The University of Alabama sororities, originally for whites only, now have to accept minority women into their secret societies. The university president, Judy Bonner, took decisive action after the student newspaper, The Crimson White, ridiculed the segregation practice as the school’s “last bastion.”
How Sororities Began
College sororities started out in the late 19th century as an outlet for women who were pursuing their academic studies. They could talk about issues besides Victorian household topics with those who were like-minded. Some sororities were more academic-related while others were more social in nature.
On small college campuses, these Greek societies often have provided a major portion of the student’s social life. On the campuses of large universities, they have traditionally given members a sense of belonging, a port-in-the-storm, among a student body numbering in the thousands. After graduation, they still provide a way for sorority sisters to keep in touch with one another. But, there is also another side — one of elitism and racism.
Sororities vote on whether or not to accept the potential candidate called a “rushee” as a new member. Factors such as similar interests, personality, if an immediate family member of the new candidate was in the same sorority, are all looked at by the current members. In general, these groups are judging the potential new member’s ability to “fit-in.” Besides keeping the reputation of the group intact with certain aspects like grade-point average, professional goals and community involvement, some sororities have also made their decision based on the color of one’s skin. This notion has added to the stereotypical image that all sorority members are expected to act alike and look alike.
To counteract pan-hellenic organizations for whites, historically black colleges formed their own sororities and fraternities. Alpha Kappa Alpha is the oldest Greek-letter collegiate sorority, dating back to 1908. It was founded at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., and still exists today with members all over the world. It is primarily a service organization with a wide range of interests from health to global poverty and leadership programs for girls as young as the sixth grade.
Delta Zeta Scandal
The acts of discrimination are not just relegated to the days before the Civil Rights Movement. Some of them have been fairly recent. In 2007, the New York Times ran an article about the Delta Zeta chapter at DePauw University in Indiana. The incident was also reported on ABC’s Good Morning, America. The national leaders of this sorority asked 23 members to leave the DePauw U. chapter by taking alumni status. That meant the members could no longer live in the Delta Zeta house. Out of the 23, some were overweight, African-American, and Asian. Those who were allowed to stay were “popular with fraternity boys.”
The girls said they were given no reason for the decision other than they “needed to pay more attention to their appearance.” They said they had wanted to join Delta Zeta because of its diverse membership. The sorority was founded in 1902 and has over 240,000 members. Some of the ones who were not asked to leave, left anyway because of the situation. The university’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, sent a two-page letter to the sorority’s national office, reprimanding them for their decision and actions. University officials, students, parents and alumni also wrote letters, held protests and signed a petition against the sorority.
The University of Alabama is the latest school to tear down racial barriers as a determination of membership for college sororities. It is located in Tuscaloosa and was founded in 1831 as Alabama’s first public college. Their Office of Greek Affairs oversees the university’s 56 fraternities and sororities and serves as a liaison between students, faculty and alumni.
Written by: Cynthia Collins
New York Daily News
Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities