Racial discrimination at the University of Georgia isn’t an issue for Cydney Adams.
“It happened at ’Bama,” she said. “It didn’t happen here.”
In light of recent reporting of discrimination of a black student during Panhellenic rush at the University of Alabama, Adams, a black member of a UGA Panhellenic sorority, doesn’t want others to believe UGA conducts recruitment like the chapters at UA.
“It’s sad because I’ve had such an amazing experience,” said the senior digital and broadcast journalism and political science major from Lilburn.
Adams wishes she could show UA’s Panhellenic members, who said they were outvoted by their alumni during the recruitment process, there is nothing to be afraid of by integrating their sororities.
“There were a lot of things in the article like, ‘Oh, we don’t want to be the first ones to do it,’ or ‘We’re scared about if fraternities are going to want to hang out with us,’” she said. “I just want people to read my story and see that fraternities haven’t stopped hanging out with us and no one has dropped our funding and nothing bad has happened to us because we’ve taken in women of color or minorities.”
There is a consensus among Greek voices, explicating the need to reach out beyond their respective councils. But the Greek system at UGA remains in silos, often corralled in racial demographic circles.
They’re all looking for one thing — a community to call their own.
The UGA Greek Life Office houses four Greek councils — the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Panhellenic Council — offering more than 60 social fraternities and sororities for UGA students to join.
Having four councils helps organizations better focus on their missions more than all Greeks being housed under one unified council, said Hamilton Harbin, president of the Gamma chapter of Kappa Alpha Order.
“I think it’s a good thing for them,” Harbin said. “As long as we get we can all get along and work with one another, I don’t see a problem with it.”
But division of the councils — two of which were established for specific races and ethnicities — sets a tone for the rest of the campus.
Kourtland Jones, president of the Zeta Iota chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., would like to see the four councils work more closely together.
“Relationships could be a lot better, a lot stronger,” said the senior accounting major from Atlanta. “Right now it seems like everyone is in their own little circles.”
Dervin Cunningham, a member of the Zeta Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., believes that the councils working as separate entities is logical but has its setbacks.
“I think we kind of all have our different agendas and then we kind of do our different things, which can be a problem,” said the senior biological sciences and pre-med major from Albany. “Does it make things more divided? Yes. When you have one group which is for black people, one group which is for Indian people, one group which is for Hispanic people, one group which is for Asian people, you are automatically creating a divide and whether you realize it or not, and whether it’s for a good or bad reason, so it definitely helps to create this divide.”
Deepa Bhakta, president of the Epsilon chapter of Sigma Sigma Rho Sorority, Inc., understands the challenge of being able to consistently work with organizations from other councils, but the task isn’t improbable.
“It’s a great support system, but it’s a matter of using it the right way,” Bhakta said. “It’s harder for them to reach out to us because I feel like we are a smaller council. We’re not as well known, but throughout all of our efforts as MGC, we’ve been trying to push ourselves and trying to get out there more.”
Harbin said his fraternity has great relationships with other Greeks around KA, but interactions stretch out typically just within the IFC.
“I guess we really don’t have — there’s not much communication between us,” Harbin said. “We kind of stay with our Greek community.”
But that doesn’t mean Harbin sees no benefits from working with organizations outside of IFC.
“I think that’d be great [to work with other Greek councils’ organizations],” Harbin said. “If someone were to approach me, I’d be more than willing to work with them. I’ve never had that opportunity yet.”
She’s not the only black girl in her sorority, but the demographic, Adams said, is still small.
“It’s definitely a smaller portion and that’s going to be that way for a while no matter what other school you’re at,” Adams said. “It’s always going to be a majority white school and that’s just demographics, but I think as time goes on, the numbers will definitely grow.”
Adams takes pride in being a leader in her sorority.
“I’m not just a member that doesn’t really do anything,” she said. “I feel like I’m pretty on the front ranks of everything, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Having held positions including vice president of philanthropy and social media chair, Adams said being black has never stopped her sisters from fully accepting her into their sisterhood.
“It’s been really, really positive,” Adams said. “I’ve been really involved in my sorority and I was a Gamma Chi over the summer so I feel like I’ve been really, really accepted and I’ve been able to do a lot of things publicly for my sorority.”
The benefits of Greek life aren’t always physically seen, nor can it always be defined at the outset of joining an organization.
Harbin said the size of Greek organizations help explain their agendas and their pushes for more to be done in given areas, including philanthropy, academics or social aspects.
“The smaller the pledge class or the fraternity, the more unity,” said the senior finance major from Augusta. “Not to say that a big fraternity is not unity, it’s just easier to get to know people. There’s not a single person on IFC that can name every single person in the fraternity system, but most people can name every single person in their fraternity. Possibly, there could be more unity in that sense depending on what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Harbin wouldn’t mind having Greek organizations from other councils live among the PHC and IFC organizations that own Greek housing, but there’s more to being Greek than just living on Milledge Avenue.
“I’m sure they have benefits other than a house,” Harbin said. “That’s what brought them to their organization. It’s not just having a house, but what their fraternity has to offer.”
LaPorsche Thomas, the president of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., respects the different councils. Although her sorority may not have a Greek house on Milledge, it’s not the benefits an organization has that attracted her to become a member.
“I don’t want to join something just because of the benefits,” said the sophomore digital and broadcast journalism major from Covington. “It’s more of what can I contribute to this organization. Somebody works for those benefits, and we’re working hard to one day have those benefits.”
Lucy Pham, president of the Alpha chapter of Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc., said she and her sisters benefit from the work they put into building their sorority to be as well known as PHC sororities and IFC fraternities.
“To be able to say that I helped build this sorority and helped make the name of what it is now and what it will be in the future, I think that’s what draws in a lot of other girls as well,” Pham said.
Still wanting to highlight the organization being an Asian-interest sorority, Pham said her sorority includes more than just Asian girls.
“Even though we’re an Asian-interest sorority, we always say we’re not Asian-exclusive, and so we actually have many sisters from a lot of different nationalities,” Pham said. “We have Caucasian sisters, black sisters.”
JoJo Wei, president of the Alpha chapter of Xi Kappa Fraternity, Inc., said the strength of his fraternity benefits its number of members.
“Since we have a smaller number of people, it’s easier to be closer with every single person in the fraternity,” said the junior management and information systems major from Alpharetta. “With the IFC fraternities being around 100 people, it’s hard to get as close to everyone as a small fraternity of about 25.”
Growing up in Gwinnett County, Adams never really understood Greek life.
“One of my cousins was in one [a NPHC sorority] and I think she was really hoping that I would join the same one that she was in and my mom was definitely worried — just natural things to be worried about for your child — that I might not be treated well or might put myself in a situation that I’m uncomfortable in and might not be able to pull myself out.”
Adams said possibly joining an NPHC sorority was an option, second to PHC.
“Today, they’re [NPHC organizations] not as necessary — if we wanted to fully integrate, I think that would be amazing — but I think that it’s also an important part of history so you can’t just say, ‘Oh, let’s get rid of this council and let’s completely integrate them,’ because I think that it’s important to remember where the historically black organizations came from. They’re a huge part of our history and they became in place to give people who didn’t have the option of joining a Greek community the option.”
With no knowledge of how the University of Alabama’s Panhellenic sororities work, Adams said it is difficult to compare the two.
“I don’t think it could happen here,” she said. “I’m sure it has in the past. I’m sure 30 years ago things were very different, but I don’t see it being a recurring issue at the University of Georgia. Since we’ve already broken down that barrier, what would be the point of going backwards?”
It did happen here.
A black woman rushed to join the Gamma Alpha chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority her freshman year in 2000. The sorority’s members questioned why the woman wanted to rush a predominantly white sorority — they feared her acceptance would result in fraternities cutting off ties with the organization. Ali Davis was the sorority member to stand up for the black woman and filed a racial-discrimination complaint, which led to a suspended sorority and a federal investigation.
Cunningham said racism is wrong. But despite the progress made to look past racial lines, it is difficult to not be racially conscientious.
“At the end of the day, if you are a white sorority, that’s really what you are,” Cunningham said. “It’s like saying, if you are a fraternity, your fraternity — it’s for men, that’s the idea of a fraternity. Is it wrong to reject a girl? No, because that’s what you were founded upon. That’s why you were created.”
Harbin believes member selection should be a color-blind process.
“I’d like to think it [racial discrimination] wouldn’t happen [at UGA],” Harbin said. “I hope it wouldn’t because that’s disgraceful. That’s very disgraceful.”
For Kourtland Jones, UGA’s PHC and IFC are open to having members of all backgrounds.
“Just looking from the outside in, it may seem like they only accept white people, but I feel like they are still open to other races because I’ve seen other races and other ethnicities in the Panhell Council and IFC,” he said. “It may not be as much as the MGC and NPHC but that just shows me,‘Yeah, they’re still willing to accept those that aren’t white.’”
Being a part of a South Asian fraternity, Paras Mehta, president of the Nu chapter of Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, Inc., said his fraternity has had positive experiences while present on campus.
“UGA is very welcoming to diversity,” said the junior international affairs and economic major from Alpharetta. “All of the administrative faculty that I’ve met with, they’re always talking to me about ideas of how we can encourage more diversity on campus.”
Although his fraternity is housed under the IFC, Harbin said his organization is not as different from other fraternities in the MGC or NPHC.
“We can relate to most other fraternities, honestly,” Harbin said. “We give back to the community, we provide a good social atmosphere, a great way to connect with people, the network — pretty much everything that other fraternities provide we do.”
Latressa Jones, secretary for the Chi Epsilon chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., feels UGA dedicates a lot of time and resources into the IFC and PHC, but focus should not be on who is at the top of the Greek hierarchy but instead on the melding of racial backgrounds in the Greek system.
“Compared to the University of Alabama, where they don’t have that much mingling amongst their councils, UGA is really different if you’ve ever taken the time to look,” she said. “I’ve seen black girls on Milledge with their letters. There are black girls in traditionally Asian sororities on campus and then we have a mixing in NPHC, too. I feel like a lot of people should recognize that because it’s such a big deal for a school in the South especially to have that going on, and a lot of people don’t recognize that.”
But when asked for a racial background of all UGA sororities and fraternities, Director of Greek Life Claudia Shamp wrote her office does “not collect any data related to that.”
Adams could have chosen a different council to find her sisterhood. But after receiving her bid for her PHC sorority, she didn’t want to leave.
“They’re really good organizations and, had I joined one, I would have been just as happy as I am now,” Adams said. “I think it just kind of happened the way it happened as the way it was supposed to.”
Segregation may not be inexistent, but Adams said she thinks being in the Classic City plays a key role in her experience as a black woman in a predominately white sorority.
“The fact that we’re in Athens, which is outside of the school, a pretty liberal town and just a really cool town with a lot of character I think that that ends up overflowing onto our campus,” Adams said. “I’m really appreciative of that because I’ve never felt uncomfortable.”
Drawing from her personal experiences, racial discrimination isn’t something Adams sees as a problem for UGA now nor in the future.
"I don't know if it's because I'm naive and I just don't really pay attention," Adams said. "I put blinders up when it comes to people who are going to treat me poorly. I honestly think it hasn't been an issue for me or anyone in my sorority. I've been a normal member of my sorority and life goes on as it should."