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Old 09-10-2001, 09:50 PM   #1
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Racism is Alive and Well in America..

From the front page of today's L.A. Times:

Sorority System In No Rush to Integrate

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, Times Staff Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A choir girl from the sticks with a quick smile and a rhinestone cross took on "the Machine"--and the state was watching.

Melody Twilley, a junior at the University of Alabama, wanted to be the first black student in the school's history to get accepted by a white sorority.

But "the Machine," a shadowy organization of the all-white fraternities and sororities whose influence extends far beyond campus, didn't want to let her in.

At 7:21 Sunday morning, Twilley got a call that creased her heart.

"I'm sorry," her sorority rush counselor told her. "You didn't get asked back."

Her progress through the rush selection process, an important rite of passage at many colleges, North and South, had been closely followed by the university's top officials, civil rights leaders and the vast alumnae network that dominates politics and business in the state.

Administrators, vexed for years by the school's stubbornly segregated social order, tried to boost Twilley's prospects by meeting with her, encouraging white sororities to take her in and lining up important recommendations at several houses.

The issue was especially charged because of Alabama's uncomfortable legacy as the school where segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace made his stand in an auditorium doorway in 1963.

But now that Twilley, the go-getting woman from Camden, Ala., has been rejected, there's a certain frustration--and fatigue--that the school's old image will be reinforced.

"Most students here are not racist at all," English professor Pat Hermann said. "But now we're going to be seen as a racial disaster area."

The University of Alabama is the last college in the South where no black student has ever been accepted to a traditionally white fraternity or sorority.

"God almighty, this is sad," said E. Culpepper Clark, a dean at the university, when he learned that all 15 white sororities had rejected Twilley.

For some black students, segregated social clubs aren't a problem. There are several African American organizations with their own rich traditions, and many black students don't want to be a part of the white system.

Twilley wanted to be in a white sorority because that's where she felt most comfortable, she said.

On Sunday, she sat in her bedroom wearing a purple bathrobe, crying, though she was reluctant to say that it was bigotry that defeated her.

"I love Alabama and I don't want to think that the best school in the state is racist," she said.

Sorority rush is an intense, turbulent experience for a lot of young women who put themselves through the selection process. During the opening weeks of the fall semester, "rushees," typically freshmen and sophomores, parade from house to house to meet as many sorority sisters as possible. The events are like cocktail parties, though no alcohol is allowed. Afterward, the sisters of each house (numbering usually 50 to 100 women) discuss which candidates they liked and didn't like.

It's very judgmental and arbitrary by design. And it's a spectacle.

On Saturday, hundreds of 18- and 19-year-old women advanced up sorority row in their best sundresses and tallest heels, diamonds twinkling, purses swinging, stomachs churning. A trail of perfume wafted up the sidewalk and curled into the houses, one columned mansion after another.

This was the second to last day of rush, when sororities were making their final decisions.

Twilley showed up wearing a simple indigo gown, her rhinestone cross necklace, matching earrings and a set of patent-leather pumps.

"I feel good, I feel good," she said as she took her place in front of Alpha Delta Pi, the only house to invite her back for a final round.

"But I'm a little nervous," she allowed.

A handful of black students have tried to get into the white sororities at Alabama, and many people were optimistic about Twilley's chances this year. She has a 3.87 grade-point average, sings first soprano in the campus choir and is very outgoing. At 18, she's young for a junior because she skipped two grades, but she's mature.

"I'm not trying to be the next Rosa Parks," she said. "I'm just rushing because I think it would be fun to be a sorority girl. I like the idea of sisterhood."

About 20% of the University of Alabama's student body participates in the Greek system--typical for a big state school. A lot of students sign up for the parties and camaraderie, but there are deeper social reasons as well. Over the years, the Greek system has evolved into an institution valued for its role in matching people with future spouses of similar backgrounds. And it's also a networking opportunity, especially in a state that many students never leave.

"This is such a huge decision," said Leah Catherine Swindle, a tan and freckled freshman from southern Alabama. "It will affect your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece, your whole family."

Twilley rushed last year but didn't get past the second of four rounds. Her pursuit wasn't publicized until months later, when the local newspaper reported that a well-qualified black woman was rejected by all houses. About 83% of rushees get into a house.

A few Latina and Asian American students have been accepted in the recent past, and last year, a woman who is part black was picked, though her racial background was unknown at the time.

The situation is similar for fraternities, which also are finishing the rush process this week. No black man has ever been accepted by any of the school's 21 white fraternities. Alabama has four historically black fraternities and four black sororities, but some of those groups have white members.

Why did Twilley want to put herself through rush again? Why would she want to be part of a group that already rejected her?

"My feeling was, if they got to know me, they'd like me," she said.

Twilley says she's comfortable in a white world. She grew up in a predominantly black town in woodsy, remote Wilcox County. When she was 15, she was accepted to a prestigious math and science school in Mobile that's 90% white. There she won several awards and was chosen to give the graduation speech.

On Saturday, Twilley stepped out of Alpha Delta Pi house thinking she did well.

"This one girl wanted to know how it's been for me," she said. "No small talk or stuff about the summer. She really cared."

A few hours later, the sisters voted her down. When a reporter stopped by the house to ask why, several young women shooed him away.

Hermann, the English professor, and several administrators said it was the work of the Machine.

"The Machine is completely behind this," said Hermann, who actively supported Twilley's effort. "They put the word out that any sorority that accepted a black girl wouldn't get invited to parties."

The Machine is a mysterious, ethereal force on campus. No one knows exactly who's in it, but it's run by representatives from the most exclusive white fraternities and sororities, several people said. The secret alliance is bent on keeping things the way they were, including segregation, students said.

The Machine controls the student government; Machine-backed candidates have won 14 of the last 15 elections for president. Its power lasts. Gov. Donald Siegelman is a product of the Machine. So are several congressmen, state representatives and prominent businesspeople.

If the Machine has a signature trait, it's subtlety, and there was nothing subtle about Twilley's campaign to get into a white sorority. She was on the front page of the local newspaper several times, and administrators were very public about supporting her effort, though they stopped short of telling the houses what to do.

"These groups are exclusive by nature," said Sybil Todd, vice president for student affairs. "We don't want to be in the position of dictating whom they should accept."

The faculty senate recommended that if the Greek system couldn't voluntarily integrate, it should be sanctioned and maybe even kicked off campus.

Black students were supportive of Twilley, but most didn't push the issue too aggressively.

"We have our sororities, and they have theirs," sophomore Iesha Smith said. "That's just how it is."

The university enrolled its first black students in 1963, and has made great strides in race relations. It's 19,000-member student body is 15% black--among the highest of state schools its size in the South. And black students have risen to powerful positions in campus organizations, such as the student paper, which named its first black editor last year.

There remains a tiny chance Twilley still could get into a sorority, if enough other women decline offers to join and a house needs another member.

But she's making her own plans.

"What if I started a new sorority next year where everybody would have to wear pillowcases over their heads during rush?" she said. "It may look funny. And maybe the other houses wouldn't like it. But you would get picked not by how you looked, but by who you are."



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Old 09-10-2001, 11:00 PM   #2
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That is awful. But racism is alive and well everywhere, not just America. Wherever someone dislikes someone based on race or the color of skin, racism is alive and well.

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Old 09-11-2001, 02:13 AM   #3
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Old 09-11-2001, 03:03 AM   #4
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This sounds like an idea from a movie. The Machine controls everything!!!

Not to make fun of the issue.

I dont think this is really pure racism. It is more of traditon. I dont know. Take this for an example. My parents are both Irish. They arnt the kind of people that would go up to anyone that isnt Irish or British and start up a convo. One time at the irish society in my city(members only kind of place) a black guy from Ireland came in. Nobody really talked to him or paid any real attention to him. This isnt really racism its more of an infamilatary with black people and the way they are perceved by the media in a white family from the suberbs.

Its kind of a blind racism. Not intentional and it would really happen to any race that is not familar to other races.

Though i do think that what they have done, they being the Dean and the Profs, has been a detrement to this woman and all atempts of easing racial tensions beacuse bringing this story to the papers and national publications has only streghtened "The Machine". Now these people that run this secret org. think they have more power and will make the frats and sororitys become harder on not letting blacks into the houses.

Running to Stand Still-"you gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice."

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[This message has been edited by bonoman (edited 09-11-2001).]
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Old 09-11-2001, 05:09 AM   #5
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To base your judgement on someone due to the colour of their skin is rascist. And very silly, skin colour is so unimportant. Its like any other descriptor we have to define our physical appearance.

The part of the article where Twilley said she would start her own using pillow cases is proof that this was racially based. From her qualifications etc she sounded perfect for the soroity. If this selecetion method used the internet solely to judge candidates, she would have been allowed in. But because of her appearance she wasn't. She didnt look the part, by being dark skinned.

[This message has been edited by Angela Harlem (edited 09-11-2001).]
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Old 09-11-2001, 05:15 AM   #6
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Is nobody worried about the huge amount of influence sororities and fraternities have on the students future?

I'm not from the US but I saw a documentary on TV about the "rush" (?) and it scared the living piss out of me.
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Old 09-11-2001, 06:55 AM   #7
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Originally posted by DrTeeth:
Is nobody worried about the huge amount of influence sororities and fraternities have on the students future?

I'm not from the US but I saw a documentary on TV about the "rush" (?) and it scared the living piss out of me.
Dr. Teeth, I, for one, have always felt uneasy about sororities and fraternities, just as you do.

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Old 09-11-2001, 06:58 AM   #8
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I'm glad this issue was brought out in the open...I had no idea this was going on but I must say I'm not all that surprised.

I hope more black kids try...and try...and try again and more stories like this are written...that's how things get fixed and to paraphrase Bono..."When you bring something dirty out into the open...you make it clean."...that's not exactly his words but I believe that was the idea.

This 'machine' sounds like that group that was controlling students at the Citadel (a military college in SC)...before Pat Conroy, a former student exposed it in the Lords of Discipline...

I hope these kids keep trying...and everytime they are rejected I hope someone is there to write about it...

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Old 09-11-2001, 07:51 AM   #9
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Sororities and fraternities seem very elitist to me, very WASPy, but it could be because I'm looking at them from the outside. I think that they can be very useful for the lucky few who measure up to their standards, but they are in no way a fair reflection of society, and as such, discrimination is inevitable. I'm sure that blacks aren't the only group not considered worthy of inclusion by the elite, but they are of course a very visible group.

How are things in the rest of the country? Surely Alabama has to be about the worst place to be a black student, even in the 21st century. Is the situation any better in other states?
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Old 09-11-2001, 08:31 AM   #10
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Well am I surprised? No. Racsism goes both ways though. There is a black sorority here at U of A that does not have any white members. I don't think they are racist, it just has more to do with the fact that people just have a tendency to divide themselves. Not out of hate, but out of habit.

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