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University of Alabama sororities make big change after racism claims

University of Alabama sororities make big change after racism claims
Photo provided by The University of Alabama.
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POSTED: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 11:18am

UPDATED: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 1:14pm

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday on the campus of the University of Alabama to protest alleged segregation in the university's Greek system, even as the school took steps to deal with the problem.

The crowd -- made up of students, faculty, and members of the university's sororities and fraternities -- voiced their concerns over recent events that have brought to light a campus culture of what some students call "institutionalized racism."

Last week, an article in the University of Alabama's student newspaper, The Crimson White, claimed that several sororities on campus had denied membership opportunities to black students because of their race. The article relied on the account of one named sorority sister and several other anonymous contributors who painted a picture of a segregated Greek system yearning for change.

The school is responding with some initiatives that could help integrate the Greek landscape on campus.

Judy Bonner, the university's president, issued a mandate requiring traditionally white sororities on campus (those belonging to the Alabama Panhellenic Association), to use a new system of continuous open bidding, meaning a sorority could offer membership to any woman at any time without going through the formal recruitment process.

The move is an attempt to improve a system that Bonner openly defined as "segregated."

"Today the eyes of the nation are once again on the University of Alabama," Bonner said in a video message released Tuesday. "This time it is because our Greek system remains segregated, and chapter members admit that during the recruitment process that ended a few weeks ago, decisions were made based on race."

The incidents -- allegations that alums had interfered with the recruitment process of several sororities to prevent black students from getting bids -- gained national attention. Some of the sororities issued statements denying the claims, saying their organizations did not tolerate racism.

Melanie Gotz, the only source in the article who agreed to be identified, is a sister of Alpha Gamma Delta. She claimed alumnae in her chapter overrode the traditional selection process and eliminated a highly qualified black candidate.

Alpha Gamma Delta released a statement to CNN on Tuesday saying that members were "saddened by the events that occurred" and that they had conducted an investigation and were making efforts to improve the situation:

"Initial efforts are being designed to increase diversity and understanding among our members and volunteers. With The University of Alabama President Dr. Judy Bonner's announcement of a change in recruitment processes and capacities, the chapter is making preparations to recruit additional members," said International President Jackie Brannon Stutts.

Some critics are saying the motions made by Bonner and individual sororities are simply "putting a Band-Aid on a larger issue," as one student told AL.com.

At a faculty senate meeting on campus Tuesday, some staff members voiced similar opinions.

"This is not just bashing Greeks," Steven Bunker, a member of the Department of History said, according to WBRC. "This is about a larger connection of student organizations. Some students certainly, but also an aiding and abetting even by the administration. This is a larger culture of impunity that needs to be taken on."

The attention to the issue of segregation comes at an interesting time for the university. Fifty years ago this year, then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace attempted to block two black students from registering for classes in an event known as the "stand in the schoolhouse door."

In the midst of the din of these various conversations, Bonner said the bottom line is that the school and its students are ready for change.

"I really think the students are ready if we give them time and space," Bonner told AL.com. "They are going to reach out to their friends and ask them to be their sister. I think the young people today have grown up in a diverse world."

"I want to empower them to make the changes that are needed," she said.

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