduce the incidences of health conditions that adversely affect men of color.”

          • MAB

            Again, do you complain about a “double standard” if a group goes out and raises money for the American Cancer Society by raising awareness about cervical or prostate cancer? Those affect one part of American society more than others. Should they not be able to do that?

  • Guest

    When some organization excludes particular race for years!!!! not days or months but years it clearly shows racial discrimination in the chapter so instead of having fear!!! the cancer of the human mind! fight! back pool together a class action lawsuit!!! we live in America so let the bank account of the organization dwindle and then they will stop the emotional genocide!

  • shawnmer

    Here, this piece contains more calm and reasoning than most of the emotion-laden stroking of their own moral vanity from most commenters on this thread. If forcing yourselves uninvited into PRIVATE social organizations which don’t desire your presence is the most pressing “civil rights” question left, declare victory and go the hell home!

    http://www.amren.com/features/2013/11/race-and-fraternities/

    I’m an alum of Pi Kappa Alpha. Our chapter has admitted 3 black brothers in the 20 years since I was an active, all reasonably high quality and in keeping with our standards of excellence. But that’s how it begins every time: assurances of how standards will be maintained, until a critical mass of black members is reached to begin exerting influence in selecting membership and standards begin to be compromised, in the name of allowing in more of their own and ever-greater “diversity.” The slippery slope is unavoidable. NO group’s quality is and integrity is maintained as it becomes blacker. None!

    And the day Pi Kappa Alpha loses its distinct white culture and traditions, and becomes indistinguishable from low quality black frats, they needn’t worry about being embarrassed by my “backwards” way of thinking. I’ll leave THEM!

  • shawnmer

    Here, this piece contains more calm and reasoning than the emotion-laden stroking of moral vanities from most commenters on this thread. If forcing yourselves uninvited into PRIVATE social organizations which don’t desire your presence is the most pressing “civil rights” question left, declare victory and go the hell home!

    http://www.amren.com/features/

    I’m an alum of Pi Kappa Alpha. Our chapter has admitted 3 black brothers in the 20 years since I was an active, all reasonably high quality and in keeping with our standards of excellence. But that’s how it begins every time: assurances of how standards will be maintained, until a critical mass of black members is reached to begin exerting influence in selecting membership and standards begin to be compromised, in the name of allowing in more of their own and ever-greater “diversity.” The slippery slope is unavoidable. NO group’s quality and integrity is maintained as it becomes blacker. None!
    And the day Pi Kappa Alpha loses its distinct white culture and traditions, and becomes indistinguishable from low quality black frats, they needn’t worry about being embarrassed by my “backwards” way of thinking. I’ll leave THEM!

  • Guest

    There are all-black sororities, why don’t the negro girls just join those?

  • adfasdfadfadfdsaf

    blacks are the most racist of all!! imagine if whites had exclusive colleges and such, they’d be shut down!!

    • Bird Law

      What colleges are black only?

  • brennan scotland

    I don’t get it, so was the blackie cute or not?

  • Frank Sinatra

    Why would anyone want to join a white sorority anyway? White sororities are lame. Plus, they don’t have any respect for others. Go Asian sororities! We have hotter girls and better grades too! While Americans are busy fighting each other over race while drinking at pool parties, Asian countries are too busy building computer chips and exploring the moon. In other words: We’re better!

  • NotARedneck

    Is this really news?

    Anyone with at least an average amount of perception, understands that the racism that drove the Bull Conners and their ilk, never really ended. It was merely suppressed once the federal government addressed it with laws that had teeth. Now that these laws are being over turned or superseded, the racists again feel safe to practise what they want to. Meanwhile, they have moved out of the south and have influence in most parts of the country – gaining adherents wherever guns are sold, country music is played or fundamentalist right wing criminal religion is successful.

  • Akeila Robertson

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecIAR3Ev7D8&feature=youtu.be&a
    Segregation is a real part of American History!

  • Yechhh

    Racism lives. Way to go, Alabama.

  • DeneyTerriosHair

    I’m not saying one way or the other but it’s curious to me that these young ladies would rush a sorority where no one else looks like them. There are plenty of well connected ladies from monied families in AKA and Deltas.

  • Suzanne Galanis

    Alumni shouldn’t have that much power. This decision needs to be overturned. That way of thinking needs to be squashed. It is too damaging.

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  • guest

    Julie Friedman was not in Tuscaloosa during rush. So before resort to calling innocent people out IN ALL CAPS you should probably know your facts.

    Take up this vendetta with her and not on the Internet. Hard to believe you’re old enough to be an alumni because your statements and your ridiculous username make you out to have the maturity of a 14 year old.

  • guest

    Wrong again. You might be the ONLY member.

  • DrumminD21311

    I see Julie Friedman just joined the conversation.

  • DrumminD21311

    I see Julie Friedman just joined the conversation.

  • Guest

    Isn’t it nice to hide behind the internet. This woman was not in Tuscaloosa or in a sorority house during rush. Stick to the truth.

  • DrumminD21311

    Ha. Julie Friedman commented again.

  • Guest

    Get your facts straight, Julie Friedman was not in Tuscaloosa during rush.