What Rushing a White Sorority Taught Me (Participation)

What Rushing a White Sorority Taught Me

Getting accepted felt great, but then I pledged Delta Sigma Theta.

By: Helena Andrews | Posted: September 18, 2013 at 12:44 AM
Originally posted at The Root

(The Root) — I had just gotten in from cheerleading practice when I got the call. On the other end, a chipper girl I’d met for the first time the night before gave me the good news: The sisters of Delta Gamma wanted me to be one of them. I’d made it past the first round and had been all but guaranteed a bid for membership.

Exhausted from rah-rahing, I croaked my gratitude before offering my regrets. I’d gone to the “rush event” at Columbia University as a favor to an upperclassman, another black girl, on the cheerleading squad. The young women I chatted with over cheese and crackers had been sweet and sincere, but I’d had my heart set on another Delta — Delta Sigma Theta — before I ever stepped foot on campus. So I said a polite “Thanks, but no thanks” and pulled out my dog-eared copy of In Search of Sisterhood.

I’d forgotten all about my brief brush with another sorority until last week, when news broke that four traditionally white sororities at the University of Alabama had blocked two black students from joining. The most common response to the story sounded a lot like a shoulder shrug. Quiet acceptance as opposed to a massive call to arms seemed the reaction du jour for those familiar with Greek life on predominantly white campuses.

In an article with the histrionic headline “The Final Barrier: 50 Years Later, Segregation Still Exists,” the university’s student newspaper offered a behind-the-scenes look at the formal rush process in which current chapter members and their alumnae advisers vote on potential pledges. According to the Crimson White, only one black woman has ever pledged a traditionally white Panhellenic sorority at the university, and that was a decade ago, in 2003. On Monday, the university president ordered sororities to increase diversity in their recruitment process.

Many weren’t surprised by the stark numbers or especially upset by them.

“I hate to tell you guys this, but sororities are not the last segregated institution in American life. We’re far, far from the ‘final barrier,’ ” wrote one commenter on the student newspaper’s website.

Another poster on a follow-up story at the Huffington Post, about prominent Alabama leaders, wrote, “Stop the presses! Sororities in the South discriminate. It’s not stop and frisk so whatever.”

My own friends — most of them sorority sisters — saw the article and the headlines that followed and had the same reaction: “And water is wet?” Others wondered why a black woman would even want to join a white sorority in the first place, particularly when there are chapters of black Greek organizations on Alabama’s campus. Separate but equal, it seemed, wasn’t all that bad a philosophy after all.

But having experienced both sides of the coin — dipping my toe in the “rush” process for a traditionally white sorority and then diving headfirst into “membership intake” for a traditionally black sorority — I had a slightly different take.

As with most college freshmen, my singular goal that first semester was to fit in, in whatever way I could. For the next four years that campus would be more than just a house of higher education; it would also be my home. So I tried out for the cheerleading squad because I’d cheered all through high school. I auditioned for the dance ensemble to put the previous decade’s worth of ballet lessons to good use. Everyone I knew was doing the same thing: planting a flag to make this unfamiliar world manageable, more their own. Greek life was a part of all that.

As clearly as I saw myself as a member of Delta Sigma Theta when I got the call from Delta Gamma, I remember feeling proud of myself for having been accepted. Of course I wasn’t going to join (and I’d have to explain to my future prophytes why I went to that rush event), but the power of acceptance can’t be overestimated.

Certainly a sorority is far from the last bastion of racism on American college campuses. Most of us can tick off long lists of things that desperately need more diversity, chief among them the student population, faculty and school administration.

In a place where most of the students and faculty didn’t look like me, it was beyond encouraging to know that our differences weren’t insurmountable. I hadn’t been anything but myself at that first-round rush event, cracking corny jokes and complaining about the coed bathrooms, and that had been enough. That said something to me about my place not only within the safe walls of my campus but also in the world waiting for me outside them. I had something to offer. And isn’t that the type of deliberately hopeful notion that universities are supposed to be instilling in their students?

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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8 thoughts on “What Rushing a White Sorority Taught Me (Participation)

  1. I obviously think it is wrong to not allow someone in a particular group because they are a different race. This has nothing to do with her personality or the person she is but soley the color of her skin. On the other hand if those sorority girls didn’t want her I still don’t understand why she would want to join that group because it will not get better if she gets accepted in there. I know she wants to fit in, but if she wants that then why doesn’t she find an accepting group. I personally wouldn’t bother with a group that doesn’t want me, it’s a waste of my time. However, why would that sorority push her away? Does it just no look right? I understand if they just don’t like her personality but that is not why they did not choose her. Also, the school even wanted to up the segregation during the recruiting process. I don’t understand why the head board would want this for the school and push recruitment to base off of appearance instead of the actual person. That does not develop cohesion or a healthy atmosphere for a college. With her cheerleading, she has experience, talent and everything a cheerleader needs in order to make the squad except for the fact that she is black. It’s not fair, give her a different appearance and she would not be teased or looked down upon. We quickly form ideas, stereotypes without realizing it instead of looking at the person and there abilities and potential.

  2. I am part of a Greek chapter here at WSU and I find this article very intruiging. The lifestyle and norms in Alabama are so much different then in Washington so it is kind of hard to relate to Helena Andrews. It is wrong to not allow someone to join your chapter based on her race, that is not what sororities stand for. Sisterhood is not and should not have anything to do with race. I guess in Andrews’ standpoint, she experienced more colorblind racism than anything because the girls on the other end of recruitment shouldn’t have to think about her skin color but because the chapters are historically white, then they probably can’t avoid the fact that she isn’t white. I know my chapter is predominantly white but we absolutely do not look at race when girls are being recruited. As Andrews said, she wanted to find that so-called home away from home and being in a sorority helps you find that family you never knew you had. I guess looking at the big picture, it really comes down to the past and how history has influenced society. If she was going through recruitment in the Washington versus Alabama she would not have to worry about not being accepted due to her race.

  3. First I would like to begin by stating that I think it’s very upsetting that one of these girls only went to the “rush event” at Columbia University as a favor to another girl. Pledging is an important part of a persons life while in college for those who chose the greek lifestyle. It states that she wanted Delta Sigma Theta, which is the largest African American greek organization. But then the article continues by impling that these two black girls tried to join a all white sorority and were denied. A little confusing. First, in any case I believe that it is dissappointing that any sorority would deny a member because of their race no matter where the college is located or the number of student racial numbers. But as I have stated previously I do believe we are moving forward agianst racism. Secondly, the sorority members need a pat on the back for standing up on their beliefs on the situation and racism.The blame was placed on policies, rush advisors and alumnae for the outcome. Many of the other chapters wished to remain anonymous which is a sad reminder that people are still afraid to fully come forward with their thoughts and beliefs. Thirdly, I wonder why when we are trying to aviod racism and discrimination that we allow black chapters in the Greek living or any other college activity. Simply by seperating people we are proving inequalities. And my final comment is in reference that the university president ordered greek organiztion to divesrify the recruitment process. This goes back to my original comment that it is wrong to rush or do an activity as a favor or just to prove a point. So now that it has been made aware by the university administration and the media has published it nationwide are students that say they were denied going to rush because they want to or will they chose to elect other options because they really didn’t want to join. If racism is ever going to change we need to eliminate all segerated organizations and open them to all and to continue to educate the next generations how racism can effectothers.

  4. Of all the articles posted on this website, finally one that’s not totally depressing. Helena Andrews getting accepted to a mainly white sorority in Alabama is great. Yet, at the same time, why does hearing that the differences of the obstacles between races isn’t insurmountable feel so good? Shouldn’t that be more of a “and water is wet,” statement? How did “traditionally white” and “traditionally black” sororities even form? And why is that mentality still being fed? If black women aren’t completely excluded from Greek life altogether-they have “traditionally black” sororities-why is it still better for the women in sororities to segregate themselves rather than just integrating themselves into each other’s sororities? Is it because of how outsiders, like influential people, would then view that sorority? And that still doesn’t raise a call to arms. So while it may feel like progress at first for Helena Andrews to get a call back from a traditionally white sorority, I can’t be sure that it represents much progress at all. Rather, it seems to more accurately represent how far our culture had sunk in the first place.

  5. Reading this article, made me think of my chapter house here on campus. Going through my life, I haven’t ever really thought about race; growing up my parents never treated people differently because of their skin color so I never did either. When I came to Washington State University I noticed that were more black people than where I am originally from. I went through Sorority Recruitment not even thinking about other girls and what house that they were going to be in but with what I wanted to be in and trying to find a place where I fit in. The house I joined has changed my life. They accept me for who I am and my morals and beliefs in life. When I joined the house I found out that an upperclassman in the house who I became very good friends with was black. Not only was she one of two black girls in the house but she is the very first black girl to ever join my chapter here at WSU. She doesn’t think anything of it, and neither does any of the girls in the house. She was recruited the same way I was and is accepted for her morals, beliefs, and personality. Not, what she looks like. At convention this summer in Boston where all of the chapters throughout the United States came to celebrate 50 years of being a Kappa Delta, she said she was maybe one of about 15 other black girls out of about 1000 girls who were there. Bringing up this article to my sister, she was saddened that a chapter would even look at the color of her skin and judging her before even getting to really know her. She talked about how the reason why her family lives in Washington and why she attends school here is because people are not going to think of her any different as they would a white girl. The Chapter that did this to the girl in Alabama should be ashamed, especially with the way society is today, Great athletes, artists, actors… most of them black all winning… Grammys, the Super Bowl, and Emmys. And the most recent… the President of the United States. Hearing and reading this article, makes me a disappointed citizen of our country to eve think that someone in the Greek life that I am apart that is all about unity and acceptance would even have this issue. Hopefully people, Greeks, and the women of the Chapter house in Alabama see this and come to realize that what they did is wrong, and they are part of the reason why segregation and race are still issues in our country today.

  6. I am a freshman this year and when I went through rush one thing that I noticed was the difference between white and black women that had signed up for the recruitment process, “rush”. One thing that I thought of was how at orientation we had a greek lecture that we could go to and they emphasized that there were all African American that could be joined as well. After reading this article I wondered if the reason why so few African American girls went through rush was because they joined those chapters or because they saw sororities with chapter houses (like the one I am in) as mostly white and that they would not be accepted. Before reading this I didn’t even think about how many African American girls were in my chapter here at WSU, but then I wanted to know how many actually were and when the first girl joined. In my pledge class of 2013 we have two, in the class above me (2012) there is one half black girl, in the class above theirs (2011) there is only one girl, and in the senior class there are none. Since my chapter was founded at WSU in 1923 the girl in the 2011 pledge class was this first African American to join my sorority. Whatever the reasons are for African American women not to do formal recruitment like I did, the fact that there is obvious racism with certain universities and chapters should not be tolerated. Joining a sorority is supposed to be about creating life long friendships and coming together to give back to the community through something that is greater than yourself. The reason why I wanted to join my chapter was because of the women I met and the conversations I had with them, not because of how they look. No one should have race in mind when recruiting for their sorority they should only be thinking about character and personality through the process. Integrating sororities that are traditionally white is just another step towards getting rid of racist thoughts. When I talk to the African American girls in my sorority I don’t even think about the color of their skin, all I think about is how thankful I am to have met them and how lucky I am to call them my sisters. If sororities started integrating then maybe they will get the same experience that I have and not even think about whether a girl is black or white during recruitment.

  7. In contrast to the other article referring to a sorority at University of Alabama, this article gives me a little more faith in the Greek Community nationally. I feel that this article is a good example of what rushing a sorority should be based on, meaning those women going through the process should not be judged on looks or where the come form but rather what they value and what they can bring to that chapter. Although the woman in this article only rushed the “white sorority” as a favor to her friend, it opened her eyes to the accepting groups of women that make up this community. Although this is not always the case, reflected on so many other campuses (such as Alabama), those people who are members of the National Panhellenic Community are all reflected poorly based on those who choose not to based their recruitment processes off of their chapters values. I am a member of a chapter here at WSU and we are all very encouraged to base recruitment on values, and not superficial aspects of a person. We are all members of an organization much larger than each individual chapter, although the actions of one chapter in a very different part of the country can have a poor reflection on the entire organization. This article gave me a little hope in the sense that a chapter doing the right thing and respecting their values has been recognized. This helps to show that Greek organizations are not all recruiting based on race or appearance. This is a great break through for the community as a whole, but there are still those instances such as Alabama that continue to constrain the community and remain to give it a poor reputation based on recruiting diverse races.

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