The University of Alabama was dragged through the mud last week after the student newspaper uncovered allegations of racial discrimination in their Greek rush process. Students in these sororities claimed that decisions regarding membership were taken out of their hands because of the racial prerogatives of older women once affiliated with the chapter.
After hearing this news, I thought of my own experiences as a student engaged in Greek life. The incident at Alabama offers the chance for sororities to return to their roots and embrace the sense of community that they originally offered to women seeking support and refuge in a male-dominated higher education system. Additionally, the incident at Alabama reflects the progress that can be achieved when young people embrace freedoms and speak out when they are unhappy with tradition.
When women’s fraternal organizations began, they filled a gap for the students who were not welcome in the vestiges of academic privilege hidden within the structure of centuries old fraternal organizations. Sororities were founded before the 19th Amendment, before the first wave of feminism, and before a lot of universities welcomed women. Kappa Alpha Theta describes this isolation explicitly in the story of their founding: “But the coeds admitted in 1867 were not readily welcomed by all students. Many feared acceptance of females would diminish the college’s reputation. Initially, the women were taunted by male students and met disapproval from friends and townspeople.” Sororities were founded to advance the position of the brave young women who were breaking boundaries and seeking knowledge as seen through their visions, statements, and creeds that proclaim to “inspire women to greatness” and “broaden the moral and intellectual life” of young women.
I applaud the exposé done by The Crimson and White. This wake up call from the nation will help Greek-lettered organizations remember their roots, sororities in particular. By extending bids to women they previously denied entry based upon immutable characteristics, the young women at the University of Alabama and those that run the Greek system found themselves able to act free from the constraints of alumna approval and past tradition. Their strides encourage progress and encouraging growth inside of an insular system that is secretive by definition.
For the women of these organizations at Alabama, their liberation may lead to the end of a segregated system. I wonder what would happen if the hearts and minds of all women on campuses were liberated from the constraints of what “greeks are supposed to look like” or the pressures that they institute the desires of past members. Sororities were founded by some great feminist women, women who were breaking social rules and advancing their positions. I think that Greek life is pushing back against what it is expected to be and is moving towards becoming a better institution. The autonomy, which returned to the active members of the Alabama chapters through changes made by the university, demonstrates the ability of systems to change when voices are heard collectively and freedom of choice is cultivated. I encourage this move towards inclusiveness, and it makes me proud to be a sorority woman.