Mon 16 Sep, 2013 04:02 pm
Sorority discrimination: University of Alabama board of trustees release statement in wake of scandal
By Ed Enoch
Staff Writer | The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 at 2:44 p.m.
The University of Alabama System board of trustees released a brief statement Friday, affirming its opposition to segregation in campus organizations after reports earlier this week that black women — including the granddaughter of trustee John England Jr., a former Alabama Supreme Court justice — were denied bids to UA sororities because of their race.
“The board of trustees does not support the segregation of any organization at our institutions on account of race,” Paul Bryant Jr., president pro tem of the board, said in a statement released to media as the board’s meeting began Friday. “We support the efforts of our administration to effect the change necessary to bring this principle to reality in the entire University of Alabama system.”
Few details were made available on what efforts would be taken in the wake of an article earlier this week by the UA student newspaper, the Crimson White. The Crimson White story said that two black women who went through the recruitment process were not offered bids by Alpha Gamma Delta, Delta Delta Delta, Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi sororities, allegedly because of interference by some alumnae and advisers, who vetoed a push by current sorority members to recruit the women.
The national organizations for Pi Beta Phi, Chi Omega and Alpha Gamma Delta released statements this week that they are investigating the reports, according to an Associated Press report.
“UA is working with our local chapters and their national organizations to remove any barriers that prevent young women (both the prospective new members and the chapter members) from making the choices they want to make,” said Deborah M. Lane, associate vice president for university relations, in a statement released by UA. “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.”
UA President Judy Bonner, after the board meeting Friday, said the administration would work with the national and local sorority chapters to ensure that no “real or perceived barriers” existed.
“We are going to help our young people do the right thing,” Bonner said.
Bonner declined to discuss specifics and left after giving her brief comments.
England, who expressed support for the statements by Bonner and Bryant, said he believes the system will take appropriate steps to make sure other students are not discriminated against.
England, now a circuit judge in Tuscaloosa, said he had met with Bonner and UA System Chancellor Robert Witt about the issue and steps had already been taken, but he also declined to discuss any specifics on what actions had been taken so far, deferring to the administrators for comment. Witt was unavailable for comment Friday.
UA System spokeswoman Kellee Reinhart said she believed the administrations had yet to outline specific plans this early in the process.
The reports have attracted national media attention and have resurrected a debate over what steps should be taken to integrate the private Greek organizations on the UA campus that have historically remained exclusively white. The chapter houses are on property leased from the university, and the organizations receive some financing from UA to build their chapter houses.
Gov. Robert Bentley told the media Thursday that he believed UA should take action against any discriminatory activities. Bentley noted the lease arrangements and said he believed the university could put pressure on the Greek organizations.
After the board’s meeting, England said he believed the statement by Bryant was important and that Bonner was committed to being inclusive and promoting diversity.
“First of all, It is important, in my view, for the board of trustees not to be silent on this,” England said.
England said it is important for the university and system to make sure “everyone knows we won’t allow organizations to deny admissions because of race.”
England said the issue was, perhaps, more personal for him since one of the young women allegedly denied a bid was his granddaughter.
England said he was heartened by the students who broke rank over the issue of integrating traditionally white Greek organizations and believes their involvement could make a difference in overcoming the resistance to integration.
“That is what makes me have hope,” he said. “That the students initiated it.”