The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama today issued a statement following allegations that two female African-American students were denied acceptance to two on-campus sororities because of their race.
Board President pro tem Paul Bryant, Junior said… “The Board of Trustees does not support the segregation of any organization at our institution on account of race. “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.”
One of the students in this case is the step-granddaughter of Judge John England, Jr. who sits on the Board of Trustees. I sat down with Judge England for a one-on-one interview to discuss the allegations. Here’s that conversation…
Pat D. How did your family react to this? Was it “well, it’s not a big deal us,” but, it’s a big deal to your step-granddaughter?
Judge England: “Well, I can speak for myself. When it comes to rush, particularly to what I’ll call the predominantly white fraternities on campus, and sororities, they don’t accept all who apply. So, it’s not totally unexpected that one would not make it. At least, that’s based on what I know. But, when I got information that her friends that applied along with her, members of the sororities said she was an outstanding candidate, and thought she should be admitted into the sorority, I’m became concerned that race may have been a factor, so I talked to the President and the chancellor. And they responded. They looked into it. And, there’s enough there to be concerned that race played a factor, or may have been the reason why. Not necessarily from the young people, but from some alumni who may have put pressure on the girls in the sorority not to accept her. “
Pat D. Sir, today President pro tem Bryant issued a statement saying that the Board opposes segregation whatsoever. They would urge the University to take whatever steps necessary to erase the practice. From your perspective, what would like the University to do about this?
Judge England: “Well, I’ve had the opportunity to talk at length with (UA President) Dr. (Judy) Bonner and (University Chancellor) Dr. Robert Witt, and they are taking steps to deal with that issue. You know, by encouraging, by making sure that people in these organizations know the University will support them in their efforts to ensure diversity in their organizations, and they won’t use race as a criteria. I’m aware of a number of steps the University intends to implement to address the issue, but I don’t want to get out in front of them. I know what they’ve told me, so…while I appreciate the Board of Trustees and President Pro tem Bryant taking a strong position against race being a factor or determining factor on deciding who can be in fraternities and sororities, and who cannot. I really appreciate that. I think the University will do everything that it can to make that no youngster is denied admission in any organization based on race. I know, of course, those organizations elect or select who their members are. They can only do in the confines of what authority they have. But, I know and have been assured that that’s what they’re doing. “
Pat D. That statement is a prelude to my next question. You can change policies, but changing peoples’ hearts is a little bit more complicated than that. Realistically, what do you think the University can do to effect change?
Judge England: “Well, I think they can talk about it, and when I say talk about, encourage the students on campus to talk about. You see, in my view, the fact that students…white students who came forward and said ‘this happened and it’s not right.’ That, to me means there’s hope. The fact that this whole information, this whole story came to the national media…to your organization…because two young people with the Crimson White (UA campus newspaper) wrote a story and did not fear any reprisals from co-students that would prevent them from telling the story. And then, young people from those sororities came forward and say ‘we don’t like it.’ And I can say, I’ve received text messages, emails, phone calls from a number of alumni who say ‘I’m outraged by this,’ and ‘this is not the sorority that I was a part of does.’ We know there are some, and I believe it’s a minority, who live in the 1950’s when segregation was the order of the day. We know there are some who still live there. But, I believe we’re moving away from that…we’re not there yet…but I believe we’re moving away. So, I’m hopeful.
Pat D. Sir, last question. If this sorority came to, what its critics say would be, its senses. And said, ‘we totally mishandled this, we were totally in the wrong, and we’d like to invite your step-granddaughter to join our group…. Do you think she’d say ‘yes?”
Judge England: “You know, I haven’t asked, so I don’t know. But, I do feel she would appreciate having the choice to do so. I can’t tell you what her reaction would be. I think she is a wonderful, smart, bright, intelligent young lady, who would be an asset to any organization she might join. Whether or not she’d do it now, I don’t know. But, whatever decision she makes, I’d support her one hundred percent.”