U. of A. sees Greek controversy

by Lauren Gee | 7/5/01 5:00am

As the intense battle over the Greek system continues at Dartmouth, similar controversies are appearing at universities across the nation.

Journalist Eric Hoover investigated discriminatory traditions in the fraternity and sorority systems at both Dartmouth and the University of Alabama in a June edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and he said he identified some parallel patterns.

Just as Dartmouth's Coed Fraternity Sorority system drew national attention for Zeta Psi fraternity's publication of "sex papers" last Spring term, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has been thrust into the limelight for its own Greek-related controversies.

Following in a long history of discrimination, the Alabama Greek system has been witness to yet another chapter in the struggle over racism inside fraternity and sorority houses.

According to The Chronicle, Melody Twilley, a black student at Alabama, hoped to become the first African-American member of an historically all-white sorority. Despite her confidence, however, Twilley was eliminated from the four-stage sorority rush after only the second round, an outcome she attributes solely to her race, the article explains.

University of Alabama Panhellenic Association president Greer Gray told The Chronicle of Higher Education, "All of the houses give everyone a fair chance. Race does not factor in at all."

Hoping to see evidence of this statement, Twilley said she is considering participation in the upcoming Alabama fall rush process, according to The Chronicle. She is, however, also contemplating the filing of a lawsuit against the University of Alabama.

Fighting a battle that is not solely personal, Twilley explained in the article, "I don't want it to be the case where one sorority lets me in but other black students down the line are scared of the Greek system."

Hoover illustrates that, while mixed emotions regarding racial integration in Greek houses drift throughout the Alabama campus, some faculty members, particularly English professor Pat Hermann, are taking an active stance against discrimination and, in turn, against the Greek system, which they believe perpetuates a racist atmosphere.

Nevertheless, Alabama's administration says it intends to reform the Greek system rather than abolish it.

Meanwhile, in Hanover, the debate about Greek life persists.

Fueled by recent incidents at both Zeta Psi and Psi Upsilon fraternities, faculty members at Dartmouth have also engaged in efforts to facilitate alterations in the operation of the Greek system. Last May's letter to College President James Wright signed by 101 faculty members expressed adamant desires for change.

"We have two parallel structures in this university. Social life and academic life do not have anything to do with each other. We need to make these two aspects cohere. Right now we're competing," Spanish and Portuguese professor Agnes Lugo-Ortiz told the Dartmouth.

Professor of History Annelise Orleck added that the Greek system "socializes and institutionalizes unhealthy relationships between men and women on this campus."

With regard to the letter's characterization of the Dartmouth "fraternity culture" as being both racist and sexist, Professor of English Ivy Schweitzer expressed the belief that problems do not stem from participants of the Greek system as bodies but are rooted most fundamentally in the attitudes that these people hold about women and minorities.

Schweitzer also said that the issues "have to do with the relative inequality and imbalance of resources that the Greek system has in relation to other resources that unaffiliated students have."

She argued, however, that the situation present at Dartmouth is difficult to compare to that which characterizes the University of Alabama because Dartmouth's system possesses a unique history. She said she recognizes Dartmouth's problem as being a systemic one.

"It is a particular structure and the way it is implicated in Dartmouth's social and academic culture," Schweitzer explained.