The issue of sorority segregation has been gaining national attention since The Crimson White published “The Final Barrier” Wednesday, Sept. 11.
The CW reported that at least two black potential members who went through this year’s sorority recruitment were dropped from all 16 Panhellenic sorority houses. Members of Alpha Gamma Delta, Delta Delta Delta, Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi described how alumnae, not active members, worked to deny the black students a bid.
“You know, I would say there were probably five people in the room that disagreed with everything that was being said,” Melanie Gotz, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, said. “The entire house wanted this girl to be in Alpha Gam. We were just powerless over the alums.”
AL.com was the first news outlet to aggregate the story, followed by news outlets such as Buzzfeed, USA Today, the Washington Times, the New York Times and CNN.
Following the media attention, administrators, Board of Trustees members and the governor made comments about the ongoing situation.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was the first to speak out Thursday against sorority segregation at The University of Alabama.
“The students are all for that. They are for selecting the best person, and I am too,” Bentley said. “I think it’s absurd that you don’t select the best person and that you would ever discriminate against anyone because of the color of their skin. So I feel the way the students do, and I believe that they should chose people on their qualities.
“The way I read it – and I asked my wife about it last night – not students, it’s the alumni. The alumni support the fraternities and sororities – not the students – and she says that’s where it’s coming from. Personally, I think they need to change their attitude.”
Minutes before the Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning, the press was issued a statement from President pro tempore Paul Bryant Jr. The statement did not specifically address the CW’s report.
“The Board of Trustees does not support the segregation of any organization at our institutions on account of race,” Bryant said in the statement. “We support the efforts of our administration to effect the change necessary to bring this principle to reality in the entire University of Alabama System.”
After the board meeting, UA President Judy Bonner affirmed Bryant’s statement.
“As president of The University of Alabama, I firmly support this statement,” Bonner said. “The University of Alabama administration is working with our local chapters and national organizations in order to remove any real or perceived barriers. We are going to help our young people do the right thing.”
In “The Final Barrier,” 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.
When asked if the University would investigate these allegations, a University spokesperson said it was not the University’s responsibility, according to AL.com.
“Ms. Jamison’s role as chapter advisor is voluntary and is not related to her responsibilities as a UA employee,” a University spokesperson told AL.com Friday.
John England Jr., circuit judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit and one of three black members on the UA Board of Trustees, confirmed that his step-granddaughter was one of the potential new members dropped from the sorority houses.
“I view it, perhaps it means a little bit more to me than some of the others because it’s my granddaughter, and so I appreciate the board making this statement,” England said. “I particularly appreciate President pro tem Bryant coming out affirmatively where everybody gets a clear message that we don’t do that at The University of Alabama.”
England said he was encouraged to hear the reports of active sorority members speaking out on the issues.
“You know the most important thing about this whole episode, it is that much of what’s happening – much of the action that is being taken to address segregation among fraternities and sororities – it comes from the students. And see, that’s what makes me have hope – that it’s the students who initiated it.”
While in Birmingham, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Tuscaloosa to congratulate the staff of the CW. Jackson mirrored England’s comments.
“All of the new America that we now celebrate came because students came alive,” Jackson said. “We must urge students to join that tradition, not lay back and engage in social behavior that’s irrelevant, but they engage in change. That’s what makes America great is the right to fight for the right.”
CNN then came to Tuscaloosa Thursday to cover the story. That evening, the CW received reports that swaps had been cancelled.
Tim Hebson, dean of students, confirmed the next day that pledgeship had been suspended.
The statement described the suspension as a tool to clarify the pledgeship process.
“This temporary suspension, which is not unusual, gives us an opportunity for additional communication and education with fraternity leadership to ensure that there is no misunderstanding of the rules and goals of pledgeship,” Hebson said. “We have always and will continue to take ‘time outs’ from the new member period as needed.”
On Sunday, Interfraternity Council president Drew Carmichael said pledgeship was still planned to resume Monday.
“We’re all on the same page,” Carmichael said.
The CW obtained an email Saturday from director of Greek Affairs Kathleen Gillan to an undisclosed list of recipients. The email announced a meeting called by President Bonner with advisors from each Panhellenic sorority.
“A MANDATORY [sic] meeting has been called by Dr. Judy Bonner for Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. in the President’s Conference Room,” the email stated. “Every chapter is required to have one advisor present at this meeting.”
Ten minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, representatives from UA Media Relations in the lobby of Rose Administration told reporters from the CW and AL.com that the meeting was not open to the media.
Director of Media Relations Cathy Andreen provided the CW with a prepared statement from Bonner.
“As we have said, the University is working with our local chapters and national headquarters to remove barriers that prevent young women from making the choices they want to make,” the statement read. “Our meeting this evening with chapters advisors is another step forward in that process. We are unified in our goals and objectives to ensure access and choice to all students, and to doing the right thing the right way.”
The purpose of the meeting and the outcome has yet to be confirmed by press time.