In December, 2021, the University of Alabama once again had found itself in the headlines over the racist behavior of members of its Greek community.
A December 11, 2021, article in the University of Alabama student newspaper The Crimson White by Ainsley Platt had reported that the President Katherine Anthony of the Alpha Phi sorority and another of its members Kylie Klueger had been ousted from membership. The sorority, founded in 1872, was the fourth oldest national women’s sorority.
Platt wrote that the sorority’s president Anthony had texted from inside a Tuscaloosa bar: “I’m gonna yack, it smells so bad in here.” Klueger had responded, “cigs, weed and black girl.”
AL.com‘s Ruth Serven-Smith had reported that the racist incident involving a sorority had been “the third to go public in recent years.”
Even the New York Post had covered the story. Joshua Rhett Miller had written that some of Alpha Phi members had “told the newspaper anonymously they plan to leave Alpha Phi” because of the incident.
A Franklin Stove Blog post “Built by Bama” on January 18, 2018, posed the question: “Is racist behavior at the University largely a product of its segregated Greek system.”
In 2019, Al.com‘s Abby Crain had written about the “significant strides” that had occurred at the University of Alabama in combating racism. Still its Greek system had remained virtually segregated.
Time magazine’s Cady Lang wrote about how RushTok had amplified University of Alabama sororities’ problems with racism:
The obsession with RushTok, however, also serves as a cogent reminder of the longtime critiques of the racism, elitism and sexism embedded in many Greek life organizations. In universities across the U.S., sororities and fraternities have faced reckonings in the wake of hazing violence, sexual assault and even death. In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, several students and alumni across the nation at multiple schools called for reform when it came to racial discrimination in Greek life, which, as TikTok user Cedoni Francis noted in a viral video, is based on being exclusionary, often along race and class lines. Some former Greek life participants went so far as to leave their fraternities and sororities in protest, while other organizations were disbanded entirely.
Historical Transactions, a blog established as part of the commemoration of the Royal Historical Society’s 150th Anniversary, posted about how the Greek system was “racially problematic.” The post said that “‘Greek Life’ is a distinctive part of the social and cultural experience of universities in the United States, and has faced recent scrutiny for acts of racism, sexism and homophobia.”
The blog provided historical background on Greek organizations:
In 1909, a member of the Kappa Alpha Order (KA) – one of the oldest Greek-lettered societies that idolises the supposed ‘gentlemanly’ values of Confederate general Robert E. Lee – wrote a dispatch in the fraternity’s journal about his time visiting Cornell. This was the university where the first intercollegiate Black fraternity (Alpha Phi Alpha) had been founded three years earlier. Alluding to his fraternity’s white supremacist values, the KA member expressed surprise that Cornell’s white students had not demanded segregated gymnasiums, since it was in these spaces that ‘the contact [between the races] was most offensive.’ Historically, KA members performed minstrelsy at fraternity events, openly idolised the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, and flew the Confederate battle flag at half-mast in defiance of court-ordered racial integration.
Vox‘s Maryam Gamar wrote about students who had experienced Greek racism on campus. He interviewed Emily Shiroff who had attended Vanderbilt University:
It’s intimidating because those in Greek life are the most powerful students on campus. It’s like an extension of high school — the same social hierarchy exists. Girls who were in the popular cliques join sororities, and guys who were on the football team join frats. They have money, social capital, and influence, so it can be scary.
I think abolishment is possible. At a school like Vanderbilt, it’s going to depend on how educated the incoming freshmen are about the problems inherent in Greek life. But there will always be schools where people don’t really care about the issues that they’re perpetuating.
The Greek system at the University of Alabama had always been thought by many people to be too big to abolish. According to the university’s division of student life: “With over 10,000 students, the UA Greek community comprises 35 percent of the undergraduate student body and is home to 68 social Greek-letter organizations. Since Fall 2011, The University of Alabama has held the coveted honor of being the largest fraternity and sorority community in the nation with regard to overall fraternity and sorority membership.”
Outbreaks of racism at the university had been accepted by many as an inevitable part of the Greek tradition, as much as Alpha Phi‘s “fragrant Lily of the Valley and the blue and gold Forget-Me-Not” had always been.