Oliver: Clampdown wastes opportunity to make difference

When I first heard about racial allegations involving sororities at the University of Alabama, I was disappointed that one of the houses mentioned was Alpha Gamma Delta.

According to a Sept. 11 article in the school’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, a qualified black student was not extended bids for membership at several sororities during the formal “rush” process.

In Alpha Gamma Delta’s case, the problem reportedly was alumnae who overrode the wishes of the rest of the house to allow her to join.

This saddened me because this is not the experience I had at Northwestern University.

My chapter, which sadly is no longer on Evanston’s campus for unrelated reasons, was a model of diversity. Race played no role at any time in who received invitations to join. Our alumnae were nothing but helpful and positive.

My experience at Alpha Gamma Delta was one I treasure. No doubt many other alumnae from around the country had similar experiences.

So it was with great disappointment that I read of the allegations in Tuscaloosa. Yet I also was proud of the students who stood up to bring the situation to light in hopes of bringing change.

And it appears their efforts have paid off because several black students already have been able to join traditionally white sororities, including AGD, on the University of Alabama campus.

My disappointment turned to anger, however, at the response from Alpha Gamma Delta’s International Council.

I have no issue with its public response, because it was quick and appropriate.

In a news release dated Sept. 18, the sorority’s leadership announced that an investigation had led to “swift internal actions.”

“At Alpha Gamma Delta, we have strong, clear policies about recruitment processes and against discrimination,” International President Jackie Brannon Stutts said in the release. “We have taken this seriously, investigated and intervened appropriately. We are saddened by the events that occurred and the impact made on collegiate women at the University of Alabama.”

The fact that several black women have been offered invitations to join the chapter back that up.

However, an internal letter sent to members of the entire sorority, both past and present, seeks to stifle any discussion of the incident, particularly with members of the media.

It is one thing to ask that sorority members direct media inquiries to the international headquarters.

It is quite another to tell members that they shouldn’t even discuss the incident among themselves, “in particular on any social media.”

Unfortunately, this sort of heavy-handed “gag order” response is all too common among organizations that fear even the whiff of negative publicity.

Instead of trying to lead a much-needed discourse about race on college campuses, Alpha Gamma Delta would rather muzzle its members – some of whom happen to be members of the media – in an attempt to make this all go away. 

It’s a bad strategy and one that wastes a real opportunity to make a difference.

I would expect better from the Alpha Gamma Delta that I knew and loved.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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