A sorority at the University of Alabama says it is investigating allegations in a student publication that it was among Panhellenic organizations on the campus that allegedly blocked two black women from pledging, and a judge who serves on the university's board says the number of those rejected is higher and is asking school leadership to investigate.
The piece in The Crimson White alleges that sororities on the Tuscaloosa, Ala., campus failed to invite two black women to pledge, and says that in some cases, alumni stepped in to bar them. The catalyst for the piece was the failure of all 16 of the school's Panhellenic organizations in extending a bid to pledge two black women, one who, by all measurements, appeared to fit the requirements for a competitive pledge. She has a 4.3 grade point average, was salutatorian in her high school graduating class and comes from a well-connected family that has ties to the school, The Crimson White reports.
Only one of the organizations mentioned in the piece, Pi Beta Phi out of Town & Country, Mo. could be reached late Wednesday. The head of the organization said the sorority "proudly" accepts all for membership.
"Pi Beta Phi leadership has begun investigation the allegations in The Crimson White article," wrote Pi Beta Phi grand president Paula Shepherd in an email. "If any of those allegations are found to be true, those members, alumna or collegiate, will be held accountable for their actions."
Shepherd also wrote that the decision to extend membership rests with the chapters, but that the organization is open to all.
"Pi Beta Phi Fraternity is a values-based organization and does not discriminate in its membership selection practices on the basis of race, religious affiliation, national origin, handicapped status or sexual orientation," Shepherd wrote. "Nor, will Pi Beta Phi tolerate such discrimination by its members."
Tim Hebson, the school's dean of students, e-mailed a statement to the student publication.
"Every UA organization should be committed to making sure that is policies are held to the highest ideals and that its actions and decisions help make sure this campus is inclusive and welcoming at every opportunity," Hebson wrote.
Student Melanie Gotz of Alpha Gamma Delta told the school news organization that she questioned the motives of sorority leadership after learning a bid would not be extended to the black woman with the competitive record. She said other sorority members also stood up in support of the black student.
Gotz said by telephone Wednesday night that she did not want to comment for USA TODAY immediately. She did tell the Alabama news organization that she felt sororities on campus are afraid of the repercussions of taking on a black recruit.
"That's stupid, but who's going to be the one to make that jump?" Gotz told The Crimson Tide. "How much longer is it going to take 'til we have a black girl in a sorority? It's been years and it hasn't happened."
John England III, the first black American to serve as a federal magistrate in northern Alabama and a member of the university's board of trustees, told The Crimson White that he learned that several black women did not receive bids to pledge and he has asked school leaders to investigate.
The dust-up is not the university's first foray into issues of race.
Black students Vivian Malone and James Hood managed to successfully register in 1963 despite attempts by Gov. George Wallace to physically block them in an incident known as the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door."
In 2011, a black student reported to the administration that a white member of a fraternity had called him a racial slur. The university responded with an e-mail on campus saying such behavior would not be tolerated, and the fraternity suspended the student.