Negative Qualities Ascribed to Blacks at Root of Discrimination by White Greek-Letter Groups (Participation)

Negative Qualities Ascribed to Blacks at Root of Discrimination by White Greek-Letter Groups

by Lekan Oguntoyinbo

Originally Published Diverse issues In Higher Education


The University of Alabama’s Greek system, which dates back to the late 1840s, is one of the largest and oldest in the country. With its lengthy track record of dominating student government, which for nearly 100 years has served as a training ground for many of the state’s leading politicians, the system has one of the highest profiles in the country.

The overwhelmingly White system is also one of the most controversial for famously refusing to accept Black members. The system’s determination to exclude Blacks has been a source of controversy for decades and has been the subject of stories in several prominent national news outlets, including Esquire magazine and NPR and a major embarrassment to a university with a turbulent racial history.

The system may soon put that dubious history behind it. Prodded by University of Alabama President Judy Bonner, some White sororities offered bids to several Black students last month. The developments came following a story in the university’s campus newspaper that alumni and advisors of some White sororities had pressured the chapters to deny bids to Black members. The revelation was another black eye to the university, which is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its integration this year, and which has struggled to live down its reputation as a racist institution. A student and faculty march on campus that attracted attention from the national media further fanning demands for change.

But many observers and experts on Greek life point out that stories of racial exclusion among White Greek-letter organizations are not just an Alabama phenomenon. They note that Black fraternities and sororities are actually more likely to accept people of other races.

“First you have to consider that many White fraternities and sororities had Whites-only clauses until the ’70s, so you’re seeing the legacy of that historical racism,” says Dr. Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and a member of the university’s Institute for African-American Studies. “Alabama has been called out for years for this semi-secret group [of fraternities and sororities] called the Machine. But this happens all over the United States. It’s easy to call out flagship schools in the South. But they function in the same way all over the country.”

He points out that a fraternity and sorority at Dartmouth recently got in trouble for holding a Crips and Bloods-themed party over the summer. According to published reports, racially insensitive language was used at the party.

Adds Gregory Parks, an assistant professor of law at Wake Forest University, who closely follows issues of legality regarding Greek-letter organizations: “Most people have automatic subconscious anti-Black biases, and they play out in various forms of behavior. The story doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure if you ask these alumni, they will say they have no ill will, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ascribe negative qualities to African-Americans.”

Hughey says that, in many instances, the exclusion of students of color from these powerful White Greek organizations effectively denies them access to resources and networks that could be helpful to them in college and beyond.

Ron Binder, associate dean of students at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and co-chair of the Fraternity and Sorority Knowledge Community for the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators, says he’s noticed a trend of more racial, ethnic and religious diversity among White Greek fraternities and sororities — as well as a trend in the emergence of more Greek letter groups that cater to Asians, Hispanics, American Indians and Christians.

“We see a lot of diversity in terms of religion and sexual orientation,” adds Binder, a 30-year student affairs veteran whose resume includes stints as Greek adviser at the University of South Carolina, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Georgia.

But, he adds, “one group where we’re lagging behind, in my opinion, is African-Americans.”

That opinion comes as no surprise to Hughey at the University of Connecticut.

“African-Americans are still seen as the ultimate type of other in this country,” says Hughey, adding that many Whites still view Blacks as dangerous, dysfunctional and not good enough. Many White fraternities and sororities simply do no form of outreach to this population, says Hughey, a White man who pledged Phi Beta Sigma in college. “Campuses themselves are very segregated entities. The color line is quite stark.”

If anything, Black fraternities and sororities are more likely to accept people of other races. Alpha Phi Alpha initiated its first White member in the 1940s, at the University of Chicago, according to Walter Kimbrough, author of Black Greek 101 and president of Dillard University in New Orleans. At the University of Alabama, Zeta Phi Beta, a Black sorority, initiated a White member in 1986. The following year, Phi Beta Sigma initiated a White member. A White sorority didn’t initiate its first and only Black member until 2003.

“Historically African-Americans, despite our history, have been some of the most welcoming people in the country,” he says. “We’ve always been more diverse and inclusive than other groups. [In the fraternities and sororities], there were never were any rules that prohibited non-Blacks from joining.”


5 thoughts on “Negative Qualities Ascribed to Blacks at Root of Discrimination by White Greek-Letter Groups (Participation)

  1. Being a member of the Greek community this article really touches close to home. This article opened my eyes to a problem I honestly didn’t see before. It is like we talked about in lecture when we were talking about institutional racism, these people aren’t going to say they aren’t offering bids to black members, they are going to say that those girls don’t meet their values, or standards. When they were discussing the University of Alabama I couldn’t help but think that the only reason they are claiming to become more “tolerant” is because there is media and negative attention being put on the situation. Unfortunately opening these greek chapters up to African american students is not going to end the discrimination or racism. These men and women who bravely join as some of the first black members are going to face a lot of hardships while the media considers the racism problem at University of Alabama “fixed”. One of the readings we were assigned touches on why people should talk about race, and this is a great representation of her point. If you don’t talk about race openly and often then people come in to “fix” the situation but in fact only begin the process and then call it good. Although I do think our campus is better than in the south and Alabama in specific, you can look around and notice that the majority of chapters are mostly white. I think that many campuses have a long way to go in the battle for equality and equal opportunity.

  2. Its hard to read situations like this, because they are so true. Even looking around campus here at Washington State you mostly see whites and within the greek system same situation. We only have one girl in my sorority who is African American, and we are in living in Washington. I’ve always thought that these situations were worse in the south, but maybe they’re not. Although, my sorority has never been told to not give bids to anyone because of their skin color which is unfathomable. I do not know what the answer is to solve issues like this but something needs to be done to open students eyes to issues like these because most are oblivious.

  3. From what I read through this article is that there are a lot of different type of situation like this especially when they mention the University of Alabama, is basically pointing out how racism people in certain ways, which of their skin color. Here in Washington State University Football their is no such thing call who’s black or who got the different color, everybody here in Washington State University everybody knows their role in each formula of where they from. When I first came here in WSU I never saw not 1 single person don’t want to be friends or communicate with an African American person including myself coming from the Island of American Samoa, which the color of our skin is brown. Is something that will never stop, it’s hard for me to respond to this kind of what this article is basically talking about because their are many people with different personality on racism, I think that’s is what is the focused of this article. Something that really got me of guard because everybody has equal rights, even me too that I really think that racism is something that has been stop for a long time, it’s more of how they brought up and not liking the person that you see with a different color.

  4. In this articled it talks about how at many of the university’s Greek systems are denying African Americans to join white sororities and fraternities. Not only do they deny them not many of them try to join, maybe because they feel that they don’t even have a chance so why join and I think it’s true how most African American are very welcome to the white race when someone tries to join African American run sorority or fraternity. The African American sororities and fraternities might look at it a different way. since they went through so much about there race they don’t want other races to go through it too.The only reason the universities are doing something about this is because of the negative attention they are getting and if there was not any negative attention going on in the media would they still be doing the same things or not.

  5. Its evident that Greek systems and other organizations in college in the South are much different than here. It makes it harder to think about the racism that goes into the selection process in this school, since we were never told to no accept someone based on their skin color. If put in that situation it would be difficult to stand up to your alumni and advisors, who are supposed to have the sorority’s best interest at heart. These are people that members are supposed to look up to, so when they are making a wrong choice it is hard (I imagine) to stand up for what is right (like the girl in the previous article on white sororities). I just can’t understand how, if the school is so embarrassed by the negative media attention they receive for the discrimination of the white sororities, how they haven’t stepped in a changed how the system works or the selection process. It’s great that the African American sororities are more welcoming of other races, but it should be all sororities that act in that way,

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