The Segregated Greek System: Past, Present, Future

Brittney Knox, Changing Tides (University of Alabama), May 1, 2009

It is the beginning of the fall semester and thousands of girls come to the University of Alabama weeks before the first day of school to participate in Rush.

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As you look across the members’ faces you find that they are predominately white.

Similarly, as you look across the faces of a line that is seeking to pledge a historically black organization, you see little diversity.

Since the founding of Beta Lambda Kappa in 1973, the University of Alabama has found itself with two distinctly different Greek systems, one white and one black. The two have occasionally crossed to much attention and media frenzy, but on the whole the two remain separate. On a campus with an extremely active Greek community, it’s no surprise that the segregated nature of the Greek system in many ways reflects the greater campus culture.

Attempts to Break Barriers

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Attempts to shatter racial barriers were not only individual but institutional. In 2001 the Faculty Senate passed a resolution before fall Rush in an attempts to integrate the fraternities and sororities. Some in the Senate even presented the idea of forcing white fraternities and sororities to move off campus, citing the fact that “discriminatory” organizations could not reside on the land of a publically funded school. Ultimately the proposition died at the hand of the board of trustees.

No similar resolutions have been put forward in the last eight years.

Gentry McCreary, director of Greek affairs, said that being a public institution the university has to give students the freedom of association. “We can’t tell any organization who they can and cannot admit,” he said.

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Another alumnus of the University, who works in the community, said, “The reason why the Greek system is not integrated because it is all about who you are more comfortable with and things of that nature.” He added that it is the same concept of churches, which are also predominately one race as well.

In addition to some sororities making progress, the fraternities are as well.

Lambda Sigma Phi, a Christian based organization, admitted African American Calvin Johnson into their fraternity in 2001, the first white fraternity to do so.

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Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first black sorority to move onto sorority row in 1986. Soon after someone burned a cross on the lawn, but those students were suspended.

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The Way Things Are

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Many Greek students were unwilling to discuss racial issues because they said their sororities had banned them from discussing the issue with the media. The national arm of the National Panhellenic Conference also could not be reached for comment.

Recently, on a national level the NPC, which represents traditionally white sororities, has been promoting diversity through their Badge Day. During this event every woman wears her sorority’s badge letters. The invitation was also sent to other organizations like the NPHC (the traditionally black sororities), NALFO (latino based organizations), NAPA (pacific islanders), and NMGC (Multicultural).

India Williams, an alumnae and formrer vice president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority, said that education and continous dialougue among all organizations that fall under the Greek Life umbrella is key.

“I think it is also important to remember that Greek organizations are selective in nature and that aspect must be respected and embraced by both Greek and non-Greek individuals,” she said.

Currently, the amount of minority students that are applying to organizations that are predomintely one race are in small numbers.

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A Different Approach: Multicultural Greeks

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With each incoming freshman class surpassing the last in enrollment numbers, the number of multicultural students has grown significantly. These students come from all different types of backgrounds. Around 17% of the University’s students that fit into the minority category.

However, it has been a struggle for these multicultural students to fit into the Greek system as it is currently.

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President Alise Randolph, a junior majoring in studio art and geography, said, “Diversity in Greek Life is very important, because I feel that is what college should be about. It should be an experience of learning from people that are from different backgrounds.”

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It has been hard for the multicultural organizations to become as well accepted as other Greeks because they don’t yet have the tradition and history. Sigma Lambda Gamma was founded in 1990, while Delta Xi Phi, another multicultural sorority, was founded in 1994 and has been on UA’s campus since 2002.

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Reese [Tiffany Reese, a member of Delta Xi Phi] acknowledges that people in the Greek system may enjoy being with people with whom they have things in common. Yet she asked, “Who says that people in an organization like mine don’t have anything in common with each other?”

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Recently, The University of Alabama added the United Greek Council (UGC) as a way for the multicultural organizations to have a governing body similar to the National Panhellenic Conference, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and the Inter-Fraternity Council.

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