This University of Alabama Sorority Thing…

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Ugh. I’ve been following this story on the University of Alabama’s segregated sororities, and… ugh. Forty years ago, in another deep south university, my mom sponsored a black friend from her nursing school for membership in her sorority. Mom loved being in that sorority, but when they rejected her friend, she quit. That was forty years ago.

Inside Higher Ed’s report today links to a very honest blog post by Karen Spann, who was a rush advisor asked to tell a black student some years ago that she would not be getting bids from any sororities, and that she should drop the rush process. It’s tough to read:

I only know that when the meeting was over (and it was short; I stood for all of it) I had been given the task of telling one of the girls in my group that she would need to drop out of rush immediately.  They told me that she would certainly “not be receiving any invitations back,” and that basically the sooner she was gone the better for all involved, including herself.  This girl was bright, attractive, and had an absolutely wonderful and infectious personality.  She was also African American.   And they were worried that if she was not invited to pledge a sorority, that there could be a huge backlash from the black community.  

I don’t know how the meeting ended, or what, if anything, I may have said.  I do know that I was the only person in that room who knew her at all, and I never opened my mouth once to speak up for her.  I don’t even remember her name.  I regret all of that to this day.

I’m not sure if I requested company, or if the Board decided this on their own, but they sent someone to go with me when I met with the girl.  I will be eternally grateful for that, although once we sat together, the three of us,  it seemed wrong, as though it only  emphasized her minority status.  I remember hearing her tell us she wasn’t interested in the “black” sororities.  I recall her explaining this, but I don’t think I listened.  For some reason I have never thought back on that day without remembering a tear that had run down her cheeks and fallen onto her thigh.  It broke my heart in a way I can’t fully describe here.  Psalm 56:8 tells us that God keeps our tears in a bottle.  I didn’t know that verse then.  It would have been a comfort, as it is to me now.   Mostly I remember doing most all of the talking.  I distinctly recall thinking I wasn’t making any sense; that I was pleading a case I didn’t believe in.  And I remember the sound of the wall unit air conditioner as it droned on mindlessly like the sound of my voice.

Like I said, my mom loved her sorority, so I know there’s good to be found in the Greek system. And we should remember that the original objections to the rejection of black candidates came from within the sororities. But there’s a lot of ugliness behind the pretty façade. And not just relating to race: the whole rush process sounds like a nightmare to me. Spann recalls:

I remember looking around at the other girls and thinking I wasn’t good enough.  I remember looking around at other girls and thinking they would surely never get a bid to a sorority.  I remember being judged, and feeling the sting when my envelope was lighter the next morning.  And I remember judging, my cupped hand hiding whispers and snickers and all those things that break us far worse than sticks or stones. 

 Ugh. 

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