Around 400 students and faculty filled the steps outside the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They marched to the Rose Administration Building, holding a sign that read “The Final Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”
This was not 1963, when Gov. George Wallace stood defiantly at an auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from attending school. Rather this protest was held some 50 years later, on Wednesday, September 18, as the University of Alabama was forced into the national spotlight for ugly segregation once more.
This time, it’s the school’s treasured Greek system that's in the hot seat for allegedly refusing to integrate. According to the Crimson White, the school’s newspaper, the first and last time a black student was admitted to one of the school’s lily-white sororities was in 2003. Sigma Delta Tau, the school’s traditionally Jewish sorority, does not participate in formal recruitment and reportedly has admitted black students, according to the Crimson White.
Yardena Wolf, who is white and hails from Oregon, had pledged in Alpha Omicron Pi in her freshman year, but said she had “no idea this was an issue” until halfway through the process. Since then, she has come forward and joined with groups on campus who have called for the sororities to be desegregated. She remains in the sorority but has moved out of its house.
“This is bigger than me, this is bigger than my sorority,” Wolf told The Daily Beast. “The reason I’m doing this is because all of these girls are so much better than this.”
Wolf, 19, a sophomore studying political science, spoke at Wednesday’s rally along with Khortlan Patterson, 19, a black sophomore who is also part of the protest group. Patterson, who is not involved in any Greek organization, said at the rally that the “institutional racism” at the university “came as a shock.”
The crowd at the rally included university president Dr. Judy Bonner—who greeted students at the steps—faculty members (Wolf said she ran into her English professor, which was lucky because she had to miss the class to attend), and students wearing blue shirts bearing the name Mallet Assembly, the name of an organization famous at the institution for organizing change.
Wednesday’s protest was just the latest in a series of events that have rocked the campus since the Crimson White report came out last week. The national media picked up on the report, causing Gov. Robert Bentley, an alum of the University of Alabama himself, to speak up within two days, saying that fraternal organizations should be choosing their members based on qualifications, not race. Jesse Jackson Jr. arrived on campus Saturday, calling any segregation “abhorrent” and saying white-only sororities will only end up hurting the sisters themselves—since “when they leave here, they’re not going to be in an all-white world,” AL.com reported.
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