‘Sometimes it’s like we’re not there’: Black students reflect on exclusion in Greek community

Black students in both predominantly white and predominantly Black Greek organizations face their own frustrations with the system.

The University of Alabama has one of the largest sorority and fraternity communities in the United States. But despite Greek life being a cornerstone of campus life, disparities between traditional white Greek organizations and Black ones are stark. For many Black students, attempts from administration to bridge these gaps have come off as performative.

According to the University of Alabama’s Division of Student Life, the University’s Greek community makes up over 35% percent of undergraduates enrolled. The Greek community at the University of Alabama is composed of four councils: The Alabama Panhellenic Association (APA), the Alabama Interfraternity Council (AFC), the Alabama National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), and Alabama United Greek Council (UGC). Currently, there are 40 Greek homes at the University of Alabama and out of that 40, only two homes house a traditional Black Greek-letter organization.

One of those homes belongs to Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Joshua Gill is currently the second vice president of the Kappa Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. He said the University has done little to bring Black organizations together with white ones. Gill believes UA should try to plan more mandatory events – rather than voluntary “DEI” programming –  to actually help mend this gap. 

“You can’t force people to get together or force people to bond,” Gill said. “But I think if you were truly for that diversity and inclusion, then certain things would be mandatory to be a partnership.”        

Brea James, a senior member of the Theta Sigma chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., believes the University can do more to support organizations like hers. 

“I feel like it’s not really a big issue seen on campus,” James said. “I ask people from out of state why did they come to UA, and it’s always football and Greek life. I don’t think they’re aware of these gaps when they get here. It’s just something that’s not talked about.”

It’s just something that’s not talked about.

— Brea James

James recently made a presentation on the difficulties of being the only Black Greek home on sorority row. In her PowerPoint, James discussed the obstacles and racism her chapter had to go through to get their house in January of 1986. It was reported by The Crimson White and The Associated Press on March 29, 1986, that a wooden cross was burned on the front lawn of where the house is today. Two people were seen at the site by security and were questioned before being released. 

Cierra Murray, another member of the Theta Sigma chapter, believes many problems that her chapter has faced have been seen as insignificant. 

“One time someone came banging on our door late at night,” Murray said. “One of our sisters was here and she was scared, and she called campus police. The police were trying to gaslight the situation saying it’s probably a prank. We asked the police to look at the camera and they said no. The person was banging on the door saying, ‘We see you b—-, open the door.’”   

James and Murray said they’ve experienced several microaggressions within the Greek community that have made them feel excluded. They both mentioned times that white members in the Greek community asked questions like, “Why are you guys’ house so small?” or “Are you all a scrapbooking club?” 

James was able to recall two times she felt left out on campus. In 2018 the advertising department of the school’s newspaper, The Crimson White, made a graphic insert of all the houses on sorority row. The graphic included the sorority’s name, the date the house was founded and the house’s nickname. The only sorority not mentioned in the graphic was Theta Sigma and ironically, the graphic was in pink and green which are the official colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha. 

The other situation was by way of a TikTok posted by a member of a white fraternity. In the video, members wished sorority sisters goodnight, but left out Alpha Kappa Alpha.

“It’s not like we’re crying about it, but it just shows you how other people, other students view us,” James said. “Sometimes it’s like we’re not there.”      

According to an article written by Alecia Sherard in a 1986 issue of The Crimson White, a memo by Chi Omega’s president, Betsy Griffin, was sent to six sororities to examine how Theta Sigma receiving a house would “disrupt the lives of the members of these sororities.” Fast forward 34 years later, and there’s hope for Theta Sigma and Chi Omega to mend their relationship. 

James stated how a Black member of Chi Omega recently reached out to her with intent to better the two sororities’ rapport. James believes the member of Chi Omega being a Black woman played a part in her willingness to issue an apology on behalf of her sorority and celebrate the accomplishments of the house next door.

That member’s name is Caitlyn McTier. In 2016, McTier joined Chi Omega with hopes of diversifying the Panhellenic Association at the University of Alabama. 

“I have always been someone that has been up to a challenge…,” McTier said. “I never really saw being in white Greek life as something that I can be complacent in, but I saw the opportunity to break up a really white space and to really help diversify people that have never really been put outside their comfort zone.”

I saw the opportunity to break up a really white space and to really help diversify people that have never really been put outside their comfort zone.

— Caitlyn McTier

While McTier came from a family of Divine Nine members, she wanted to break barriers and make a statement for the Black community at Alabama. Although McTier feels included within her sorority, she still gets backlash.

“I felt like there were so many negative things that I got from the Black community – even my mom and my family,” McTier said. “Of course they were proud of me and my decision, but I come from a family of Deltas, and they wanted me to continue that legacy.” 

Even though her decision felt right, McTier had to deal with many obstacles not only from white people but also from Black peers questioning her “Blackness.” 

“It took until the end of my sophomore year and junior year to prove to them that I was Black enough,” she said. “I think it was hard to have so many Black people question if I was cultured enough or if I knew the struggles of Black people.”  

McTier is now a senior and is proud to be a part of Chi Omega. She hopes that she left her mark at The Capstone. 

“I’ve had to make sacrifices for the greater good,” she said. “And even if people haven’t respected that route, I know that I did the right thing.”