TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. attorney in Birmingham says her office is monitoring allegations of racial discrimination and segregation within the sorority and fraternity system at the University of Alabama.
U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance tells The Associated Press her staff is looking at federal laws and talking with “a lot” of people in Tuscaloosa. The office has a unit dedicated to enforcement of civil rights laws.
Vance said Thursday it appears the university community is trying to transform itself, and she hopes that progress continues.
But she also says her office is dedicated to making sure anti-discrimination laws are followed.
Recent reports in Alabama’s student newspaper highlighted segregated sororities, prompting administrators to order changes in recruitment.
Former student leaders have published an ad in the newspaper encouraging more diversity.
The news follows President Judy Bonner mandate that sororities belonging to a campus association composed of white sororities begin using a recruitment process in which new members can be added at any time, and she expanded the maximum allowable size of the groups to 360 people to increase the chances for prospective members.
Bonner, in a video statement released by the university, said people are watching Alabama just as they did when it admitted its first black students five decades ago.
“This time it is because our Greek system remains segregated and chapter members admit that during the recruitment process that ended a few weeks ago decisions were made based on race,” she said.
Bonner said “systemic and profound changes” were required for graduates to compete globally.
“While we will not tell any group who they must pledge, the University of Alabama will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Bonner, who became the university’s first female president less than a year ago.
Bonner enacted the new policy Monday just days after the student newspaper, The Crimson White, detailed allegations that alumnae of some all-white sororities had blocked chapters from adding two black students as new members in August, when the university announced 1,896 new sorority members.
The Faculty Senate scheduled a meeting for Tuesday afternoon to consider a statement asking administrators to take further steps against campus racism.
Gov. Robert Bentley and trustee Paul Bryant Jr., son of the legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, are among those who have publicly criticized segregated Greek-letter organizations at the university since The Crimson White story.
The charges of racism are marring a year in which the university is trying to show racial progress in the 50 years since then-Gov. George C. Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” blocking integration at Alabama, and with the school’s football team ranked No. 1 nationally.
Allegations of racism at Alabama provided a backdrop over the weekend at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 bombing that killed four black girls at a church in Birmingham. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson suggested picketing all-white sororities at the university, and Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, whose district includes Tuscaloosa, said the situation at Alabama shows discrimination isn’t dead.
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