For Alabama Sororities, the Path to Diversity Is Personal

Officials see progress in the numbers. More important, they say, it’s positive individual experiences that matter.

JUNE 20, 2017

Stasia Foster is the first African-American president of her sorority at the University of Alabama — but she doesn’t see herself as a symbol of her campus’s progress. Instead she sees herself as the leader of the community that made her feel welcome in a new place. It is an accomplishment, she said, not qualified by race.

Four years ago the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa saw protests and national attention because of the barriers for minority students among its sororities and fraternities. This year, three African-American women took over the presidencies of their traditionally white sororities, including Ms. Foster, whose sorority is one of the largest on the campus.

“I’ve had a positive experience, and I don’t take for granted that I am the first woman of color to be the president of the sorority,” said Ms. Foster. “But I definitely would hope that that wasn’t because of the color of my skin.”

The women’s appointments, university administrators say, are evidence of a changing campus. These steps toward more inclusivity are not a natural progression, but stem from a systemic, years-long effort to diversify Greek life. In 2016, the university introduced an action plan that promised to monitor the effectiveness of existing diversity initiatives, to train leaders of the Greek organizations in the campus’s discrimination and harassment policies, and, among other efforts, to explore the possibility of need-based scholarships to cover fraternity and sorority dues.

Steven Hood, the associate vice president for student affairs who is carrying out the action plan, said he has seen significant progress. But there’s a long way to go.

In 2012, only two African-American or black students were members of the Alabama Panhellenic Association’s sororities, according to the annual “Greek Population Demographic Trends” report. That number increased to 72 members by 2016.

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