Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Greeks should encourage diversity

Walk into Lakeside Dining Hall for a typical meal, and groups of students will be clustered around the tables and inside the booths. Chances are, a wide array of students will be represented throughout the building. But most individual tables will consist of students who look pretty much the same.

Race remains a complicated issue in the South, even today. Racial hostility and resentment are rare, but on the whole, individuals still tend to associate most closely with others who look and act like them.

For many in-state students, this probably seems normal. But for our growing out-of-state population, people from places like Connecticut or California and even Florida or Texas, this level of racial segregation may seem strange, even repulsive.

By and large, though, no one pays much attention to the students who go through college with a racially homogenous social circle, and few criticize them. Trouble comes only for those whose social circle is a registered student organization, like the students in our greek community who belong to actual chapters that critics can point to as examples of racial exclusivity.

But the aspect of our greek community that makes it most vulnerable to public criticism on race – its structured, highly organized nature – also makes it the University’s best tool for encouraging interracial interactions among students.

Little can be done to encourage diversity at random parties thrown at homes or apartments, but a lot can be done to encourage diversity at registered events sponsored by greek houses. Fraternities and sororities of various racial compositions can join together for swaps, parties or philanthropic activities. The movement to make fraternities and sororities more racially diverse will hopefully culminate with more minority students in more greek houses, allowing the friendship-building strengths of the greek system to be used to develop relationships across racial lines.

Unfortunately, we are not using these tremendous strengths of the greek system to our full advantage. Thankfully, several greek leaders and administrators are working to correct this issue.

Efforts to make more fraternities and sororities accessible to more students are ostensibly pro-greek endeavors, because the end goal is to allow more people a chance to join our exceptional greek community.

Having people from so many different backgrounds who want to become a part of the greek system speaks volumes about its appeal to students who desire a rewarding campus experience and a venue for student involvement.

The greek community’s unique potential to advance racial equality shouldn’t distract attention from the racial inequalities that exist across the rest of campus, though. The University should work through residence halls, mealtimes and freshmen-mentoring programs to bring students together in all corners of campus life.

At a university of 32,000 students, some divisions are inevitable. Some students want to join the quiz bowl team; others would rather play in the band. Such a wide array of interest is one of the desirable attributes of having such a large student body.

We should strive to make sure, however, that our extracurricular environment allows people to gather together based on their common interests and personalities, not their race. Similarly, we should make sure that we build inclusivity not for its own sake, but for the sake of the students who would genuinely benefit from and contribute to university organizations and activities.

Our University is in somewhat of an awkward position. We are trying to appeal to a national constituency of recruits, ranking agencies and employers while simultaneously preserving our southern identity. Obviously, this will cause some tension.

But maintaining our southern charm while advancing equality are not mutually exclusive goals. We just need an open conversation about how to progress as a student body.

Do we want a system of racial quotas that require certain demographics for university groups? Can we trust student leaders to move in the right direction independently? What role should University administrators have in facilitating progress?

These are the types of questions that student leaders and administrators from across campus should work together to answer. A lot of this work is already happening, but a lot more needs to be done if we are to continue to grow and thrive at the Capstone.

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