Examining Racial Diversity within the NCSU Panhellenic Association.
Kierra Leggett | Editor-in-Chief
Four black women made history at the University of Alabama last Friday when they accepted bids into the university’s traditionally white sororities. Two students from other minority groups accepted bids into the organizations as well. Just days before they accepted their bids, it was alleged in an article published by The Crimson White that at least four sororities within the university’s Panhellenic Association had denied girls entry into their organizations, because they were black.
According to the Sept. 11 report, one of the black recruits who did not receive a bid during the 2013 rush process was “the perfect sorority pledge on paper.” She had a 4.3 high school GPA, direct familial ties to UA and was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class. Though she asked to remain anonymous, Alabama circuit judge and 15-year member of the UA Board of trustees John England Jr. confirmed that the recruit was his step-granddaughter.
Sept. 11 was also the last day of the fall 2013 formal rush for the N.C. State Panhellenic Association, with 502 women registering for recruitment. Of the more than 500 women who registered, five identified as being black or multiracial. 49 recruits identified as women of other races (see pie chart).
Prior to fall recruitment, 878 women at N.C. State were affiliated with the traditionally white Panhellenic Association sororities. Out of that 878, only one woman identified herself as black, while two others identified themselves as being multiracial.
According to Shelly Brown-Dobek, interim director for Greek Life, several factors contribute to the lack of racial diversity within Panhellenic Association sororities. One is the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a separate sorority organization that provides the customary alternative for black women seeking sisterhood.
“Our National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities are phenomenal organizations that provide an exceptional experience to African-American women on campus,” said Brown-Dobek.
Brown-Dobek also attributes the small number of racially diverse members in Panhellenic Association sororities to the number of Multicultural Greek Council organizations on campus, as well as the relatively small population of black students on campus.
Like N.C. State, the University of Alabama is home to both traditionally white and traditionally black Greek organizations.
According to the New York Times, the last time a black recruit was accepted into one of the 16 Panhellenic Association sororities at the University of Alabama was 2003, when Carla Ferguson became the first black woman to receive an invite into the Epsilon Lambda chapter of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
At the time, Heather Schact, former president of The University of Alabama Panhellenic Association called Ferguson “a brave young woman.”
“I think we’ve made a big step today [by inviting Ferguson into Gamma Phi Beta], and hopefully it is something that we can build on,” Schact said.
Ten years later, Melanie Gotz, a white member of the Psi Chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta, one of the sororities accused of discrimination at UA spoke out against the apparent segregation within UA Greek Life.
“We’re in the 21st century,” Gotz said. “We have entirely separate black and white fraternities and sororities, and it’s just sad.”
The racial composition of the NCSU Panhellenic Association appears to be nearly homogenous with 90.5 percent of all members identifying themselves as white in fall 2012. However, this is a considerable increase in diversity from fall of 2005, when more than 95 percent of the 664 Panhellenic Association sorority members were identified as white.
“I imagine it must be surreal to go through Panhellenic recruitment when you look around the room and only one percent of the other women going through ‘look’ like you,” said Brown-Dobek. “But I also imagine that for many of our African-American students that is an everyday occurrence attending a PWI [predominantly white institution], so I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
Although Brown-Dobek noted that the recruitment process can be different for black recruits, she does not associate the lack of diversity within Panhellenic Association sororities with discrimination or any other form of unfair treatment. “I’ve never become aware of an instance where someone was mistreated in 13 years of overseeing Panhellenic recruitment,” said Brown-Dobek.
Brown-Dobek pointed out that while, these organizations function primarily as separate entities, they come together when they can. According to Brown-Dobek NCSU Greek Life has demonstrated this through its collaborative programs such as Think Pink, Go Green, last year’s unity shack and the “I’m a Culture, Not a Costume” program.