TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama is ordering changes in its sorority system amid charges of discrimination in the Greek-letter organizations, which the president acknowledged Tuesday are segregated by race.
President Judy Bonner mandated that sororities belonging to a campus association composed of white sororities begin using a recruitment process in which new members can be added at any time, and she expanded the maximum allowable size of the groups to 360 people to increase the chances for prospective members.
Bonner, in a video statement released by the university, said people are watching Alabama just as they did when it admitted its first black students five decades ago.
“This time it is because our Greek system remains segregated and chapter members admit that during the recruitment process that ended a few weeks ago decisions were made based on race,” she said.
Bonner said “systemic and profound changes” were required for graduates to compete globally.
“While we will not tell any group who they must pledge, the University of Alabama will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Bonner, who became the university’s first female president less than a year ago.
Bonner enacted the new policy Monday just days after the student newspaper, The Crimson White, detailed allegations that alumnae of some all-white sororities had blocked chapters from adding two black students as new members in August, when the university announced 1,896 new sorority members.
Members of the Faculty Senate, meeting after Bonner’s statement was issued, said the new rush rules were a step in the right direction, but many said more action was needed to eradicate racism in Greek-letter groups.
Language and classics teacher Sierra R. Turner, a black woman, said opening up the recruitment process was “rather token” since it wasn’t accompanied by any way to measure progress.
“It’s not good enough,” she said.
Other teachers questioned why action wasn’t being taken to integrate men’s organizations, and some called for an investigation of a Greek-controlled organization called “The Machine” that influences campus politics.
Faculty Senate President Steve Miller said students and teachers would march from the library to the administration building on Wednesday morning to demonstrate for change.
“We’re going to be there awhile,” he said.
University of Alabama trustee John England Jr., a state court judge in Tuscaloosa and a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court, last week confirmed his step-granddaughter was one of two young black women who tried to join an all-white sorority but were rejected for membership.
Gov. Robert Bentley and trustee Paul Bryant Jr., son of the legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, are among those who have publicly criticized segregated Greek-letter organizations at the university since The Crimson White story.
The charges of racism are marring a year in which the university is trying to show racial progress in the 50 years since then-Gov. George C. Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” blocking integration at Alabama, and with the school’s football team ranked No. 1 nationally.
Allegations of racism at Alabama provided a backdrop over the weekend at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 bombing that killed four black girls at a church in Birmingham. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson suggested picketing all-white sororities at the university, and Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, whose district includes Tuscaloosa, said the situation at Alabama shows discrimination isn’t dead.
“When we still have fraternities and sororities in our state that block because of race, we still have work to do,” said Sewell.
The university enrolled a record 34,852 students this semester, and about 13 percent of its students last year were black. Its Greek organizations have been segregated by race since the first black students enrolled and established social organizations, with one oversight organization composed of white sororities and another composed of minority sororities.
Only a few blacks ever have attempted to join historically white Greek groups at Alabama, where there are also historically black fraternities and sororities.
University spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said Bonner’s order on recruitment applies to 18 white sororities in the Alabama Panhellenic Association, the campus arm of the National Panhellenic Conference. Eight black sororities and fraternities at Alabama are affiliated the National Pan-Hellenic Council Inc.
The Interfraternity Council overs 27 historically white fraternities, and an umbrella organization is composed of leaders of all three groups.