The Fight for Integration at the University of Alabama

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. 


The fraternities and sororities are private groups, run by and large by the students. Most college students don't take kindly to authority, which means that any change at the University of Alabama cannot truly take place unless more students like Sam Creden see the problem

"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."


There is no question as to the importance of Greek life on any college campus, the University of Alabama included, but to home in on the important issue of discrimination by sororities and fraternities is slightly misguided. It's a problem that's bigger than the school's 13 white sororities and 27 white fraternities. Just because change may come there, how can change extend to the students who choose not to join any Greek organization? Real changes will come when the entire student body notices that most of the black and white students still choose to sit among themselves, separate from one another, at lunchtime.

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.