The Final Barrier: 50 years later, segregation still exists (DOUBLE PARTICIPATION)

The Final Barrier: 50 years later, segregation still exists

in News, Top News / by / on September 11, 2013 at 8:00 AM /

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 this, 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.



12 thoughts on “The Final Barrier: 50 years later, segregation still exists (DOUBLE PARTICIPATION)

  1. Being a member of a sorority myself I am disappointed with the actions of Panhellenic on the UA campus. I spoke in class on Friday about how people frequently use race as an excuse to get what they want, I said I felt uncomfortable saying that because I didn’t want anyone to be offended by the statement, especially because I am white. In this case however, race is a valid argument, clearly the reasoning for the potential new member to not become a member of any of the on campus sororities was because she was black. Growing up in Pullman I was not exposed to the extreme racists that still exist, or violence against blacks, I am thankful for that and yet feel very naive about what truly is happening around us. I am proud to say I am a member of the Greek community at WSU and am proud that our campus and community does not have these same problems. While like I said I haven’t experienced the racial struggles others have, or even truly seen them first hand I feel as if I can empathize in the sense of the constant uphill battle of fighting stereotypes. I would like to make it clear however, I am NOT saying the struggles of members of the Greek community are anywhere near the level of the obstacles and struggles that still face many black people. Being a member of a sorority we are constantly fighting the “dumb, slutty, bitchy” stereotypes that Hollywood has given us and it is unfair to be judged by others who simply see things the way they want to, and don’t want to give us a fair shot. Similarly, the potential new member was not given a fair shot at membership due to her race. This is a disappointment on the Greek community as a whole and sets us back in the fight of the Hollywood stereotypes.

  2. Before I knew what college I wanted to attend, I did know that I wanted to go through Formal Recruitment and hopefully be in a sorority. I remember when I chose to go to WSU, I was still set on rushing. The idea of being in a chapter and having a life-long sisterhood with a group of people just seemed so comforting; especially after being on a cheer team for six years, and having that team be my second family. I knew I would be able to call the chapter I got into my family.
    I toured WSU’s campus and loved it here, but once I got onto Greek Row, my entire idea of doing formal recruitment completely changed. I was intimidated, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough. Why did I feel like that? Well honestly, it was because I thought I wouldn’t fit in because of my race. I’m full Filipino, but I was raised in California/Washington. I was always known as the Asian/brown friend or cheerleader. I didn’t take that comment to offense, I actually thought it was funny. I grew up in a diverse community anyway. Though, I don’t know what got over me once I saw the Greek community here. All these ideas took over my positive thoughts about Greek life: “They’re all white,” “I won’t get a bid because I’m brown,” and “They’re going to comment on my skin color/height/personality/etc..” I shouldn’t have had these ideas because I regret not going through formal recruitment now. One of my closest friends, who is also full Filipino, went through formal recruitment and she mentioned how she felt like she had a harder time because she was of minority, but she doesn’t regret going through recruitment because she met so many new friends. Since I’ve been here in Pullman, I’ve met really friendly and welcoming girls who are in sororities. I let the worst ideas get the best of me- which I shouldn’t have let happen- but I am definitely considering to informally rush in the Spring.

  3. From what I personally know about the Southern region of the United States, particularly that including Georgia, Alabama, and even parts of Florida, racism is still alive. When I did a campus at UGA when I was in the process of applying for colleges two years ago, I really started to realize that it is a completely different world down there in terms of racism and overall ways of life. In this case, even though the black recruit that was discussed has essentially perfect qualifications for a bid into ANY sorority or organization on campus, she was declined a spot in ANY of them solely based on her race. Based on the fact that multiple greek life members declined to comment, it seems like there was something extremely morally wrong with the recruiting process at the University of Alabama. At some point we need to learn to move past these constructs and realize that we are the same people with the same goals, to do anything we possibly can to have a successful future.

  4. I have seen this type of discrimination first hand within the greek community at Washington State. Not purposely, but there is definitely a lack of diversity within the greek community. In my sorority, this year was that we have taken an African American. Not that I feel as if this was on purposes, there has just been such an obvious divide in the greek system as far as race is concerned. This story does not surprise me at all. It is sad but is the common truth and is more obvious evidence that racisms is still a prevalent issues within America. It is disappointing to be apart of the greek system and totally understand how this article is true. It is definitely something that needs improvement if any progress is going to be made concerning racisms. My generation believes that this is still not as issues within our day, but stories like these show otherwise.

  5. First of all, the strong reality hits us all to realize that racism is still to this extreme today. I think that as much as the leaders claim that it was a fair process, behind the scenes, we can all see what truly happened. Personally I think this is outrageous, and if a claim like that was made about my sorority, I would give the SPECIFIC reason why that individual is cut. Unfortunately, the only answer we get is it is confidential and all procedures were followed. We aren’t told the exact procedures that these groups made, nor is a reason other than “there was a reason” given to us. It’s quite ridiculous if you ask me, they almost made the outsider’s and member’s claims stand. The fact that they think that not answering the question and assuring us all that the proper procedures were followed makes me feel like they know they did something wrong and can’t find a way of talking themselves around it other than “we promise we didn’t”. It’s sickening to know that people cannot get out of their own close minds to see something truly amazing in front of them. I know nothing about sororities and how they work, so I don’t exactly know if they are allowed to reveal the exact reason why. Even if they weren’t, I think the ethical choice would be to do it, unfortunately our society is corrupt and ethical choices are not always made which leads to the outcome we see here.

  6. Being in a sorority at Washington State, I have also seen how divided the greek system can be. It is disappointing it is that way. But it does not surprise me that this discrimination would be worse in the South. The alumni’s discrimination toward the pledge was obviously something that has been engraved in them for a long time and they were too narrow-minded to listen to the other members thoughts and feelings. It is evident the alumni knew what they were doing was wrong based on their vague answers or their failed comments on the situation. It is a shame the current member had little say in if the pledge would get a bid or not. But to see that members of each sorority there at least voiced their opinion against the alumni shows the start of a positive change within the female greek system there. This questioning against the alumni shows a lot of potential for change within the greek system, though it would probably take quite a time. As long as members continue to speak out about this subject, change will hopefully follow.

  7. I am part of a frat and I haven’t seen any discrimination in the greek community. Our greek community now is diversed and any race is eligible to become a frat member. After reading this article I felt like the sorority chapter should be ashamed of themselves for not having a black woman in the sorority. Race shouldn’t matter for any reason in WSU because that is a lack of diversity and discrimination. The black woman had great leadership skills and knowledge and the sorority girls just ignored her. It’s sad to know that racism is still alive and there’s a lot of discrimination going on in our society. In this generation we believe that racism shouldn’t exist and we shouldn’t allow it in our schools because it violates human rights and discrimination can lead to violence.Will racism and discrimination stop existing in the future?

  8. This article shocked me, seeing as I grew up in a suburb of Seattle and have never visited any of the southern states before. I had an idea that racism was still alive but was unaware that extreme segregation was still an issue with college students. This reminds me of colorblind racism and makes me realize that yeah, I can be colorblind at times. Sure, I have a diverse group of friends and would never look down on someone else because of their race, but when I really look at who I choose to be close with, most of my friends are white. Now, as I reflect on the greek community at WSU, I realize that whites dominate the majority of the members. Thinking back to recruitment this year, as a potential new member, I was extremely nervous. I mean, its me versus 800 other girls trying to look and act perfect every day and having pressed conversations with 20-30 or so women a day. It was a test on my self-confidence that week, knowing that after I leave I am literally being scored by the women I talk to. As a white female I realize that I had it easy. After reading articles about the micro-aggressions that black women face, it is now apparent to me how terrifying formal recruitment must have been for some of these women. As Melanie Gotz said in the article, it is so mortifying and rather embarrassing that as a young adult in 2013, we are still dealing with discrimination. There is progress being made at WSU and that makes me happy. My sorority just pledged their first African American, and she is one of the most lively and intelligent women I’ve gotten to know this year. The United States definitely needs more people like Gotz if we are to make progress to end racial discrimination any time soon.

  9. When people say things like “racism doesn’t exist today” these are the types of articles I think about because they speak volumes to people in our age group. One of the comments that stuck out the most to me was the ending of the Chi Omega advisor’s statement that said “…I can share that all women were treated fairly and consistently in our process.” Any elementary student could look at the ratio of non-white sorority women to white sorority women and tell you that something is wrong. There is no way that in the last 50 years or so that all of the non-white recruits were not acceptable to any of the houses’ standards.

    It’s very sad because the change that students like Gotz want is being held at bay by the alumni who still hold on very tightly to their prejudices of black people. By threatening to withhold funding it puts the house in between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to choose between what they know is right and what they need to do in order to keep the house running. To me it looks like the houses are going to have to make a hard choice and inevitably anger many alumni in order to start making any type of change to the system.

  10. As a member of a National Panhellenic Organization, this is very sad and disappointing to read. I have experienced the recruitment process as a recruit, recruiter and a recruitment counselor and race/ethnicity should never effect the outcome for any of the potential new members. These organizations each have values and missions they should be striving to uphold and if a recruit comes along that meets all those expectations then there should be no reason that appearance should change that. This article really has opened my eyes to the differences between how race is considered in different areas. Comparing WSU formal recruitment to that of the University of Alabama, it is evident that race has been much more prevalent in the South. I have personally never heard of an issue based on race during recruitment here at WSU. Although I am sure we have made strives from these organizations being predominantly white nation wide to where we are today at WSU. It is just very sad that other universities have not been able to make those same strides. Although I am very impressed with those members who are standing up to their peers and advisors in order to voice their opinion and what they believe is right.

  11. After reading the article I immediately thought,” wow, the south is so different from here”. I grew up in Washington all of my life and do not plan on leaving here. In this class this sort of a broken record statement but I cannot believe racism is still alive like that. Living up in the opposite side of the country we do not realize the difference of side of America. My roommate went to school in Alabama for a year and he said the state seems like a different country than here. He said that he truly thinks racism is alive and had racist on his baseball team down there. Real racist, not the occasional racist joke that some of our friends say to be funny, people who have had racism in their blood since their great-grandparents were alive and before that. Most people in Washington I think do not know much about this. I bet if we all asked our parents at home if there was still a lot of racism I personally believe most would say no. is it just our region? I think so, maybe extending to the Midwest a little but there is more racism than just black- white. I have a lot of family in New York and my father has told me about stories they tell him about Italian-Irish fights, Russian-Mexican and the list goes on. Washington is pretty lucky as far as racism.

    This immediately makes me think of our own school as it probably did for most of my peers especially if you are in the Greek community like I am myself. Unfortunately we have an AGD chapter here and hopefully they were not embarrassed. I am a guy, because I am a guy we do not participate in the same ways of recruitment of new members as woman in sororities do. I will tell you one thing, if you went up to any Greek male probably 90% of them would not have a single clue on what goes on for that week of grueling recruitment for girls. It is confusing, very intense, competitive and political. Girls can be very mean but that is a different discussion. I fall into that 90% where I do not know what is going on.
    This makes me wonder if it is also going on at Washington State. Like I said the south is so different but because most people do not know the first thing to sorority recruitment who knows if it goes on. I hope it does not because that is not the purpose of having these sororities but I could not tell you if there is discrimination in the system or not. The article does not indicate if the University has multicultural fraternities and sororities like WSU does which could be good or could not matter at all. It could be and because not every person who is not white doesn’t necessarily want to be in a multi-cultural house. There’s a lot of people who just want to be normal and do what everyone else is doing and what their friends are doing.
    The final word is that I am very surprised not that there is this racism is still alive but that it is happening in an organization that is supposed to have the opposite morals of racism. You cannot always control who is a racist and where racism happens but I think that in for-good organizations America has moved that point in racism. I thought we were passed that and hopefully this is a reminder that we are not.

  12. As a member of a sorority, I have been through the recruitment process now on both ends, being the recruited and the recruiter. It is intimidating enough already putting yourself out there to be judged by strangers for a week and it is heart-breaking to hear that the U of Alabama alumnae made it even worse for this girl because she was black. I am proud to say that the girls of color in my house were welcomed with open arms and that their color was not brought up even once as a factor during the voting process. In an instance like this, “colorblindness” and really blindness in general are absolutely appropriate. Who a person is is not simply the sum of their looks, how much money they have or where they come from. There should be no ulterior motives in discussing race, be it to make the sorority “more diverse” or to exclude them based solely on their race. A sister should be chosen based solely on her personality and what she can bring to the chapter as a leader or friend. While racism is not as extreme of an issue here in the northwest as it is in the south, it is amazing to me that our country is still struggling this much to get past it. We have made giant leaps (e.g. Obama as president) but it is still up to our generation to continue changing the status quo. Racism is not normal nor should it be.

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