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4:03 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

Univ. Of Alabama Sororities Accept A Few Students Of Color

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

A bit of history has been made at the University of Alabama. Four black women and two other minority students have been accepted into all-white sororities. The sororities sent invitations to the women following allegations of discrimination in the recruiting process.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports the university calls it a first step toward integration. Others say it's too soon to tell.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: After decades of segregation in University of Alabama sororities, events have moved rapidly on campus in the past two weeks. September 11th, the student newspaper quoted white sorority members who said alums and advisors removed the names of black women from the list of new recruits because of their race. Nine days later, some sororities issued new invitations to join. A total of six minority students accepted.

In a statement, University President Judy Bonner says the university is making progress to integrate sororities.

JUDY BONNER: While some sororities are farther along than others, I am encouraged that chapter members are proactively reaching out to a diverse group of young women.

LOHR: And many are watching.

JOYCE VANCE: Our hope is that this in fact is the real progress that is long overdue in this area.

LOHR: U.S. attorney in Birmingham, Joyce Vance, says she saw the story and decided to monitor the university to ensure this first step turns into real systemic progress.

VANCE: Because this is 2013, it's ridiculous that we're still dealing with integration in fraternities and sororities as an issue. So if the change is not real, then I think that there will have to be other conversations about what steps we take as a community, and whether those are litigating steps or whether those are community-based steps, to ensure that this time integration becomes a reality.

LOHR: The news of alleged discrimination in the University of Alabama's sororities and fraternities has drawn national attention, especially this year, as the university celebrates its 50th anniversary of integration. But segregation in the Greek system is not limited to the South.

MATTHEW HUGHEY: Deep South schools often get pointed to or pointed out as exemplars of this segregation and inequality. But by and large, this issue is a nationwide issue.

LOHR: Matthew Hughey is an African-American studies professor at the University of Connecticut. He says schools don't suddenly become inclusive after a long history of segregation. Having black women pledge sororities at the University of Alabama is a step. But he says it may be largely a symbolic one unless inequities are addressed across the board.

HUGHEY: Until equal resources are afforded to all of the Greek organizations on campus in terms of housing, in terms of advisers, in terms of the culture of the university, and in recruiting students and in retaining students and so forth, anything less to me is window dressing and is homage to political correctness, and trying to make this issue go out of the media cycle.

LOHR: Others are hopeful. Cleo Thomas, Jr. is a lawyer in Anniston, Alabama and was the only black student to be elected president of the student government association on the Tuscaloosa campus. He says it's hard to know what's really happening because the sorority recruiting process is so secretive.

CLEO THOMAS, JR: The success of this will not necessarily be measured, going forward, by the numbers. There'll have to be a deeper analysis than that.

LOHR: Thomas says the issue is whether students who want to join and can afford to join are ultimately accepted.

JR: I think what there a absolute insistence upon is that the humanity of black students be acknowledged and they be free to make such associations as are mutually agreeable. The removal of barriers is the right thing to do. It's the only thing to do.

LOHR: The University President has promised more diversity. The faculty senate met this week and is creating a task force to address segregation and a new student group has vowed to keep the pressure on.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.