Racial Flaps Dog ’Bama Despite Progress

Jay Reeves, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 18, 2011

Months after the University of Alabama dedicated a plaza and clock tower to its earliest black students, the school has been swamped with unwelcome attention over the past two weeks because of racial slurs used on campus.

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School president Robert Witt has drawn praise for instituting programs to increase diversity. But it’s student foibles that garner the national headlines, such as when a parade of white students in Confederate uniforms stopped in front of a black sorority house in 2009 and angered alumnae gathered for a party.

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In 2004, Brophy [Al Brophy, a University of North Carolina law professor who previously taught at Alabama] helped push the Faculty Senate at Alabama to issue a formal apology to the descendants of slaves who were owned by faculty members or who worked on campus during the antebellum period. The action was met on campus both with praise and complaints that it was pointless for anyone to apologize for the sins of the 1800s.

{snip} But while the student body is more than 12 percent black, the proportion is still small when compared to the state’s population, which is 26 percent black.

Most galling to some is the fact that Alabama’s Greek-letter social organizations remain segregated almost entirely by race, not by rule but by preference. {snip}

“Given this lack of diversity, it is not surprising that some students feel discrimination and racism is okay,” the student newspaper, The Crimson White, said in an editorial last week.

The most recent flare-up began Feb. 4 when a white student was accused of yelling a slur from his fraternity house at a black student. The school has refused to reveal the student’s punishment, but the national president of the fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, apologized personally to the black student.

Less than a week later, disparaging words were written about several ethnic and racial groups on three sidewalks near The Quad, a large campus green area. Administrators responded to each occurrence with campus-wide e-mails decrying intolerance, and an investigation continues into the written epithets.

In the 2009 incident, Rebel-garbed members of a fraternity holding its annual “Old South” parade paused in front of a gathering of alumnae celebrating their sorority’s founding. After dozens of the women complained in letters, the fraternity banned members nationwide from wearing Confederate dress for the yearly parties.

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