Administrators at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa say they are working hard to overcome racial segregation, but scrutiny of the Greek system has some professors and students arguing that they must do more.
Many had thought that the integration of the university’s sororities and fraternities would progress after Carla Ferguson, an African-American student, was offered membership in the Gamma Phi Beta sorority in 2003. More than two years later, Ferguson remains the only black woman to have been accepted into any of the 15 “traditionally white” sororities. The situation is similar at the approximately 30 “traditionally white” fraternities on campus, where students say that only one or two African-American males have ever been admitted.
“Most kids in the Greek system [here] have strange boundaries,” said Samantha Perry, a senior and former member of Alpha Delta Pi. “Their mentality is like, ‘I’m not racist, I have black friends—but I don’t want to recognize them as a sister or brother.’”
Race is a sensitive and important issue in Alabama, where the university’s segregationist past is well known and where black undergraduate enrollment now stands at 2,000 (out of a total undergraduate enrollment of about 17,000). The Greek system, with approximately 4,100 undergraduates, tends to play a major role in influencing social issues.
Because Perry has chosen to speak out on the racial issues she sees in the system—and has been vocal in The Crimson White student newspaper about Ferguson’s experience—she has violated the sorority’s oath. She hasn’t been officially asked to renounce her national membership, but said she no longer personally identifies with the sorority.
She explained Friday that she was at a chapter meeting in 2003 where sisters in the Greek system debated whether to allow Ferguson to get a bid at one of the campuses white sororities. After an initial vote to block Ferguson’s admittance, “people talked and decided to keep her around to boost public image,” said Perry. “To not appear racist.”