With the sound of Denny Chimes in the background, there were more reporters than students for today’s planned anti-racism rally on the large grassy park, known as the “quad” at the University of Alabama--at least at first. A grassroots student campaign was begun shortly after reports surfaced in the campus newspaper "Crimson White" alleging that two African-American sorority candidates were rejected because of their race. Alabama student Archie Creech was part of the “boots on the ground” effort to get participation.
“Last night we came together in one of the buildings on campus,” says Creech. “And, we had about fifty people there, and telephoned, texted, sent messages on Facebook, just about everything we possibly could to get the word out.”
By 7:15 am, the crowd in front of Gorgas Library was estimated at three hundred.
Sorority member Caroline Bechtel was among them.
“I can honestly say I don’t know people who are downright racist,” says Bechtel. “But, they’re just scared to go into the unknown. And I think it’s really great that now so we have the opportunity to come together to move forward, so there isn’t that fear of what’s gonna happen, because it is hard to make that first step. It’s a shame that it took this long. But, it’s exciting that it’s finally happening.”
Bechtel’s support of the anti-racism effort could be considered especially notable because she is from out-of-State. The University says more than fifty percent of its current class of incoming freshmen comes from outside of Alabama. This infusion of new ideas is widely credited with helping to push the effort to desegregate UA’s fraternities and sororities. Caroline Bechtel may support this effort, but she declined to identify to which sorority she is a member. Yardena Wolf didn’t. Once the demonstrators made their way from Gorgas Library to the Rose Administration building, the sophomore member of Alpha Omicron Pi was waiting to speak to them. She called today the new “stand in the school house door,” in reflection of this year’s fiftieth anniversary of Governor George Wallace’s effort to keep two African American students from enrolling.
She said her goal was to demonstrate that “we, as a community, do not tolerate covert or institutionalized racism on our campus.”
For Wolf, this stance comes at a cost. She moved out of her sorority house shortly after the membership process known as “rush.” She says she’s been the subject of social media criticism from sorority sisters over her outspoken response to allegations of racism. Wolf says the point isn’t over discrimination.
“Rather that I spoke out of turn about it,” says Wolf. “And, yeah I’m going against sorority policy. But I think this is so much bigger than that. And it’s so incredibly important that people are willing to talk about it.”
Student organizers hope for a sustained effort to combat racism in UA’s Greek community. That sentiment was reflected in Tuesday’s meeting by the campus Faculty Senate. The group tabled a statement of support for ending fraternity and sorority racism until tougher wording was included. Senators asked for things like specific goals to be achieved like a specific timetable, the possibility of a campus diversity officer, and a task force to root out racism among students and their alumni advisers. The revised statement is expected to go up for a vote in two weeks.