U of Alabama ends 'whites only' sororities

Four black women were admitted to traditionally all-white sororities at the University of Alabama Friday. Earlier this month, two black women were passed over by all-white sororities because of pressure from alumnae.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Univ. of Alabama student Will Gonzalez speaks during a protest of the university's segregated sorority system on the campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala.. About 400 students and faculty on Sept. 18, 2013.

Black women are joining traditionally white sororities at the University of Alabama amid efforts to end racial segregation within Greek-letter social groups, the head of the school said Friday.

University President Judy Bonner said 11 black students and three students from other minority groups received bids, or invitations, to join a historically white sorority. Of that group, four black students and two students from other minority backgrounds have accepted those invitations, Bonner said. She expected the numbers to rise as the academic year continues.

"I am confident that we will achieve our objective of a Greek system that is inclusive, accessible and welcoming to students of all races and ethnicities," Bonner said in a video statement. "We will not tolerate anything less."

The university's Greek organizations have been segregated by race since the first black students enrolled and created social organizations. One oversight organization has been composed of white sororities and the other composed of minority sororities. Only a handful of blacks attempted to join the historically white Greek groups at Alabama, where there are also historically black fraternities and sororities.

But that system came under scrutiny when the campus newspaper, The Crimson White, reported allegations this month that two prospective black members were passed over by all-white sororities because of pressure from alumnae, and in one case, an adviser. The coverage caused a wide-ranging debate, even prompting Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, an alumnus, to say that fraternal organizations should choose members based on their qualifications, not their race.

The debate came at an embarrassing time for Bonner's university, which is marking the 50th anniversary of its racial integration. Alabama admitted its first black students in 1963 after then-Gov. George C. Wallace infamously stood in a schoolhouse door to protest their enrollment. Wallace relented under pressure from President John F. Kennedy's administration.

Several hundred people marched Wednesday at the university to oppose racial segregation, and professors at a Faculty Senate meeting denounced long-standing racial segregation in fraternities and sororities.

Bonner made changes meant to weaken racial barriers. She required that the historically white sororities use a recruitment process in which new members can be added at any time. She also expanded the maximum allowable size of the groups to 360 people to increase the chances for prospective members.

"While some sororities are farther along than others, I am encouraged that chapter members are proactively reaching out to a diverse group of young women," she said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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