By Amy Whitehead | LSU Student
The University of Alabama found itself at the center of a national whirlwind this past September when the student newspaper revealed that 50 years after the student body was integrated, black students still were excluded systematically from sororities.
Is LSU doing any better?
More than 5,400 students, nearly 22 percent of undergraduates at Louisiana State University, are members of fraternities and sororities. Administrators in the Greek Life and Student Life offices say the LSU Greek system is integrated – and it is, technically.
The scope of integration does not coincide with the popular definition of racial diversity. The number of black students, for instance, pledged to LSU's traditionally white fraternities and sororities is well below one percent. Approximately, 25 percent of current LSU undergraduate are students of color, according to Office of Budget and Planning.
Kurt Keppler, vice chancellor for Student Life and Enrollment at LSU, says the big issue for him is whether Greeks are denying membership to students based on race. However, he feels any imbalance may have more to do with whether minority students have any interest in joining and whether they feel they would be accepted in a historically white organization.
"I'd like to see them more integrated," Keppler said. "The reality is they are controlled by their national organizations. We don't have any control over membership. The best way for such an issue to occur is for a critical mass of students to get involved."
The ongoing segregation of Greek life at the University of Alabama made headlines in September when The Crimson White reported alumni advisors at white sororities discriminated against a black rushee over the objections of active student sorority members. News media outlets picked up the story, exposing the ongoing racial division at a state university that was once notoriously segregated, as were most SEC schools until the 1960s. Up to this time, only one black woman had joined a white sorority at Alabama, and that occurred in 2003.
Following the backlash, University of Alabama President Judy Bonner mandated sororities reopen the bidding process. An additional 145 women accepted bids, including 23 minorities, 14 of whom were black students. As a result, all 18 Panhellenic sororities at Alabama currently are technically integrated, and 12 of the 18 have one or more African American members.
At Ole Miss, the office of the Dean of Students provided statistics on the race of women who participated in 2013 recruitment for an article on hottytoddy.com by Sha´ Simpson. Of the 73 women who self-reported their race as "non-white," 47 received bids, 18 withdrew from recruitment at some point and eight were "released" or cut, meaning they did not receive a matching bid to a sorority.
Although all manner of university demographic data are available on the LSU website, there is no official breakdown of such information about the Greek community.
LSU Associate Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Students K.C. White pointed out the university does not collect racial data on members of the more than 350 student organizations on campus. (The university does collect Greek's academic performance data, however.) She also acknowledged that diversity in the Greek system is less than ideal.
"If you were to look at pictures, you're still going to see predominantly white and predominantly black, absolutely," White said. "Exclusively? No, but predominantly."
Keppler said there are hundreds of student organizations and doesn't know how the school could mandate these groups provide racial diversity data. "But I don't think we have ever asked," he acknowledged
The governing councils of the traditionally white fraternities and sororities and that of the traditionally African American sororities and fraternities at LSU operate separately. The Interfraternity Council (IFC) oversees the 19 historically white fraternities on campus, as well as a traditionally Latin American fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha, established in 2010. Of the 13 sororities governed by the Panhellenic Council (PHC), 11 are historically white.
The other two chapters, Sigma Alpha, an agricultural sorority, and Sigma Lambda Gamma, a multicultural sorority, have significantly smaller memberships than the other PHC chapters. In spring 2013, Sigma Alpha had 36 members and Sigma Lambda Gamma had nine, compared to an average 300 members in the historically white sororities. Neither chapter participates in formal recruitment.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) governs the six historically African American organizations at LSU – three fraternities and three sororities. Last spring, Greek Life grade statistics indicated there were a total of 2,855 Greek women and 1650 Greek men on campus. Of that number, the three NPHC sororities had a combined membership of 27 members. The three NPHC fraternities had a total of 34 members.
White said the discrepancy in chapter size among the PHC, IFC and NPHC organizations is not unique to LSU, or even to universities in the southeast.
"It's not atypical for our NPHC organizations to be smaller is size," White said, adding there are a variety of reasons.
"From a national perspective, NPHC are organized differently. The ‘Divine Nine' do not have that kind of a national infrastructure nor support of, say, Chi Omega. From a percentage perspective, especially as a predominantly, or historically white institution like LSU, we haven't had as many black students here over time. We've got a lot of progress to make there."
This fall, nearly 25,000 undergraduate students enrolled at LSU. Approximately, 75 percent of the student body is white, 11 percent is African American, and 5 percent is Hispanic, about 3.5 percent of are Asian or Pacific Islanders, and 2 percent list two or more races.
Keppler said this year's freshman class is the most diverse yet. University data classified 26.4 percent of the incoming class as identifiable minority students. Close to 13 percent are African American, 5.7 percent are Hispanic, 4 percent are Asian, Pacific Islanders make up 0.2 percent, 0.3 percent are American Indian/native Alaskan, and 3.2 percent are mixed race.
White thinks the Greek system is a reflection of where society finds itself. "We've got some real challenges within our own state. These are the things you ponder as a dean. It's not as easy as saying ‘We need to integrate,' because I don't think people disagree with that. But can you force that?"
White said that to maintain race is not an issue on campus is "insulting."
Dalton Carter, president of the LSU chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, a historically black fraternity, said in an email that locally and nationally, Phi Beta Sigma enjoys a diverse membership. "Phi Beta Sigma is an organization known for having members of every race," Carter wrote. "Our chapter has had several Hispanic and Caucasian members, as well as a brother from India. This semester we will be adding a Middle Eastern brother. On other campuses, this multiculturalism is better evident than here."
Shekaydra Green, president of Delta Sigma Theta, a historically black sorority, notes that while her national organization is integrated she has not encountered any diversity at LSU during her two years as a member. "Delta Sigma Theta does accept women of all races. However, it is uncommon for women who are not of African American descent to seek membership in our (local) organization."
With 331 members, including 100 recent pledges, Chi Omega is the largest Panhellenic sorority at LSU. President Raegen Harbour, a senior from Baton Rouge, said that recruitment is an opportunity for young women to "find their place" at LSU.
During the first round of PHC recruitment, participants visit every sorority house. After that, rushees are cut before each subsequent round. Harbour, who said she saw every individual who came through the Chi Omega house during rush, estimates five African American, three Indian and three Asian women participated this year.
Still, Harbour feels low minority turnout has less to do with race than with the formal recruitment process. "It's intimidating to anyone," Harbour said, "white people, too. Especially in the South."
Harbour said decisions on who to offer bids are based not only on what is best for the chapter but also what it considers best for rushees.
"For us, it is not a race issue," Harbour said. "I look at the girls' resumes before I ever look at their pictures. If, by their resumes, they are not a good fit, we release them."
Chi Omega does not have any minority members.
"We do have a girl that is half Creole," Harbour said. "There are chapters down the row that do have African American members – maybe one – in their chapters."
Delta Delta Delta is one of the more diverse traditionally white sororities on campus. Still, out of 320 members, only a handful are women of color. President Caroline Hagan, a senior from Shreveport, said the chapter currently has an Asian Indian, a few Asian and one African American member.
Hagan said few minority women participate in PHC recruitment. She said she applauds the courage of those who do. "That (race) doesn't keep us from rushing anyone. We are more than willing to accept anyone who walks through our gates."
Sometimes, the dynamic works in the opposite direction. Anthony Tan, a junior from Kenner, La., who identifies as Latino, said misconceptions hinder Phi Iota Alpha's recruitment efforts.
"The majority of people in the rush process are white," Tan said. "Very few are minorities, but that's expected. A lot of potential candidates don't want to join because they think we are the Latino fraternity, but we don't just cater to the Latino community. We want everybody."
Two pledges joined the chapter during fall IFC recruitment, bringing the total membership to 11.
Tan said the chapter, which currently has Asian, Latino and white members, and has had black members in the past, is more diverse than most Phi Iota Alpha chapters nationally. He said he would not go so far as to say the Greek system at LSU is diverse or integrated.
"That depends on what you mean by diversity," notes Tan. "It's open to interpretation. There are minorities in historically white fraternities, but everyone is white, mostly."
During fall intake, Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black fraternity, took in five juniors and seven sophomores. "Twelve new members for an NPHC organization at a PWI (predominantly white institution) is a pretty high intake," said President De Andre´ Beadle, a senior from Houston.
Currently, the chapter has 25 members, making it the largest NPHC organization at LSU. Alpha Phi Alpha is the only NPHC organization with an on-campus fraternity house in the entire state of Louisiana.
Beadle said NPHC chapters are larger at historically black colleges and universities because Greeks are leaders on campus there, "compared to at LSU, where our NPHC members are general members of other organizations as opposed to leaders of other organizations."
Beadle said the majority of students who attended Greek 101, a mandatory meeting for anyone interested in NPHC intake, were African American. He thinks cultural identity is the determining factor influencing students' choices of which Greek organizations to consider.
"I don't think it's heavily based on race," Beadle said. "I think it is more of a preference of which intake process you would rather go through."