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“A Cycle Repeated On Other Campuses”: Racism In Greek Life Didn’t Start At The University Of Oklahoma, Or Sigma Alpha Epsilon

That shaky clip taken on a fraternity party bus at the University of Oklahoma ignited national nausea. It was something about the glee with which the young men, in formalwear, toss off the word “nigger” and the phrase “hang him from a tree,” the way the young woman blithely claps along. The video portrays a cavalier, virulent racism among the educated and privileged that some people like to pretend is extinct.

But while the words and images were shocking, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that racism has been uncovered anew at an American fraternity, given the number of incidents that have occurred at them in the past. In response to the University of Oklahoma incident, one of the school’s prized football recruits, an offensive lineman named Jean Delance, chose to rescind his acceptance. But at the University of Alabama, where Delance could wind up playing, the Kappa Alpha Order, until recently, held an “Old South” parade every year, replete with Confederate flags. The event was called off in 2010, after the previous year’s procession came to a halt in front of a historically black sorority during their 35th anniversary celebration. Of course, the reason black fraternities and sororities exist in the first place is that the white institutions would not accept students of color. As recently as 2013, there were at least four sororities at the University of Alabama that accepted no black women, according to an article in the school’s newspaper.

And a fraternity or sorority doesn’t have to have any ties to the South in order for its members to participate in behavior that is racist at worst and hurtful at best. In 1998, Dartmouth College’s chapters of Chi Gamma Epsilon (a sorority) and Alpha Xi Delta sponsored a “Ghetto Party” and made national headlines after attendees showed up wearing afros and carrying fake guns. Students protested and the groups apologized, but the story drew ample notice after the New York Times got wind of it. 1998 may seem to be ancient history—but it happened again in 2013, when two other Greek organizations co-hosted  a “Bloods and Crips” event. Students came dressed much the same way as their forebears had, attracted national outrage and gave the same swift apology. Dartmouth has since banned Greek life and hard alcohol on its campus, primarily for safety reasons.

It’s a cycle that’s been repeated on other campuses. At Penn State in 2012, a chapter of Chi Omega took a picture of its members decked out in Mexican-themed costumes. The women wore sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches. Two held signs. One said, “Will mow lawn for weed + beer,” while the other said “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.” Once again, students were predictably offended, the story hit Gawker, and the sorority members quickly apologized.

It would seem there are two kinds of racism at fraternities and sororities, both ingrained. There’s the historical kind, like the “Old South” parade, and the active discrimination against black members. Then there’s the casual wielding of cultural stereotypes, like the theme parties, which reveals prejudice in an almost childlike form. Perhaps there’s a thrill that accompanies such alcohol-fueled transgressions, and the sense of belonging in an exclusive group outweighs compassion. The ugliness, whether about women or nerds or minority groups, is part of the point, and it can, to outsiders, sometimes seem like a fundamental function of Greek life.

The Oklahoma incident straddles both kinds of racism. There’s the history, and the lily-white membership, and there’s the in-group disregard for others. There, on that enclosed bus, those men (and a few women) felt as if they were in an environment in which they could sing that racist and seemingly longstanding fraternity cheer, crossing a line they must have known was there, without fear of consequences. It’s not the first time there’s been photographic documentation of racism in a Greek organization. It’s just the first time it has been illustrated so clearly.

 

By: Ali Elkin, Bloomberg Politics, March 13, 2015

March 16, 2015 Posted by | College Campuses, Greek Organizations, University of Oklahoma | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Channeling His Inner George Wallace”: Judge Roy Moore Stands On The Wrong Side Of History…Again

In June, it will be 52 years since George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door.

It happened at the University of Alabama, where two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were attempting to register. In facing down three federal officials demanding that he stand aside and honor a court order allowing the registration to proceed, the bantam governor of Alabama sought to make good on a noxious promise: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

The upshot is that if you go to UA today and look out from where Wallace stood, you will find yourself staring not at George Wallace Plaza, but rather at Malone-Hood Plaza, erected in honor of the two students, both of whom would go on to earn degrees from the school. Wallace was wrong morally, wrong constitutionally, wrong in the eyes of history. After half a century, his actions remain an indelible stain on the state’s honor.

You’d think Alabama would learn.

And to be fair, many Alabamans have. It’s just that Judge Roy Moore is not one of them.

Last week, apparently channeling his inner George Wallace, Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, ordered the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was in defiance of a federal court that had struck down as unconstitutional Alabama’s ban on gay unions. Some judges obeyed him, some obeyed the higher court. The result was — apologies to the Temptations — a “ball of confusion” for same-sex couples seeking to be wed.

As you may know, this isn’t the first time Moore has done something like this. In 2001, he surreptitiously installed a granite monument bearing the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state judicial building. “Roy’s Rock” was an unambiguous violation of the First Amendment, but Moore refused to obey a federal court order to remove it.

That Moore, as your humble correspondent once wrote, “isn’t fit to judge a dog show” should be manifestly plain to anyone with eyes. How he became not just a judge but the state’s chief judge, is a mystery on a par with Stonehenge.

That said, there is nothing new here. History reminds us that whenever social change comes too fast for the South’s taste — which is to say, whenever social change comes — there seems to invariably arise some demagogue to decry the “tyranny” of having to obey the law and follow court orders. The South always resists.

That’s what necessitated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Freedom Rides of 1961. It’s why federal troops had to march into Little Rock in 1957. For that matter, it’s why they had to march into Richmond in 1865. The demagogues always use the same justification, always say that in denying it the right to discriminate as it sees fit, the federal government steps on the South’s “traditions.”

Beg pardon, but some traditions need stepping on. Among them: the “tradition” of a region arrogantly arrogating unto itself the right to decide whether and when it will obey federal authority.

Of course, “tradition” is just a smokescreen word, like “values,” “heritage,” “faith” and all the other pretty terminology opponents of marriage equality use to justify their increasingly untenable position. In the raw and desperate extremism of Moore’s actions, the smoke is blown away and this much is clear: This was never about those pretty words. It is, and ever has been, only about a single ugly word: bigotry, about planting the force of law behind the belief that some of us are less than.

That’s why George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. Now Roy Moore stands in the courthouse door, likely to equal effect.

He should ask himself what the view will be when people stand there looking out, 52 years from now.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Discrimination, Roy Moore | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Troops This Time”: At The University Of Alabama, A Renewed Stand for Integration

For this rendition of Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, there were no National Guard troops or presidential edicts.

But on Wednesday, several hundred University of Alabama students and faculty members invoked Gov. George Wallace’s 1963 attempt to block the enrollment of black students here as they demanded an end to segregation in the university’s fraternities and sororities. Together, the mostly white group marched within sight of the President’s Mansion, one of the only structures on the campus dating to before the Civil War.

Tracey Gholston, a black woman who is pursuing a doctorate in American literature at Alabama, said Mr. Wallace’s legacy continued to permeate the university, which has nearly 35,000 students, about 12 percent of them black, and 45 percent from out of state.

“It shows a thread. It’s not just something that was resolved 50 years ago,” said Ms. Gholston, who has a master’s degree from the university. “You can’t say, ‘We’re integrated. We’re fine.’ We’re not fine.”

The demonstration came one week after the campus newspaper, The Crimson White, published the account of a member of the university’s Alpha Gamma Delta chapter.

The student, Melanie Gotz, said the sorority had bowed to alumnae influence and considered race when it evaluated potential new members earlier this year. Other sorority members shared similar stories.

Racial biases in Alabama’s Greek system, which has a membership of nearly one-quarter of the university’s undergraduate enrollment, have been an open secret for decades.

It is not an issue unique to Alabama, and it is complicated by an era in which blacks and whites on many campuses often gravitate to fraternities and sororities that are segregated in practice, although many national Greek organizations say they have banned discrimination.

Still, many feel systemic discrimination has been tolerated at Alabama, and Ms. Gotz’s public revelations led to widespread demands for reform.

University officials repeatedly had said the responsibility for membership standards rested with the sororities and fraternities, which are private groups. But on Sunday night, the university’s president, Judy L. Bonner, summoned advisers of traditionally white sororities and told them she was ordering an extended admissions process.

And in a videotaped statement released on Tuesday, she acknowledged that the university’s “Greek system remains segregated,” which students and professors described as a historic admission.

But the demonstration, which Dr. Bonner greeted when it arrived at the Rose Administration Building, focused on a sweeping demand for the president and her lieutenants: don’t stop restructuring the campus.

“We are holding the administration accountable and hoping that they hold us accountable, as well, to improve it in a sustained way and not just in a Band-Aid approach,” said Khortlan Patterson, a sophomore. “This was a great success today, but it’s just one step in the process.”

Ms. Patterson, who has considered joining one of the campus’s predominantly black sororities, has plenty of allies. Protesters at the 7:15 a.m. rally included dozens of blue-shirted members of the Mallet Assembly, a residential program founded in 1961 with a history of urging social change at Alabama. (The only black president of Alabama’s student government, elected in 1976, was a member of the organization.)

Since Dr. Bonner’s order, those sororities have opened hurried efforts to bring black women into their ranks by extending bids to an unknown number of minority students. It remains unclear whether any of those women will accept the offers.

The university’s fraternity system, founded in 1847, also remains largely segregated, and people here said they would like to see Alabama broaden its diversity initiative to include those organizations, one of which drew attention in 2009 for staging a parade with its members dressed in Confederate uniforms.

Most Greek organizations have barred their members from speaking to reporters, but Sam Creden, a demonstrator who is also a member of Delta Sigma Phi, said there was some unease about the ferment.

“A lot of my fraternity brothers are actually worried that this will be supporting sort of forced integration,” said Mr. Creden, a junior from Chicago.

Those who marched, he said, are hoping for a deeper, systemic change.

“We don’t want this to be the facade of integration,” Mr. Creden said. “We want people to truly accept people of all backgrounds and races.”

Caroline Bechtel, a member of Phi Mu, said Greeks were largely relieved by the events of recent days.

“The conversations have been happening, but there’s been no real action,” said Ms. Bechtel, a junior.

“Finally, it feels like something might change, and I think that is refreshing. We don’t have to be scared anymore to want a better community.”

By: Adam Blinder, The New York Times, September 18, 2013

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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