Officials at the University of Alabama are asking the national organizations of its 16 Panhellenic sororities to investigate claims of racial discrimination, after a high-achieving African-American student was denied acceptance from all chapters.
The university's student newspaper, The Crimson White, first broke the story Sept. 11, when active members from several sororities on campus spoke out, saying alumnae and chapter advisors prevented them from offering a bid to the student in question, either by intervening in the chapter voting process or in some cases threatening to withhold financial support if the student pledged.
Several students who spoke to the Crimson White said the student was an ideal candidate for any student organization: She was salutatorian of her high school, had a 4.3 GPA, and comes from a prominent family in Alabama. According to USA Today, the student is the step granddaughter of Alabama Circuit Judge John England Jr., who sits on the university's board of trustees, and the stepdaughter of state Rep. Christopher England, a Democrat.
"The Board of Trustees does not support the segregation of any organization at our institutions on account of race," said board President pro tem Paul Bryant Jr., in a statement. "We support the efforts of our administration to effect the change necessary to bring this principle to reality in the entire University of Alabama System."
University President Judy Bonner held a closed meeting with the campus's sorority advisers Sunday night to discuss the issue, and said in a statement that the university is working with the local chapters and national headquarters to "remove barriers that prevent young women from making the choices they want to make."
"We are unified in our goals and objectives to ensure access and choice to all students, and to doing the right thing the right way," Bonner said in the statement.
But Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said fault lies with the sororities' alumnae and advisors, not the students.
"I believe if it's up to the students, the students are all for that. They are for selecting the best person, and I am too," Bentley told a local Fox affiliate. "I think it's absurd that you don't select the best person and that you would ever discriminate against anyone because of the color of their skin."
Still, he said it is unclear what can be done to remedy the situation, as sororities and fraternities are private organizations that simply lease space on campuses.
"I think the universities can put pressure on it. I can speak out against it," he said. "I just believe you can choose someone on their character, on their qualities and it should have nothing to do with the color of their skin."