Last week, the University of Alabama’s Student Government Association Senate passed a groundbreaking resolution to support the full racial integration of the university’s Greek Life system.
Sorry – did I say ‘groundbreaking?’
Let me rephrase: Last week, the University of Alabama’s Student Government Association (SGA) Senate passed a long overdue resolution to support the full racial integration the university’s Greek Life system, nearly a month after it failed to pass through the 2013-2014 Senate and nearly 7 months after a female African American student was denied acceptance from all 16 of the on-campus sororities.
According to The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s campus newspaper, the bill was passed with an “overwhelming number of votes on the floor.” SGA President Hamilton Bloom says that despite the steps in the right direction, the University and Greek organizations “still have a long way to go.”
Before we shake our heads and cue the slow clap for yet another Southern institution just beginning to actively demand standards for racial integration, it’s important to examine the nature of the institution that’s under investigation.
Recently, the campus media has scrutinized college fraternities and sororities across America for issues regarding both the exclusion of members based on race and the manifestations of racist behavior.
In January of this year, The State Press reported that Arizona State University’s Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter was suspended after members hosted an “MLK-Day party where they drank from watermelons and wore baggy clothes.”
In a follow-up article posted in March, The State Press reported that although Greek life councils “do not keep track of the racial diversity” of the chapters, council members insist, “they represent a wide range of diversity” through “23 chapters” with “Latino/a, African American, Native American, Asian American and LGBTQA focuses.”
What universities and Greek systems need to understand, however, is that the representation of race through organizations such as traditionally Hispanic or African American fraternities and sororities does not eliminate discrimination or bolster acceptance within traditionally white Greek organizations.
Encouragingly, the Stanford Daily reported that after a sorority member addressed the Greek community about the underrepresentation of minority groups, a coalition has been formed to encourage “more sensitivity during the rush process” by holding “diversity training events…before the start of rush.”
Other universities, such as the University of Southern California, are also addressing the issues regarding the discrimination of members based on sexual orientation.
Last week, an article by the Daily Trojan featured the voice of an openly gay fraternity member who said that although things are “getting better,” the “Greek system is so built on heterosexual stereotypes, it has created a certain mentality in the Greek community that makes it challenging.”
The article also quoted USC graduate Eric Lavis of the Sigma Alpha Ma fraternity, who sums the up the discrimination issues surrounding the Greek community better than anyone: “I don’t think that people want to hear about it, and I don’t think people like to talk about it.”
If the Greek community wishes to remain a positive presence on college campuses, this silence must broken.
Samantha Ruggiero is an editorial intern at Warscapes.
Image via Salon.