alabama

*The University of Alabama is ordering changes in its sorority system just days after the student newspaper detailed allegations that alumnae of some all-white sororities blocked chapters from adding two black students as new members in August, when the university announced 1,896 new sorority members.

President Judy Bonner mandated that sororities belonging to a campus association composed of white sororities begin using a recruitment process in which new members can be added at any time, and she expanded the maximum allowable size of the groups to 360 people to increase the chances for prospective members.

Bonner, in a video statement released by the university, said people are watching Alabama just as they did when it admitted its first black students five decades ago.

“This time it is because our Greek system remains segregated and chapter members admit that during the recruitment process that ended a few weeks ago decisions were made based on race,” she said.

“While we will not tell any group who they must pledge, the University of Alabama will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Bonner, who became the university’s first female president less than a year ago. [Watch her statement below.]

Last week, student newspaper The Crimson White detailed allegations that alumnae of some all-white sororities had blocked chapters from adding two black students as new members in August, when the university announced 1,896 new sorority members.

Based on the account of Alpha Gamma Delta member Melanie Gotz, and those of other sorority members who chose to remain anonymous, racial segregation persists in some Greek organizations, and some sororities may have made an active decision to keep it that way.

According to Gotz, her chapter was considering offering membership to a black student who appeared to be a prime candidate. She had a stellar GPA, graduated at the top of her high school class, and hailed from an influential family with university ties.

“I had heard about this girl coming through,” Gotz said. “I just heard that there was a black girl coming through and that she was wonderful and fabulous and she had a resume that would embarrass any of us.”

Gotz said the young woman seemed a shoo-in by any standards, but she was nixed by a group of alumnae who overruled the chapter’s usual voting process and said the recruit had to be eliminated because of a technicality with her application materials. Several current members expressed their disappointment. “We accepted (their decision), but all of our girls weren’t happy with that,” Gotz said. “They really, like, truly, truly wanted this girl.”

“Alpha Gamma Delta has policies that govern its recruitment process,” read part of a statement issued from the sorority’s national headquarters and published by the student newspaper, The Crimson White. “In addition, Alpha Gamma Delta policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in all of its activities including recruitment.”

Alpha Gamma Delta. The University of Alabama sorority houses on Colonial and Magnolia Drives on campus.

Alpha Gamma Delta. The University of Alabama sorority houses on Colonial and Magnolia Drives on campus.

But the campus newspaper also reports similar stories from other houses where the same recruit had sought membership: Delta Delta Delta, for example, where an anonymous member told The Crimson White the candidate “would have been a dogfight between all the sororities if she were white.”

Then there was Pi Beta Phi, where another anonymous sister told the campus paper some alumnae threatened to cut funding to the chapter if the recruit was accepted.

And Chi Omega, where the chapter’s philanthropy chair reportedly resigned over the decision to drop the same young woman.

“There are 16 sororities on campus and I don’t know a single one that gave her a bid,” Gotz said, talking about some of the traditionally white Greek organizations.

Chi Omega at The University of Alabama

Chi Omega at The University of Alabama

In 2003, Carla Ferguson, a young black woman from Tuscaloosa, pledged Gamma Phi Beta at the university. Local news outlets claim her acceptance helped cross “one of the few remaining lines of racial separation” at the university.

Ten years later, she remains the only black student at UA to successfully pledge a traditionally white sorority.

There have been others who tried, according to the Tuscaloosa News. In 2000, Melody Twilley reportedly attempted for two years in a row to gain acceptance into one of the 15 operating sorority houses at the time. She was denied both years.

Christina Houston joined Gamma Phi Beta two years before Ferguson, but withheld her biracial background until she was accepted. She eventually left the house before graduation.

Gotz says it’s an unspoken truth on campus. “Everyone knows that the Greek system here is segregated,” she said. “It’s not a secret.”

The Faculty Senate scheduled a meeting for Tuesday afternoon to consider a statement asking administrators to take further steps against campus racism.

Donna Meester, vice president of the Senate, said the group planned to address sorority recruitment and sorority involvement in a recent city election in which some sorority members allegedly received free alcohol in exchange for voting for certain school board candidates.

University of Alabama trustee John England Jr., a state court judge in Tuscaloosa and a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court, last week confirmed his step-granddaughter was one of two young black women who tried to join an all-white sorority but were rejected for membership.

University of Alabama - then and now (Gov. George Wallace blocks entry of a black student in 1963; members of the Delta Delta Delta sorority

University of Alabama – Then and Now L: Gov. George Wallace blocks entry of a black student in 1963, R: Members of the Delta Delta Delta sorority

The charges of racism are marring a year in which the university is trying to show racial progress in the 50 years since then-Gov. George C. Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” blocking integration at Alabama, and with the school’s football team ranked No. 1 nationally.

Allegations of racism at Alabama provided a backdrop over the weekend at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 bombing that killed four black girls at a church in Birmingham. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson suggested picketing all-white sororities at the university, and Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, whose district includes Tuscaloosa, said the situation at Alabama shows discrimination isn’t dead.

“When we still have fraternities and sororities in our state that block because of race, we still have work to do,” said Sewell.

Squeals and screams rolled out of Bryant Denny Stadium along with the new sorority sisters as they ran to their respective houses along sorority row on Bid Day - Aug. 17, 2013

New sorority sisters squeal outside of the University of Alabama’s Bryant Denny Stadium as they ran to their respective houses along sorority row on Bid Day – Aug. 17, 2013

The university enrolled a record 34,852 students this semester, and about 13 percent of its students last year were black. Its Greek organizations have been segregated by race since the first black students enrolled and established social organizations, with one oversight organization composed of white sororities and another composed of minority sororities.

Only a few blacks ever have attempted to join historically white Greek groups at Alabama, where there are also historically black fraternities and sororities.

University spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said Bonner’s order on recruitment applies to 18 white sororities in the Alabama Panhellenic Association, the campus arm of the National Panhellenic Conference. Eight black sororities and fraternities at Alabama are affiliated the National Pan-Hellenic Council Inc.

The Interfraternity Council overs 27 historically white fraternities, and an umbrella organization is composed of leaders of all three groups.

Watch a news report of the story below.