The University of Alabama has a little race problem. You may say it's just a perception problem, but I suspect you would be wrong. Good news is the young writers at The Crimson White are not letting the bad old habits of the past quietly contaminate the future of the University of Alabama.
Jessica Bailey, a young woman who grew up outside Alabama, was surprised that race remains a focal point in university culture:
I recall asking one of my friends what sororities were best, in the hope of rushing, and his reply was, “Black or white?” I was as confused as the time I was asked if I liked watermelon. Why did it matter?
My skin is too tan for a “white” sorority, too light for a “black” sorority. In both, I stick out like a sore thumb. I have never been one to shy away from individuality, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in either group. It was incredibly disheartening to realize that I am an abnormality on my campus.
Bailey, who is bi-racial, is routinely asked “What are you?” I would be tempted to respond with “Was it hard to get into UA with such a small, closed mind?”
Tray Smith's recent column, UA students beyond the schoolhouse door, was an eye opener for me. George Wallace was forced to open the schoolhouse door for people of color in Alabama, but the bars to full participation are still firmly in place, albeit less public:
… nearly five decades after integration, several doors on our campus remain closed to all but a few minority students. As we begin a new school year, the opportunities we are given and the experiences we will share are likely to vary greatly based on our race and background. This has produced glaring racial disparities in some of the University’s most prestigious programs.
For instance, take the University Fellows, a program that is intended to “prepare the most able and dedicated students at The University of Alabama for remarkable lives of leadership.” Last year there were only two black Fellows – out of a total enrollment of 98. There were also five Asian students and one Hispanic student. Ninety of our “most able and dedicated students” were white.
Oh my, that sounds more mid-twentieth century than early twenty-first, doesn't it. Most of us have heard about the continued use of racial slurs and about segregation in the greek system on campus, but who knew it extended to non-greek programs?
Unfortunately, the “adult” in charge at UA, President Robert Witt, doesn't seem to think de facto segregation in the greek system is a problem. That sounds very much like separate but equal. Presumably Witt feels the same way about segregation in the University Fellows and other non-greek programs. The editorial board of The Crimson White calls BS on Witt's defense of systemic segregation, as they call it.
Segregation in the greek system isn’t limited to “traditionally white” or “traditionally black” organizations. Since President Witt arrived on campus, two new all white sororities have been established. They had no “traditional” race affiliation, yet neither have any black members.
Witt classifies fraternities and sororities as “independent social organizations.” But when greek organizations want to throw parties, they are required to register them with the University. If they violate rules pertaining to alcohol or hazing, they can be put on social probation or kicked off campus. Only when they repeatedly discriminate against potential new members because of race does the University classify them as independent groups that govern themselves autonomously.
So hazing violations or underage drinking can get a fraternity or sorority kicked off campus, but racial discrimination doesn't even rate a slap on the wrist. That feels like 1961, not 2011.
Why is segregation at the University of Alabama tolerated (and defended) by so many? Those who defend this relic of our ugly past need to understand that they're not only hurting the University, but further tarnishing this state's less than stellar reputation, and the so-called adults in charge at UA need to be working to eliminate systemic segregation instead of defending it.
I still have hope that UA can/will change. Thank God there are so many outspoken young people, living in this century not the last one, who get that it's long past time for the University of Alabama to remove the color bar from every facet of student life.