Sorority rush. It is a fundamentally American experience, amplified and glorified on college and university campuses across the country. It is a time for nerves and new friendships, opportunity, and finding a place to belong.
Now, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper reports that a less sisterly force may be present on that campus. Based on the account of sorority member Melanie Gotz, and those of other sorority members who chose to remain anonymous, racial segregation persists in some Greek organizations, and some sororities may have made an active decision to keep it that way.
The perfect candidate
According to Gotz, a sister of Alpha Gamma Delta, her chapter was considering offering membership to a black student who was the kind of recruit every sorority dreams of admitting. The young woman had a stellar GPA, graduated at the top of her high school class, and hailed from an influential family with university ties.
“I had heard about this girl coming through,” Gotz said. “I just heard that there was a black girl coming through and that she was wonderful and fabulous and she had a resume that would embarrass any of us.”
Gotz said the young woman seemed a shoo-in by any standards, but she was nixed by a group of alumnae who overruled the chapter’s usual voting process and said the recruit had to be eliminated because of a technicality with her application materials. Several current members expressed their disappointment. “We accepted (their decision), but all of our girls weren’t happy with that,” Gotz said. “They really, like, truly, truly wanted this girl.”
“Alpha Gamma Delta has policies that govern its recruitment process,” read part of a statement issued from the sorority’s national headquarters and published by the student newspaper, The Crimson White. “In addition, Alpha Gamma Delta policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in all of its activities including recruitment.”
But the campus newspaper also reports similar stories from other houses where the same recruit had sought membership: Delta Delta Delta, for example, where an anonymous member told The Crimson White the candidate “would have been a dogfight between all the sororities if she were white.”
Then there was Pi Beta Phi, where another anonymous sister told the campus paper some alumnae threatened to cut funding to the chapter if the recruit was accepted. And Chi Omega, where the chapter’s philanthropy chair reportedly resigned over the decision to drop the same young woman.
“There are 16 sororities on campus and I don’t know a single one that gave her a bid,” Gotz said, talking about some of the traditionally white Greek organizations.
The sororities respond
Statements to The Crimson White from the involved sororities are similar to that from Alpha Gamma Delta: The selection process is confidential. The organization upholds their values, will not tolerate discrimination.
The Chi Omega chapter’s rush adviser responded to The Crimson White with a statement saying: “As a private membership organization, Chi Omega’s membership selection process is confidential; however, our criteria for membership is simple, we seek women who reflect our values and purposes.”
“Recruitment is a mutual selection process,” the president of Pi Beta Phi, Livia Guadagnoli, told The Crimson White. “The Fraternity does not share why or why not a member was selected for membership.” She also said that an international fraternity officer was present during recruitment to support the chapter.
Delta Delta Delta posted a public statement on their Facebook page addressing the article.
“We are aware of the situation reported in the Alabama student newspaper, The Crimson White. It is absolutely against our values and policies to discriminate, and both collegiate and alumnae members take that very seriously. Additionally, we expect alumnae and advisors to represent the Fraternity in a positive and professional manner at all times and in accordance with all Fraternity Governing Documents. The Executive Office of Tri Delta has already begun an investigation into these serious allegations.”
A checkered past
In 2003, Carla Ferguson, a young black woman from Tuscaloosa, pledged Gamma Phi Beta. Local news outlets claim her acceptance helped cross “one of the few remaining lines of racial separation” at the university.
Ten years later, she remains the only black student at UA to successfully pledge a traditionally white sorority.
There have been others who tried, according to the Tuscaloosa News. In 2000, Melody Twilley reportedly attempted for two years in a row to gain acceptance into one of the 15 operating sorority houses at the time. She was denied both years. Christina Houston joined Gamma Phi Beta two years before Ferguson, but withheld her biracial background until she was accepted. She eventually left the house before graduation.
Gotz says it’s an unspoken truth on campus. “Everyone knows that the Greek system here is segregated,” she said. “It’s not a secret.”
Where to go from here
Abbey Crain, the lead writer of The Crimson White’s article, said that despite this incident, it is clear the climate on campus is changing, and many see this rejection as a missed opportunity.
“I heard a bunch of people in sororities talking about how awesome it was and how this may be the year that one sorority takes a black girl,” she said. “And I know everyone was looking forward to it.”
A faculty adviser for The Crimson White, Mark Mayfield, who helped see the original article to fruition, said he believes a lot of the story’s sources chose to remain anonymous to avoid any social stigma.
Out of all of the students who spoke to The Crimson White, Gotz was the only one who agreed to be identified. “Everyone’s just scared of change, and I understand that. I really do,” she said. She claims that the responses to the article have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
Comments on The Crimson White’s website seem to share that sentiment.
“As an alum of Alpha Gamma Delta at Alabama, I want to say three things.,” reads one comment. “First, thank you Melanie Gotz, for having the guts to stand up both in the chapter room and beyond. Secondly, the alumni who stand in the way of any girl getting into a sorority because of her race does NOT reflect my values and I hope the values of many others. Thirdly, I hope that this is the watershed moment that changes the culture of sororities from this point forward.”
“I am an Alpha Gamma Delta alumni, too,” another comment wrote. “I’m fully aware of what the sorority looks for in a young woman, and race should have no place in the decision. This is related to some outdated opinion that has no place on campus in today’s world.”
It is clear that Gotz, some of her sisters, and the staff at The Crimson White seem to think their campus culture is standing on the precipice of real change.
“I just felt disappointed. I felt like, ashamed that we are — it’s 2013, and our sororities, on campus, none of them would take this girl,” Gotz said. To her, the most important thing to do was speak up when others would not.
“I don’t blame (others) for not speaking up,” she said. “… It just makes them scared to do such a big and daring step, because it will be the first of many, I hope.”
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