“When you get in the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.” – Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant
We’ve been there before. We’ve been there to sing the traditional “Yea Alabama” after Crimson Tide touchdowns. We’ve been there in Bryant-Denny Stadium, in conference championships and in more than our fair share of national championships. It’s the reason thousands of loyal students gather each Saturday — to write history as if we already read the history books.
However, this year, before the football was snapped for the first time, a group of women wrote history in Bryant-Denny’s end zone. Two of Alabama’s Panhellenic sororities, Alpha Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi, broke traditional social norms by successfully applying to Student Organizational Seating (also known as block seating), claiming seats on the front row. Why is this so significant? In recent years, various student organizations and clubs have participated in block seating. However, this year marks the first time that any Panhellenic sorority on campus has applied to the previously fraternity-dominated sphere of campus life.
As a senior and active member of a Panhellenic sorority, I have listened to reasons throughout the years describing why sororities should not participate in block seating. The justifications vary in structure, yet are consistently rooted in fear. We fear risk management liabilities, the logistics and organization for large chapters, damaging relationships with fraternities, jeopardizing fraternity swap pairings, or doing anything that could potentially affect our chapter’s perceptions from a recruitment standpoint. As a result, every year, sororities that strive to empower their members surrender their shot at the best seats in Bryant-Denny Stadium to other Greek houses — specifically fraternity houses. Every year, many women push back the desire to be included in the close-up action of game day. Every year, others find themselves hopefully, and often anxiously, waiting to be invited into the block seating section as a game day date, feeling pressure for acceptance from their male counterparts. Every year, the women who do not get asked as game day dates (which is the majority of the chapter because sororities are much larger than fraternities), are scattered throughout the student section.
Even if you are not a member of either chapter or don’t have a strong opinion regarding your seat in Bryant-Denny Stadium, my hope is that Greek women can recognize the magnitude of this step. Not only did Alpha Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi create a space for their members to cheer on and “Love the Tide” together, but they also proved the legitimacy of Panhellenic organizations as a whole. Assigning Student Organizational Seating is a merit-based system scored by averaging an organization’s academic achievement, involvement, leadership, and service. Since the two sororities were granted the two best seating blocks in the entire stadium, they demonstrated the legitimacy and caliber of the women who make up the two Greek houses, invalidating negative stereotypes portrayed in popular media and on campus. They showed their strength of character by acting upon their values and beliefs, even if they felt alone in taking that step. They made a decision that benefits the internal members and upholds the standards of the house rather than one that fears external threats of social consequences. They also demonstrated the caliber of women involved in the Greek system at large — women committed to and excelling in academia, leadership and service.
In reality, several of the aforementioned fears have equal potential to be realized as benefits for the sororities. Block seating can help unify rapidly growing chapters by creating space for women to spend more time together in a beloved campus environment, ensuring safety on game day, allowing women the opportunity to meet other students and men sitting near them on their own terms rather than attending solely as game day dates, and giving chapters unique and thrilling experiences to talk about during recruitment. These realized benefits will hopefully embolden other houses to apply in the future.
The unprecedented actions of Alpha Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi pave a clear path for other sororities to walk down. Next year, should other sororities follow their lead and join the many other student organizations that participate in block seating, these two chapters will get to celebrate in the endzone because they have been there before.
Editor’s Note: This column has been updated to clearly reflect that this is a first for Panhellenic sororities only, as NPHC sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha has held block seating for several years.
Caroline Morrison is a senior majoring in economics and finance. Her column runs biweekly.