According to the Crimson White, the student newspaper of the University of Alabama, this year, at least four Panhellenic sororities blocked two black rushees from pledging in order to keep their all-white composition.
For the University of Alabama, a school located in a state plagued by a history of racism and segregation, the deliberate blocking of black pledges is a disturbing indication that the mentality of sororities and its members has failed to change much over the years.
But the racist debacle holds greater implications for all Greek systems across the nation. Though the chapters of the University of Alabama are, of course, not reflective of all other university chapters of the sororities involved, the Alabama system’s deliberate blocking of black pledges sheds light on the ever-recurrent concern that Alabama Greek life portrays itself as a strictly “all-American girl” image of Barbie blondes and brunettes.
It has been confirmed that alumnae of at least Alpha Gamma Delta, Tri Delta, Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi have allegedly barred the girls from pledging the all-white sisterhoods, despite the fact these girls obtained high scores during the rushing process.
In examining the history of the Greek pledging process at the University of Alabama, it seems that the institution has had qualms about moving forward since its desegregation in 1963. The Crimson White reports that the first (and last) time any black person was inducted into a sorority through the formal rushing process was in 2003 when Carla Ferguson was offered a bid from Gamma Phi Beta, a predominantly white sorority.
Other than this one-time anomaly, the Greek system at Alabama continues to reflect the antiquated segregationist principles the school claims to have abandoned decades ago. The school’s Greek system is composed of traditionally black sororities and traditionally white sororities. Despite traditionally black organizations “[accepting] a diverse array of members over the years,” ultimately, traditionally black sororities are still dominated by black members and traditionally white sororities are still dominated by white members, according to the Crimson White.
Granted, though this may not be the goal of the majority of sorority chapters, this is certainly the negative stigma that continues to plague the national reputation of the Greek system as a whole. To current Greek members, a message is sent that their chapters must live up to the homogenous identity that comes front and center, thus creating the notion that racism is acceptable within the Greek system.
According to the Associated Press, Judy Bonner, president of the University of Alabama, mandated that changes will be made within Panhellenic following the Crimson White exposé. Bonner ordered historically white sororities to implement a new recruitment process through which new members can be added during any time of the year, and that chapters expand their maximum size to 360 people in order to provide more of a chance to potential applicants.
And though Bonner’s efforts to admonish the current sorority system are a step in the right direction, these measures are nowhere near sufficient in attempting to strip the racist stigma from the system. All that Bonner’s actions have done is to send the message that there will be some consequences, but not actual ones. If positive change is truly to be made within the system, then more stringent punishments must be imposed; whether this means to suspend the chapter or impose some other authoritative sanction, consequences accorded to matters such as this must hold more weight in order to set an example both to the other chapters at the university and to sororities across the nation.
Even though the sorority chapters actively involved in discrimination at the University of Alabama are not representative of the nature of all sororities at other institutions, the fact still remains that the actions of this university’s sorority system reflect poorly upon the entire National Panhellenic Conference. The assertion that the majority of the Greek community does not stand for prejudice will remain an empty notion until some definitive action is taken to prove that their efforts aren’t simply a facade to protect their crumbling reputation.
Rojine Ariani is a sophomore majoring in international relations and political science.
Follow her on Twitter @RojineTAriani