Machine not expanding membership

Tray Smith

The Machine, a secret political coalition of traditionally white fraternities and sororities, has chosen to support two candidates from non-Machine fraternities in Student Government Association elections this year. But candidates and officers from Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Tau Omega say they have no plans to join the 28 greek chapters on campus that make up the organization.

“Will Pylant, a member of Alpha Tau Omega, has recently received a nomination to an SGA office based upon support from an organization that some believe has attempted to unduly influence University election results,” Alpha Tau Omega said in a statement released by fraternity president Mark Drew.

“Alpha Tau Omega supports Will, as we do any of our deserving members in similar endeavors with the SGA, but our fraternity does not support nor is any way aligned with any known or unknown organization that attempts to influence SGA and other university-wide elections. We urge our members make their own independent decisions and participate in a fair and free balloting process in all elections.”

Pylant is an SGA senator from the College of Arts and Sciences who is being supported by the Machine for SGA vice president of Student Affairs.

Denzel Evans-Bell, a member of the historically black Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the only black candidate the Machine is supporting for executive office in this election, told The Crimson White yesterday that his campaign had nothing to do with his fraternity. “This is basically an individual campaign,” he said.

Alpha Phi Alpha president Ray Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment.

Xavier Burgin, president of the Alabama chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body of historically black fraternities and sororities, said that he wasn’t aware of any plans for members of the black greek community to join the Machine.

“I would hope that no black fraternity or sorority would be involved with something like that,” Burgin said.

Burgin said that the Machine’s decision to allow sororities to participate in the organization after they supported Cleo Thomas’s successful campaign for SGA president in 1976 should be a warning sign for black greek organizations. Thomas, the only black SGA president in Alabama history, defeated Machine candidate Joe Williamson with support from sorority members.

“What ended up happening is that the Machine decided to allow the girls in and become a part of it, which was somewhat ironic,” Burgin said. “By allowing [themselves] to become a part of the organization they were fighting against, they took away all the power they would have had in the first place and basically made themselves more in service to the Machine than they were before when they weren’t a part of it.”

Mark Foley, senior advisor to the SGA president, is a member of ATO and served as president of the fraternity last year. Though ATO was a member organization of the Machine in the past, he said that ATO hasn’t rejoined the Machine because the students who brought ATO back to campus in the 1990s felt it would conflict with the fraternity’s values.

“There’s a part in our creed that says ‘to recognize true merit wherever it’s found,’” Foley said. “As I understand it, the people that founded our fraternity when it came back said that that really wasn’t something they wanted to be associated with because they felt like, from efficiency [and] fairness, there might be a year where the Machine-backed candidate is a better candidate or vice versa – maybe the Machine-backed candidate wouldn’t do as good of a job in office as the not-affiliated person. They felt like…joining that organization wouldn’t really validate what we believe in and the creed that you’re supposed to learn during your pledgeship.”

Still, Foley said the actions of any one member can reflect on the entire fraternity.

“This endorsement was a one-person idea,” he said. “We’re not affiliated with that group at all and haven’t paid dues to it. With any group you’re a part of, especially a fraternity…a decision that you make or someone else makes…can affect the entire group. Aside from anybody’s personal views of whether they’d want to join [the Machine] or not, it’s never been discussed. It was just one person doing something that affects 159 other people. I guess my reaction was disappointment.”

Foley also said that being a traditionally white, non-Machine fraternity hasn’t hurt ATO.

“I don’t know if I could really see any tangible evidence of where it hurt us,” he said. “We’ve won a lot of awards in the past for our chapter and for this campus.”

Foley said that individual members of ATO would have to decide if they are going to support Pylant’s campaign.

“If a guy feels like Will’s the best candidate, they can support [him]. But there’s going to be no one at the top saying, ‘You can or can’t support Will.’ It’ll just be a personal decision,” he said.

“The best candidate should win regardless of whether they’re in ATO, Sigma Nu, Phi Gam or if they’re not in a fraternity or sorority at all,” Foley said.