Greeks Gone Wild?

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In recent days it has been rumored that national journalists  who were dressed undercover as college co-eds had  been poking around the sororities at the University of Alabama. As the above tweet may illustrate there aren’t many Afro-Americans girls in the traditional sororities at the University. But recently the granddaughter of a University Trustee was allegedly black-balled during rush. This has resulted in an avalanche of national media attention. You name it. The story’s been everywhere from the The New York Times, Huffington Post and The Business Insider to CNN and MSNBC’s “All In”

Of course there’s always the Total Frat Move News, that always does an unequaled reportage of all things Greek in a somewhat appropriate vernacular. TFM reported about  the sorority crisis, which was initially uncovered in  the University’s student newspaper The Crimson White, in the post “Every Sorority At Alabama Blackballed Two Black Girls For Being Black; What A Goddamn Joke“:

Sorority formal recruitment recently came to a close at the University of Alabama. While many bright, sweet, and presumably qualified young girls received bids to one of the 16 sororities involved in recruitment, two bright, sweet, and presumably qualified young girls, one whose grandfather is on the university’s board of trustees and the other whose father is apparently a renowned politician on the state level at the very least, did not.

It would be incorrect to assume that 200 hundred racist girls sat in every sorority house on campus while the secretary said, “Snaps if y’all hate blacks…okay by the volume of snapping that appears to be a majority, our sisterhood remains as white as our pearls for another year! Great job, y’all!” The bigger picture that the Crimson White story paints pretty clearly is that the sorority alumnae appeared to be the main players in the discriminatory recruitment. Girl after girl interviewed by the Crimson White claimed that they would have been happy to welcome a black girl into their sisterhood, but that their alumnae advisors weren’t having it.

Does that mean this can all be blamed on racist old alumnae who will gasp, clutch their handkerchiefs, spill their tea, and snap shut their checkbooks should they find out about a black girl joining their sorority? Close, but not quite. While I’m sure racism that’s as pure as the driven white snow all these old ‘Bama sorority alums would like the color of their sisterhoods to remain is a largely contributing factor, the bigger factor seems to be much pettier, and SO much more pathetic.

The funding from these rich alumnae of varying ages likely won’t disappear simply because their sorority signs a black girl. Instead, the checks will stop coming in because the alumnae, being the amazing sisters that they are, don’t want to back a loser, er, losers. As it happens, nothing makes your sorority a bigger group of losers at Alabama than signing a black girl, just ask Alabama’s Gamma Phi Beta chapter (who I’m sure are all actually sweet girls and I’m sorry for calling you losers it’s just for the story, I swear, let’s have drinks sometime). 

Why did Gamma Phi’s alumnae supposedly “cut all funding” after the actives bid a black girl in 2003? If they were donating before that, and many likely were, it doesn’t make much sense to sabotage your own investment, let alone what you consider a dear sisterhood. In that case, you’ve wasted all the previous money you donated, not to mention you’re, you know, screwing over your sisters. If these alumnae actually wanted the sorority to succeed (and clearly they don’t unless it’s totally on their terms), wouldn’t they instead power through the INSURMOUNTABLE AND TERRIFYING obstacle that is signing a black girl? The only thing that makes sense in this scenario is that the alumnae wouldn’t think any contribution they made could overcome the CRIPPLING BLOW of signing a black girl, because the sorority would be, socially speaking, too far gone, thus any future contributions would essentially be money wasted.

The drama about a racist sorority rush followed the accusations that the University’s Greek community had decided the outcome of a local school board race by being lured to the polls by the promise of free booze. It seems that racism trumps political chicanery since the national media paid scant attention to The Machine’s manipulation of the student vote.

All of this Greek drama might lead to some scrutiny of the unique relationship of Greek life with the University of Alabama. Fraternities and sororities at the University are not private institutions. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the powers-that-be in the University’s hierarchy and the Greeks. Of the over 30,000 students attending the university nearly 30% are in fraternities and sororities. It might be reasonably thought that the perception that the University is a Greek-centric, heavy-drinking, partying school is useful for the recruitment of the many out-of-state students that are the University’s lifeblood.

Many of the newer fraternity and sorority houses rival in size the structures set aside for academics at the University. At a recent meeting of the school’s board of Trustees millions of dollars in loans were approved for the construction of new buildings for the Greek community. And twenty-six acres were acquired for the University’s expansion. The Greek mansions reside on University owned property. They have been described as “exclusive social clubs” and their unique status on campus has been questioned. A few lonely voices have called for their “privatization.” Of course to many people that would be akin to asking that church property be taxed.

The University’s President Dr. Judy Bonner, who was a member of the Beta Psi Chapter at the University, was instrumental last year in bringing Delta Gamma back to the campus. She and honorary member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, University Chancellor Dr. Robert Witt recently contributed to the campaign of a local school board candidate backed by The Machine. The University has had a “hands-off” policy on the allegations of students participating in voting fraud in the recent election.

As far as the discrimination during sorority rush is concerned the University has not indicated what, if any, measures will be taken. Deborah M. Lane, Associate Vice President for University Relations, said, “The University administration, the members of our local chapters and the vast majority of our alumni fully believe that this is the right time to do the right thing, and we are committed to ensuring that all students have access to and can choose from multiple opportunities that match their personal interests and goals.

The University of Alabama may not deserve the image of a school with “Greeks Gone Wild.” Perhaps the majority of students who are Greek lettered are disgusted with The Machine’s election shenanigans and any racial discrimination in membership practices. But, unless the University’s administration pulls in the reins on the alumni and students who are perpetrating the old stereotypes of racism and dominance by The Machine, it will lose all of the credibility it still has.

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