The news: It's been 50 years since Governor George Wallace blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama in a failed attempt to halt integration. Yet despite his failure, one area of campus life stayed almost entirely divided along racial lines for the next five decades: its Greek system.
That changed last Thursday when the university's Student Government Association Senate approved a resolution supporting the "complete integration" of the school's fraternities and sororities:
"I believe the resolution passed tonight is a great solution," said SGA President Hamilton Bloom. "My administration and I are dedicated to seeing and encouraging results in the integration of both fraternities and sororities."
Wait, what year is it? It seems absurd to read this in 2014, but it's not a joke. Bama's race problem came to national attention last September when the Crimson White, the school's student newspaper, published a damning investigative report exposing how alumni and advisors from at least four sorority houses — Alpha Gamma Delta, Delta Delta Delta, Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi — actively intervened to prevent black girls from being admitted.
This has almost certainly happened before, but this time things ended differently: One of the rejected girls was the step granddaughter of John England, Jr., a Tuscaloosa judge who sits on the university's board of trustees. Her high school GPA was a humbling 4.3, and when the pledge process ended she allegedly had the full support of several sorority members.
So when AGD alums announced that new admits had been decided and no actual vote would be held, Melanie Gotz spoke up: "Are we really not going to talk about the black girl?" The question, the Crimson reports, was "greeted by silence."
"It was just like a big elephant in the room," Gotz explained.
A Tri Delta member had a similar response: "Not a lot of rushees get awesome scores," she said. "[The black girl] got excellent scores. The only thing that kept her back was the color of her skin in Tri Delt. She would have been a dog fight between all the sororities if she were white."
Image Credit: AP
At the end of the day, none of the university's 16 Panhellenic sorority houses admitted a black member. "People are too scared of what the repercussions are of maybe taking a black girl," Gotz said. "How much longer is it going to take till we have a black girl in a sorority? It's been years, and it hasn't happened."
But students continued speaking out against Greek life segregation, and within a week, popular sentiment had prompted the school to implement an "open bid process," which allowed Greek organizations to continue recruiting even after the formal period had ended. Nine days after the Crimson exposé, the New York Times reported that six minority students had accepted bids at traditionally all-white Bama sororities.
The April 14 student senate vote suggests the school will have more active oversight moving forward. Its authority is unclear, however: Alabama Governor Robert Bentley says that Greek organizations are technically "private organizations and the university only allows them to lease space on the campus."
"I think the universities can put pressure on it," he added. "I can speak out against it. I just believe you can choose someone on their character, on their qualities and it should have nothing to do with the color of their skin."
We'll see how this goes. Meanwhile, high-five to Bama for finally joining the 21st century and agreeing that the right to exclusive social clubs, ancient alphabets, community service opportunities and puke-saturated red cup ragers should be enjoyed by everyone equally, regardless of skin color.