The Fight for Integration at the University of Alabama

Sororities and fraternities need to change their ways, but what about the rest of the student body?

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

(The Root) — One week after it was revealed that the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority at the University of Alabama didn’t allow a biracial student into its organization because of pressure from alumnae members, members of the university at large are now speaking out in protest. 

The New York Times reported from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where students marched on campus to demand racial integration from the school’s largely white sororities and fraternities. 

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.”

Initially, a spokeswoman for the university said that while they have encouraged the school’s Greek organizations to be more accepting of minority students, all of the organizations are given autonomy for the most part when it comes to their membership process. But at the University of Alabama, any practice of segregation is a reminder of Gov. George Wallace trying to block black students from enrolling back in 1963. So on Monday, university President Judy Bonner addressed the issue, according to the Associated Press.

In a rare move from the school’s administration, she released a video encouraging (and sort of demanding) sororities to make changes to their membership process. “While we will not tell any group who they must pledge, the University of Alabama will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Bonner.

Bonner, who became the university’s first female president less than a year ago, is a testament to how much progress the school has made in ending discrimination. No, things may not be “fine,” as student Tracey Gholston said, but they are getting better. Eight of the nine fraternities and sororities that belong to the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the black Greek organization, have chapters at the University of Alabama.

Accepting the presence of black fraternities and sororities is a testament to how far the university has come since Wallace blocked the doors. Khortlan Patterson, interviewed by the New York Times and currently a sophomore at the university, says that she would like to see improvements put into practice by the white sororities, but using her freedom of choice, she is looking at joining one of the predominant black sororities.