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Should Frats and Sororities be Forced to Integrate?

Aired September 10, 2001 - 15:00   ET



BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: It's rush time on many college campuses around the country.


BATTISTA: Who's in? Who's out?

And when it gets down to the final cut, will race determine if a student gets into a fraternity or a sorority?

White houses at the University of Alabama have been ordered by the faculty to mix it up or else. But forced blending is opposed by members of both traditionally white and black houses.

Opponents say fraternities and sororities are segregated by culture, not race, and integration is best left to the students.

So far, Alabama's traditionally-white Greek houses have never admitted a black student. Only a few white students have been accepted by traditionally black houses.

Should sororities and fraternities be forced to integrate? And what should be done if they don't?


BATTISTA: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to "TALKBACK LIVE."

Are fraternities and sororities designed to bring people in or keep people out?

The University of Alabama is the last college in the south where there are no black students in traditionally white fraternities and sororities.

Should they be forced to integrate?

With us first today is Lawrence Otis Graham, a corporate attorney and author of "Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class." And we'll be joined by Cyril here in just a few minutes.

But, Larry, welcome to the show. Good to see you.

LAWRENCE OTIS GRAHAM, AUTHOR, "OUR KIND OF PEOPLE": Good to see you, Bobbie. Thank you.

BATTISTA: How do you feel about this whole idea of forcing integration in a fraternity or a sorority?

GRAHAM: Well, I think we have to demand integration, because if we truly believe that these colleges are providing an integrated experience, we have to acknowledge the fact that these students are living their lives 20 hours a day in a segregated atmosphere. Because students that are in an all-white fraternity or all-white sorority are living their lives, living together only in white environment, eating only in a white environment, and socializing only in a white environment, but, yet, we call this an allegedly integrated college. And we can't prepare young people for the real world if we're going to encourage and allow this segregation to continue.

And I'd like to know, why has it taken so long for the University of Alabama to do this?

Cornell saw its first white sororities integrated 45 years ago in 1956.

BATTISTA: We did it 30 years ago at Northwestern.

I'm just curious, though, because I think even, despite all good intentions, it would be very difficult, I think, to force someone, let's say, for example, someone of color, to live in a fraternity or a sorority where it is an intimate -- it's not school, it's not work, it's an intimate living situation where you eat together and you all sleep under the same roof, and it's like a home.

GRAHAM: Sure, Bobbie, I understand that.

BATTISTA: You know, so...

GRAHAM: We're not legislating that people must be friends, but we're giving them permission, giving them the permission to do this. I mean, just as blacks, once they had the permission to move into white neighborhoods to attend white colleges, like the University of Alabama, or to join a white country club, it is their choice. We're not legislating that they have to do that. But we're saying, we have to give them the permission. And the only way to do that is for the university to stop sanctioning the continuance of this segregation.

BATTISTA: Let me bring Cyril Boynes into the conversation. He is special adviser to the chairman the at the Congress of the Racial Equality.

Cyril, thank you very much for being here.


BATTISTA: Forced integration in the Greek system, good idea or bad idea? BOYNES: I think the operative word is "force." Anything that's forced usually doesn't have a good outcome.

I went to college myself, and I remember I had a choice whether -- who I wanted to hang out with. And I was luck to be able to be mix with blacks and whites at my college.

I think what the school has to do is to create an atmosphere where that freedom of choice is enjoyed by whites and blacks. And what the school has to do is to monitor that desegregation or -- sorry, integration -- separation -- segregation, it's hard for me to say that word. Segregation is not practiced either in the white fraternities or the black fraternities. But we cannot force people to hang out with each other.

GRAHAM: Listen, as far as I'm concerned, Bobbie...

BOYNES: And you know, I'll tell you something else, I think what you see in Alabama, at that school, reflects our society. The neighborhood that most of us live in is black. And white people living in white neighborhoods. And we separate not because we're racist or such, but just general preferences.

GRAHAM: Well, we cannot accept that as a society. This is why we have Brown vs. Board of Ed in 1954. We recognize that there was I need to force integration in the schools...

BOYNES: And what happened?

GRAHAM: ... and the University of Alabama...

BOYNES: Was it successful?

GRAHAM: ... University of Alabama has moved with glacier speed because they have seen over the last 40, 50 years, this integration has not taken place on its own. So they have to not just create an environment, but they have to say, this is something that we demand because it's good for the students.

And it's not just a social issue, it's also a business issue. This is networking. Young people, when I was going to Princeton and then Harvard, we didn't have fraternities, but we had eating clubs and finals clubs. These created powerful and important networks that these young people will eventually use out in the business world.

Black folks, we have no problem finding each other through networking, through NAACP, or various organizations, or our black Baptist churches, but we do have a problem networking with whites. And to start this early network in college can be very valuable to everyone.

BOYNES: You cannot force it.

I agree with David Washington of the NAACP that this is best left to the students. That's what it's left to, not the media, or the administration. BATTISTA: Well, can I tell you, you know -- 30 years ago, when I was at Northwestern, the sorority that I was in did pledge a young black woman. This was 1971, so you have to understand, you know, what was going on during those times. It was -- what, of course, we were naive about and never even considered was how this was going to affect her. And it was very difficult for her. She came under tremendous pressure from other African-American students for having done that.

GRAHAM: But she should have that choice, that's the situation. We're not saying we're going to hand-pick the people and say, OK, you must join this white fraternity or to pick whites and say, you must join the Alphas or AKAs (ph) or the Deltas. We're not going to do that.

We're saying, we need to create a situation where the rules are such that people are going to be able to make that personal choice. Yes, there's pressure. When I was growing up, the black in an all- white neighborhood, but it was a personal choice that my parents made, so students should be able...

BATTISTA: But you know what? She hung in there, Larry.

GRAHAM: Right.

BATTISTA: She hung in there, but eventually she did de-activate. It was too much.

BOYNES: Again, the question, people will get together. You can't force that.

GRAHAM: I disagree with that. I completely disagree with that.

BOYNES: What can happen...


BATTISTA: Why are they not getting together? Why are they not getting together at the University of Alabama then?

GRAHAM: They're not getting together at the University of Alabama because the university has created an atmosphere and a history of alumni and other who do not support this, who do not encourage this. Because when you think about it, it's not the black fraternities and sororities that are going to change because of this, it's the white fraternities and the white sororities, because blacks are accustomed to being the only ones integrating a white institution, the only ones integrating the white businesses, the only one integrating a white neighborhood.

White people have not had to make those choice, they are rarely the minority in a situation. So I think that the reason why it hasn't changed is because of the powerful alumni have said, this is not to our best interests to have our institutions change.

BOYNES: Let's ask one question: Are fraternities and sororities the only option -- options open to students to get together? What section -- what percentage of the student population belongs to sororities or fraternities anyway?

GRAHAM: Cyril, from campus to campus it changes, obviously from campus to campus it changes.

BOYNES: What? Ten percent or less.

GRAHAM: Of course not, far more.

BOYNES: And then you see students, black and white, getting together anyway.

GRAHAM: Most of these schools' social life is built around the fraternities' and sororities' social life, it's not just an issue of spending a few hours there. They live there, they eat there, they go to parties there, it's a big part of their experience.

BATTISTA: I've got a bunch of college guys in the audience here from Georgia Tech, as a matter of fact, and they're guestimating -- Nate (ph), I think you were saying, probably, what, 30, 40 percent of Georgia Tech is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, 30 or 40 percent.

BATTISTA: Yes. So that's a substantial amount of the student body.

GRAHAM: That's a large community.

BOYNES: And what happens to the other 70 percent? Do they get together or not?


BOYNES: When you start forcing...

BATTISTA: Let me ask you -- let me ask Nate.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, they get together all of the time. They're, you know -- I mean, it's up to the individual fraternity. If they want to, you know, have relations with everybody on campus or have no relations with anybody on camp, it's up to them. iT's not forced or divided or anything of that sort.

BOYNES: And it happens.

BATTISTA: And your fraternity is Pi Kappa Phi -- what is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Phi Alpha Tower. Yes.

BATTISTA: Yes, I was close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all right.

BATTISTA: And you are an integrated fraternity? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And I mean, it -- just one note on that person that said about networking, when you're coming in as the freshman who is 18 years old, 17 years old, the last thing on your mind is networking.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're thinking about who's going to go out and have fun tonight, that's what you're thinking about.

GRAHAM: Absolutely. As a 17-year-old and 18-year-old, but when you are a senior and you're looking for jobs it's a completely different story.

BATTISTA: He's right. I have stayed in touch with five of my sorority sisters all of my life. I mean, that does become a big part of networking, whether it's social or professional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. I mean -- so to say that they're only used for networking and things of that sort, I don't know. I mean, maybe some are, but the most that I have come across really aren't.

BATTISTA: I think it's a home away from home, for most people. It's a comfort zone.

GRAHAM: Well sure it's a home away from home. It's a comfort zone, and that's why we also find young kids -- and this starts very early. And why I'm frustrated when I walk into allegedly integrated high schools and junior high schools, where you walk around the cafeteria and see kids separated based upon race at different lunch tables.

BOYNES: Who forced that?

GRAHAM: No one forces it. But, if we do not give people permission, if we do not give the young people permission to move from one table to the next, then we're going to ultimately have a segregated society. And that's not good for anybody.


BOYNES: What do you think is a good solution? I went to a school that was a predominantly white high school of music and art, and I went to city college, and I had a choice to move around to whatever table I wanted to move around to. No one legislated, no one forced it.

GRAHAM: But a lot of young people don't have the independence that you might have had as a young people, and that's something that we need to encourage.

BOYNES: Then it's up to us to show them the way. Let's show them the way how to do that.

BATTISTA: Gentlemen, I've got to take quick break here and then we'll continue. Chris, by the way, is on fraternity row today at Georgia Tech's campus, and he will talk with students about Greek life in just a few moments.

We'll be back, stay with us.

Be our buddy, add TALKBACK LIVE to your AOL instant messenger buddy list, then send us your comments and watch them go on air. If you don't have AOL instant messenger, we'll show you how to get it at our web site,


BATTISTA: Let me take a phone call here. Wendy is on the phone from Alabama. And Wendy, you say you are a 1990 graduate.

WENDY: Yes, ma'am, I am.

BATTISTA: OK. Go ahead.

CALLER: First of all, I graduated from the university in 1990. We have integrated fraternities and sororities at the school. We are also a very integrated school at the university.

BATTISTA: Wait, did you just say you have integrated fraternities and sororities?

CALLER: Yes, ma'am, we do.

BATTISTA: How was that?

CALLER: Well, there was a girl that was there a couple of years ago. She left because she was homesick. She had integrated a white sororities.

BATTISTA: Wait, you mean they had pledged her and activated her?

CALLER: Yes, she did. There was an article in the "Birmingham News" about three days ago on her. She integrate a white sorority.

BATTISTA: And then she, like, what happened three years ago in my sorority, she deactivated, is what you are saying?

CALLER: Yes, because she deactivated and went home, because she was homesick.

BATTISTA: OK, so there's that one instance, or do you have more?

CALLER: There's a white girl that integrated a black sorority that is on sorority row at the University of Alabama. There are blacks and whites in black fraternities.

BATTISTA: Well, wait a minute. You've only cited one or two examples here. So...

CALLER: The girl chose -- I am sorry. I chose not to be in a sorority. The man that's depicting the state of Alabama and the University of Alabama as a racist community, we are not.

BATTISTA: Why is this --

CALLER: We are a very integrated campus. We have many different people on our campus. And I take extreme offense at this man telling me I have to do this! I have many different friends of all races and everything. I am not a racist person. This man sounds like he is, to me.

GRAHAM: Clarify something: When you talk about one example of someone that you remember three years ago, showing up, staying in a sorority for possibly a year, and not staying any longer. When you look at a history -- first, when you look at the statistic, 1963 the University of Alabama accepted its first black. That already gives you a sense of a history of problems here.

I am not saying, and I don't think anyone would believe, that people at University of Alabama are bigoted or that people in Alabama are bigoted. But we have a history of discrimination that's been allowed to exist, simply because of the college has not stepped in to say, we can't sanction this activity.

BATTISTA: Clearly the university must be concerned about the perception that it's a racist environment, otherwise they wouldn't be pursuing this if everything was so hunky dory on campus.

GRAHAM: You bet they are, in the same way that we think about to George Wallace, who at that same time was saying there were not going to be any blacks admitted. That's why it took so long for blacks to even be admitted. But they were forced, it was forced integration.

So, no, I'm not saying put a gun to the young people's heads and say you must allow this black woman or this black male to join your sorority or -- fraternity or sorority. But we're saying, get rid of the policies that have kept them out.

BOYNES: What are these policies? You know, to me, what I see is these fraternities -- the question is: Why do people join a sorority or a fraternity anyway? And you if you look at sororities and fraternities, I think that they represent or reflect our society at large. You go to the South Bronx in New York, you go to south Brooklyn, I don't see a lot of white people there.

GRAHAM: So what's the point? What's the point? But you do see 15 percent of the student population at the University of Alabama being black. So why should zero percent of the population be represented in the fraternities and the sororities? It's not just by choice.

BOYNES: That's because --

GRAHAM: There is -- because there are policies that say, you can't come in here. The same thing can be argued, why are there no blacks in country clubs. Is it because blacks can't afford it? Of course they can afford it. There are plenty of black millionaires who have an MBA and law degrees, but because they are not allowed in. That's why they're not there.

BATTISTA: You know what, I'm going to break away for just a minute and go to Chris, who's on the campus of Georgia Tech, here in town with some frat boys. Right, Chris? What's going on?

CHRIS ASKEW, ASSISTANT HOST: Hi Bobby, how are you? I'm at Georgia Tech on the campus here, in front of Phi Kappa Alpha house. I have three upper classman with me, one of which is Besetch (ph).

You're in a fraternity. Are you -- are they trying to be racially diverse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Chris, before I answer the question I just wanted to say hi to Bobbie. I am a big fan of hers.

To answer your question though, actually when I came in five years to phi kappa alpha fraternity, there were nothing but traditional American born Caucasian members. So I was actually the first to pledge and become initiated, and I currently still am.

So to answer your question, it is not extremely racially diverse.

ASKEW: OK, so what made you want to be in that fraternity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, fortunately for me, it wasn't an intimidating situation at all, just because of how I was brought up, and I was used to being in that situation. And the brothers over there reminded me of my friends from home, and I enjoyed the things that they enjoy just as much as anybody else does. And for that reason, there is really not any question. They reminded me from my friends at home, so I fit right in.

ASKEW: I also have Bobby here with me.

Bobby, one of the things that he discussed was the selection process. What's the selection process like for your fraternity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Sigma, we just usually go through, like, a one-week rush right at the beginning of the school year, and besides that, we also have a year-round rush, where you know, you just meet everybody, you know, whoever you hang out with, it's a big group of friends. Whoever you hang out with, bring them by the house and they hang out, and end up giving them bids from that.

ASKEW: So it's not always just about the party process in your fraternity, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not quite, not quite.

ASKEW: All right. That's it here from Georgia Tech.

TALKBACK LIVE will continue right after these messages.


BATTISTA: In 1776, Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the College of William and Mary as the first fraternity in the United States.

The first sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, was founded in 1851, at Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia.

Let me do some e-mails that have come in. Kevin from Lexington, Kentucky says "Membership in a fraternity, sorority is a privilege. In a private institution, we uphold the right to select who we call brother or sister."

Helen in Scranton, Pennsylvania says, "Those in college should know that this is the 21st century, not the 1960s. Get with the program and stop being so close-minded.

On the phone with us is Thomas Goodale. Thomas is executive the director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Thomas, what would you do if they were forced to integrate? How would you carry out a policy to do that?

THOMAS GOODALE, EXEC. DIR., SIGMA ALPHA EPSILON: Well, first of all, we are domiciled to schools that give us the invitation to come. We are going to abide by the rules and the regulations of that school.

The decision on how we do our business is governed by our board of trustees. They obviously would look at every situation on each of our 202 campuses, where we have chapters, and then make the decisions accordingly. My view as executive director -- and I used to sit as the vice president for the student affairs on the other side of the desk on the three different campuses -- is that in today's demography, if you're not willing to open yourself up to all folks, regardless of race, regardless of physical impairment, disabilities, sexual orientation, you're going to lose out. And so we do everything that we can to encourage our member chapters to offer the opportunity to join to all of those who wish to come.

Now, I would also say, that we jealously guard the right of privilege of each of our chapters on each of our campuses to chose who they wish to associate with. We do not dictate in any way, shape, or form to any chapter of who they can or cannot take. That, indeed, in our national laws is up to the individual the chapter to choose.

BATTISTA: OK. So is there is an SEA chapter on the campus at the University of Alabama?

GOODALE: Incidentally, that's our founding chapter, 1856, March 9th. That's when we were founded, and that's our mother chapter.

BATTISTA: And it is a nonintegrated fraternity?

GOODALE: I don't -- I frankly, don't know the membership. I sit here in Chicago, Illinois in our headquarters, and I am not privy to the member of our chapter at the University of Alabama.

BATTISTA: Well, since the university...

GRAHAM: Bobbie, that sounds like such a typical answer of someone who is supporting an institution that they know or can very cleverly not know the actual facts. If there is...

GOODALE: Sir, it will be very difficult for me to know whether 8,000 of our members are black, white, brown or yellow.

GRAHAM: We are talking about one particular chapter at a school that we're talking about right now, and that is in the a difficult piece of information for you, as the leader of this chapter -- of this fraternity, to really get information on.

GOODALE: I don't routinely get that information. I am sorry.

BATTISTA: OK, but knowing that there is pressure, if you will, or encouragement coming from the vice president for student affairs office, and we will be talking with her in just a few moments at the University of Alabama, what does that mean in terms of the national chapter? Will they also, you know, begin to encourage or talk to the local chapter?

GOODALE: Diversity is clearly something we talk about all of the time. If you take a look at our overall, among the 202 chapters, we have chapters in want country that there are in fact Caucasians as are in the minority. They are primarily Hispanic and Latino, and they are on the west coast or in the southwest, so that's ongoing. Do we encourage diversity? Yes. Do we require people to take folks who they choose not take? No and we won't do that.

GRAHAM: Bobbie, they shouldn't be required to take people that they don't want.

BOYNES: Exclusionary structures should be broken down. But the question is: let's look up the word fraternity. What does that mean? I think it has something to do with the word brotherhood.

GRAHAM: And brotherhood should be integrated.

BOYNES: How do you force someone to be my brother? I don't know.

BATTISTA: You know what, let me bring in Sybil Todd at this the juncture. She is the vice president at student affairs at University of Alabama.

Dr. Todd, thank you very much for joining us. What exactly are you saying to the fraternities and sororities at Alabama?

Dr. Todd, can you hear me?

I don't think she can hear us, so we'll try to -- do you want me to take a break? All right. We'll fix our audio problems and continue here in just a moment. Stay with us.


BATTISTA: I want to get to our audience here, also, some e- mails. Gloria in Pennsylvania says: "The door should be opened, not forced. I'm an African-American woman and a member of a white sorority. I have fun with my sorority."

James in Arizona says: "Why demand integration? If members of a fraternity or sorority don't accept others, they probably would not make good friends anyway."

Dr. Todd, who is the vice president of student affairs at the University of Alabama -- I think we fixed our audio problems now and she can hear us.

DR. SYBIL TODD, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA: I can hear you now, yes. Thank you.

BATTISTA: Thank you. Tell us, if you will, what exactly the university is saying to the fraternities and sororities.

TODD: Well, that's a big entity, to say what the university is saying. We are engaged in this with our young people. These are students who I absolutely would not wish to be painted as all racist. In fact, I'm sure there are some. But I will tell you, this is a wonderful place to be. And our young people, whether they are in our traditionally African-American, traditionally white fraternities or sororities, learning to work together. The issue, obviously, today, is the question of a young woman who went through our sorority rush and was not selected.

BATTISTA: Was this Melody Twilly (ph)?

TODD: Yes. And we're very careful. We don't just throw names around. That's a process our students ought to have coverage, but Melody has been comfortable in coming forward. And in many ways there has been a feeding frenzy around this, and I think Melody has been particularly sophisticated in the way she's responded.

BATTISTA: Well, if you could, tell us what happened to Melody and why she thinks race may be at the core.

TODD: I have not spoken with Melody as a result of this last experience. This is her second year to go through. And so while there are other young women that were not offered bids, and I feel sad or disappointed for them, it's particularly difficult for Melody because, once again, she's been highlighted.

But I think the process was followed through. We don't examine all that to the extent that someone might want to say who said what. These are young woman that are going through a rather personal and difficult time. And so we have not, at this point, even finished rush. The bids are not in until in this afternoon. But it looks as if this young woman and some others have not been offered bids.

BATTISTA: As I understand it, she is attractive, she's very smart -- she has a very high grade point average. She's outgoing. She's everything that we think makes good material for a sorority girl, correct?

TODD: Well, I don't call them sorority girls. I'm trying to be sure we talk about sorority woman -- lots of responsibility and lot of qualities that they bring to our campus. She is a very bright young woman, an attractive young woman, and was interested in pursuing this. And so I don't know all the reasons, and I may never know all the reasons.

Our role, Ms. Battista, at the university is to be sure that our system is open to students who are interested, whether it's in black or white Greek groups, whether it is in our resident staff, wherever we are able to open those doors and be sure that systematically we have not excluded as a result of race or -- not the case of fraternity/sororities, but gender, whether they're from urban or rural. Our job is to try to open that door for all of our students that are interested.

BATTISTA: I know you have to run here in a moment, so let me get this in. I know you are not telling the fraternities and sororities that they have to integrate. I know this is just a suggestion and a dialogue that you're going after. But if they fail to do that in the coming years, let's say, then are you also thinking about some sort of penalties, or -- I mean, what will you do?

TODD: Well, this is very quick. It's precipitous in that we're not even completed with this year. But there has been a group, our faculty senate, who have made some recommendations. That goes to the president and advisory board, and they're making recommendations to him. We'll look every year. We review this process every year to see what we can open and what needs to bolstered, what needs to be retained.


BATTISTA: Let me finish with Dr. Todd here, because I know she has to run. She's about ready to give a news conference at the University of Alabama, so I will let you go. I know you're under some time restraints, there. Thank you very much for joining us today.

TODD: You're welcome. I hear you're coming to our campus tomorrow. We look forward to your being here.



TODD: CNN is coming. I don't know if you're coming or not.


BATTISTA: OK. Scared me for a minute, there. Thanks.

TODD: We'll be glad to have you on our campus.

BATTISTA: All right, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Larry, hang on one second. Let me bring in Leonard Steinhorn now. He's a professor of communications at American University, and the co-author of "By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion Integration and the Reality of Race."

Leonard, this is forced integration. Is that true integration or is that tokenism?

LEONARD STEINHORN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, the real issue is what do you do in society. This is what haunts us: what we do in society to overcome race as a barrier for people to getting to know each other. These kids in the fraternities or sororities, they don't know who they're going to be friends with. They're making an artificial distinction based a race, so how do we overcome that? Do we do it by forced integration, do we do it by incentives? How do we do that? That's the question we have to ask each other.

When Dr. King talked about integration, he said we have to make skin color incidental, not influential, descriptive rather than defining. We have to get to that point in society. If it's through force, we have get there. We prefer not to, so we have to figure out how to do incentives. But that's hitting us in public schools, in neighborhoods, in every other part of our society right now.

BATTISTA: Do you think...


BATTISTA: I'm sorry, Larry. Go ahead.

GRAHAM: What I was concerned about is I think that the representative from the University of Alabama is being a little intellectually dishonest, because she's acting as though all of this is very new, very sudden, since Melody raised pit. This is 120-year history at that school where they've had fraternities and sororities, and blacks haven't been allowed in.

The reason why this woman is challenging this is not just because she's a popular, smart, attractive young woman that didn't happen to get in. It's because they're not letting any blacks in. So there is clear evidence here that for whatever reason, the policies are such that they do not allow blacks in these white fraternities and sororities, and we shouldn't sugar coat this or tiptoe around it.

BOYNES: The question I have is this: The quality of a white fraternity, is it equal or superior to the quality of a black fraternity?

GRAHAM: Completely irrelevant. Completely irrelevant. Blacks should have a choice. Just like we have a choice...

BATTISTA: Wait, wait, wait. Cyril, what do you mean by quality? What do you mean?

BOYNES: Is it better to be in a white fraternity or a black fraternity? Does the white fraternity have better facilities than the black fraternity? Do we have a distinct difference between the two fraternities?

GRAHAM: But it shouldn't matter. I think it's irrelevant. It's completely irrelevant.


BOYNES: Now, the next question is...

STEINHORN: Larry, let me ask you this. The larger question is...

BOYNES: I'll tell you why it matters. Because if the black fraternity was of less quality, for better way of putting it, then I could see someone fighting to get into a superior fraternity.

BATTISTA: But that's the fault of your alumni. They usually pay for the -- you know, the facility. I mean, some houses are better on other campuses than others.

BOYNES: So why would I, as a black guy, fight -- it's as if I'm in South Africa fighting to get into the Afrikaner Versans Verbuk (ph), which is a white fraternity in South Africa.

GRAHAM: But it's completely irrelevant. Blacks should have a choice, just as we have a choice to go to a white university or to move to a white neighborhood.

BATTISTA: Let me get Leonard in here. Go ahead, Leonard. You had a question.

STEINHORN: Maybe the black applicants really don't care about skin color and just want to join the sorority. Why should you be placing skin color as the barrier all of a sudden?

But, Larry, the bigger issue is this hits us in our neighborhoods. So all of a sudden, do we do forced integration in our neighborhoods? It hits us in every single part of our society. So we can focus it on the symptom of this fraternity and sorority, but it's everywhere.

GRAHAM: But Leonard, let's look back a few years, we did force integration and desegregation into our neighborhoods and into our schools and into other institutions and corporations, and that's why women are moving ahead in corporate America, that's why blacks are allowed to send their kids to good public schools.


GRAHAM: So we did have to force integration.

STEINHORN: We've never forced integration into neighborhoods. The most successful integrated neighborhoods are the ones that have used incentives to bring people together. We haven't forced it.

So the question is: is force the right answer? It may be in certain circumstances, but we need to talk about this seriously, not just by sound bytes.

GRAHAM: Well, in my mind, forcing means removing the policies that have in the past kept blacks from joining.

STEINHORN: That's not forcing.

BATTISTA: I do have to take a quick break here, and we'll continue. I'm going to go to the audience. As we do, you guys are also members of a fraternity at Georgia Tech?

And, David, what are your thoughts?

DAVID: In my opinion, fraternities and sororities are brotherhoods and sisterhoods. You know, it's not a public organization, it's a -- or it's not a club, it's a brotherhood. And if you force people to be allowed in there, then you're going to destroy the brotherhood because those people aren't going to be as accepted if they're forced in. They need, like -- we have blacks, we have Asians, we have Spanish people. We have all races in our fraternity, I mean, and they're all accepted as brothers because they come around at rush and we all appreciate them as people and who they are.

I mean, the color doesn't even come in during rush. And if you force that in then you're going to destroy the brotherhood, because then there will be no more brotherhood. You'll just be people in this organization.

BATTISTA: All right, got to take a break. We'll be back in a minute.



BATTISTA: In 1983 there were over 320,000 active members in the Greek system. By the year 2000, the number of students in sororities and fraternities had declined to about 242,000 active members.



ASKEW: Hi. This is Chris Askew. I'm still at the campus of Georgia Tech, in front of the fraternity house here. I'm here with you, Jonathan. You say your fraternity, Delta Chi, is racially diverse, but you want to have more diversity. What are you doing to make your fraternity more diverse?

JONATHAN: Well, we're trying really hard to make sure that people know that Delta Chi is a diverse chapter and we're trying to be even more diverse in everything we do. I mean, honestly, we're really trying very difficultly to let people know that we want people of every race, men of character, to come join our fraternity.

ASKEW: OK, also, I'm here with you, Sebastian. What do you think about forced integration or administrations causing fraternities and sororities to have forced integration? What do you think about that? SEBASTIAN: I don't think it's fair, because when you're looking for a new member, you're looking at their character and their values. Race really is kind of irrelevant in that selection, so I really don't see how could benefit the fraternity system at all.

ASKEW: All right, thank you. I'm Chris Askew, I'm here on the campus of Georgia Tech. Back to you, Bobbie.

BATTISTA: All right, Chris, thanks very much. In just a few remaining moments that we have left, I would say that the biggest comment that's coming from our audience, black and white today, is how, from a practical standpoint, Leonard, how would you force integration and what real purpose would that serve, if not to sort of hurt the person who is breaking the barrier?

STEINHORN: Let's put it in perspective. Black and white kids have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same aspirations, the same values and interests. I see it all the time in my classroom. You don't have to be a college professor to know that kids share the same interests and values in life. So why aren't these kids becoming friends? It's because of the artificial barrier of race.

How do you break that? Kids are saying I don't want to be forced to become friends with somebody. They don't even know that they could become friends with somebody who could enrich their lives. So unless you find ways to create incentives to break into these fraternities and sororities and open up the lives of these kids, it's not going to happen and kids are going to fall back in the old patterns, which is going to exclude friendships and opportunities. That's going to make us all poorer.

BATTISTA: Last word, Larry?

GRAHAM: Bobbie, I want to say that we can, in the same way that we forced -- call it what you want -- forced integration of housing by removing the restrictive covenants from houses that were in communities that had previously been all white. Once those restrictive covenants were removed, we then had the opportunity for blacks to move there. When I wrote my book "Our Kind of People," a lot of the successful blacks told me they were successful because they were able to not just network with other black people, but also with whites. And these fraternities are great networking opportunities.

BATTISTA: Fifteen seconds. Cyril, go ahead.

BOYNES: I'm looking forward to the day when we put this all aside and let people choose who they want to associate with, particularly on the level of fraternities. The forced integration did not work in education, it did increase or improve the quality of education. I don't think the quality of our social interactions are going to be improved as a nation by forcing fraternities or sororities to integrate.

BATTISTA: We have to go, we are out of time. Lawrence Otis Graham, Cyril Boynes Jr. and Leonard Steinhorn, thank you all very much for joining us today. We will see you tomorrow at 3:00 for more TALKBACK LIVE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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