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Old 01-15-2017, 03:09 AM
sorority_woman sorority_woman is offline
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Historical Discrimination within Greek Life at Tufts

I was reading about Greek Life tonight and came across these articles from my alma mater about some discrimination within Greek Life in the 1950's. Fortunately times have changed for the better, and Greek Life is more accepting these days, though we do have a long way to go since these issues are far from resolved within our society. In short...I think this is a worthwhile read.

(By the way, Jackson College was the name of the women's college within Tufts University. Women no longer get their degrees from Jackson College at Tufts though.)

Quote:
Opening doors
When two pledges touched off a racial storm, their sorority sister united
by Phil Primack, A70
Illustration by Lisa Franke

The civil rights movement was heating up in the South, but racial discrimination still wasn’t a pressing issue in 1950s Manhattan to this young black daughter of a doctor and a nurse. True, Terrie Williams Schachter, J59, was shocked by the “Colored Only” signs she saw on a childhood visit to Virginia. “I was a bright little girl,” she says. “I’d heard about those things, but it was not real to me.”

Reality would hit hard, however, in the spring of 1956, when as a Jackson College freshman she and another black freshman joined the Omicron chapter of the Sigma Kappa sorority. Weeks later, the sorority’s national office in Indianapolis sent a letter that revoked the Jackson chapter’s charter, offering no reason, saying only that the action was “for the good of the sorority as a whole.”

But the reason was clear enough to the Jackson women and university officials: Omicron had had the temerity to pledge two black freshmen—Schachter and Eleanor Turpin Murrell, J59. The charter of Sigma Kappa’s Cornell University chapter, which had also pledged a black student, was pulled at about the same time. A year after Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus in Alabama, the sorority sisters at Jackson and their dean of women refused to accept the gentlemen’s—and gentlewomen’s—agreement for whites-only (and often only certain whites) fraternities and sororities.

Fifty years later, some of those Jackson alumnae look back at what happened with a mix of pride and amazement. Pride that they took a stand that mattered. Amazement that such a stand would even be needed. “The whole thing seemed silly to me then and it seems silly to me now,” says Schachter. But 1956 was a very different era, in the nation and on the Hill.

“We didn’t pledge these black students trying to be any kind of pioneer,” says Audrey Saperstein Shapiro, J57, who was president of the Omicron chapter in the fall of 1956. “We never anticipated being thrown out of the national sorority.”

Shapiro, who now lives in Cranston, Rhode Island, was studying in Paris when the expulsion letter came to Medford, but distance did not dull her outrage. “I feel that I can speak for the chapter as a whole when I say that we feel we have done what is right,” she wrote in an August 6, 1956, letter to Dean of Women Katherine Jeffers. “We pledged these two girls because we liked them and wanted them in our group and if the color of their skin is the reason for our suspension by the national council, then we are better off that our affiliation with them is broken.”

Change of heart
When she arrived at Jackson, Terrie Schachter wasn’t planning on joining a sorority. “My narrow impression was that sororities were a bunch of girls talking about other girls and were sort of snooty. I was much more interested in theater,” Schachter says. Nor did she see herself as a racial pioneer, though she was aware of the role race had played in her own family history. “My grandfather’s grandfather was an Irish lord who was sent to the Americas, where he hooked up with my great-great-grandmother, who was a slave.” One of their descendants, Schachter’s grandmother, graduated normal school as a teacher, but as a black woman could not find a job as a teacher and instead became a maid.


“My grandfather was a feisty man who was fired when he tried to get a union established at the Norfolk naval yard,” she says. He ended up becoming a Pullman porter—and a generation or two later, his twin nephews served as presidents of the union at Norfolk.

Schachter’s strong grades and extracurricular activities in high school led to her acceptance by all the colleges to which she applied. During her Jackson interview, she recalls being told that “there were Negro males at Tufts, but there had been no Negro females for years and years and they wanted more. I didn’t care—I was used to being in the minority. I never saw myself as a symbol or groundbreaker.”

She looked forward to college life in a double dorm room and was disappointed when she was put into a Richardson House single. “In retrospect, I don’t think they wanted to take a chance and give me a roommate,” says Schachter. But she was happy with her “big sister,” junior Gemma Cifarelli, who would have a major impact not only on her, but on Jackson College.

Cifarelli is described by Schachter and others who knew her as outspoken and active. “Gemma came to me and said that Dean Jeffers believed that sororities had discriminatory clauses, but since they were secret, she couldn’t do anything about it,” says Schachter. “If they did exist, the dean didn’t want them on campus. Dean Jeffers never spoke to me about it, and I felt no real strong pressure, but Gemma asked ifI would be willing to join a sorority as sort of a test case.”

Schachter remained reluctant, but “not because I was fearful. Sororities just didn’t fit into what I wanted to do.” Then, about a month after the conversation about joining, Cifarelli died in a car accident on the night of her junior prom. “That’s what made me join,” Schachter says. “I did it for her because she was so good to me.”

Making headlines
Even after the two women pledged, members of the Jackson chapter didn’t really expect repercussions. “Our general feeling was that there’s no reason we shouldn’t pledge them,” says Donna Bowen McDaniel, J56, of Southborough, Massachusetts, who was president of Omicron during pledging. “I think the subject did come up of whether the national could throw us out, but I said, ‘How could they do that in public? It would be so obvious.’ Famous last words.”

The expulsion soon exploded into headlines across the country. The Massachusetts Legislature conducted hearings into fraternity and sorority discrimination, concluding that Sigma Kappa’s national office had “engaged in discriminatory action which cannot be condoned” and praising the women of Omicron and university officials. “Tufts’ fine action should be an example to all,” the report said.

Sigma Kappa officials declined to appear at that hearing. (When reached for comment on this article, Sigma Kappa national president Barbara Wilmer said the sorority has been “unable to confirm why our Omicron chapter at Tufts University was closed in 1956. However, I can confirm that, today, Sigma Kappa both welcomes and appreciates women of all races, creeds, and national origins” and prohibits discrimination in its constitution.)

Leading the administration’s support of the Omicron women was Dean Jeffers. Letters in the University Archives in Tisch Library make clear both the times and the challenge Jeffers faced. While some letters supported her stance, other Jackson alumnae were far less kind. “If you pledge them, initiate them, and have them as social equals, the next step, of course, Miss Jeffers, is to have them as your sons-in-law, your husbands or your children,” wrote one member of the Jackson Class of 1924. “For goodness sake, stop and consider what letting down social barriers will mean.”

Jeffers replied in a letter:

". . . It seems to me especially important that young men and women of college age should have an opportunity to mingle in a group as variable as possible. The two young negro women who were in our freshman class last year made a real contribution to their classmates. I hope we shall always have foreign students, negro students, Jewish students, and those of oriental background mixed in with those who are regarded as “long-time American” here at Jackson College.

This does not mean I am an advocate of interracial marriage. It does mean that I believe in freedom of association, both intellectual and social, amongst the students at Jackson College. It is my hope that you will not think unkindly of your college nor of me for this belief."

No going back
Disenfranchised by their own national leadership, the former members of Sigma Kappa, including Schachter and Murrell (now deceased), formed their own society, Thalia. “We had this group of girls and we wanted to continue as something,” says Shapiro. “We didn’t want to use Greek letters but wanted something Greek. We discovered Thalia, the muse who presided over comedy and pastoral poetry. We liked the sound of it.”

Nevertheless, things were different when Schachter returned for her sophomore year. “The Sigma Kappa event made race an issue for me, maybe for the first time in my life,” she says. “There was fallout—certain people became less friendly.” But a positive change had come about. “Almost every sorority on campus had girls asking whether there were secret clauses,” says Schachter, who, after years in social work recently began a second career as a middle school teacher in the South Bronx. “All kinds of conversations were going on. And stories kept appearing in the papers. Ellie and I joked, because they kept referring to us as symbols. When we’d write to each other, we’d sign our letters, ‘Love, your symbol.’ ”

McDaniel, who is now writing a book about the historical relationship of Quakers and African-Americans, is proud of the stand taken by her and her sisters in the Omicron chapter. “This was the 1950s, the era of great conformity. It was a conservative time, yet Brown vs. Board of Education and Rosa Parks were happening. Maybe we weren’t quite fully aware, but we were beginning to say, ‘Wait a minute—this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be.’”

Phil Primack, A70, is a freelance writer who lives in Medford, Massachusetts.
From: http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/maga.../feature1.html

Quote:
Joining the good fight
Members of Sigma Kappa weren't the only Jackson women to act against discriminatory practices in the Eisenhower era.
by Phil Primack, A70
Members of Sigma Kappa weren’t the only Jackson women to act against discriminatory practices in the Eisenhower era. In the fall of 1956, members of the Jackson chapter of Alpha Xi Delta withdrew from their national organization to protest anti-black policies, especially after being told that no such policies existed.

Before pledging to it, Norma Pereira Atkinson, J57, asked if Alpha Xi Delta had discriminatory policies, which “would have prevented me from joining. I was very pleased to be told ‘no’ by someone at Tufts,” says Atkinson. “Only after I was initiated did I learn that Alpha Xi Delta did indeed have a clause that had the effect of keeping out blacks.” She asked why she’d been informed otherwise. “We were told that we could not know about this ‘esoteric’ clause until after we were initiated.”

Atkinson and other members of the Jackson chapter remained in Alpha Xi Delta. “Partly it was because this was the go-along 1950s,” she says. “We also hoped we could change the practice from within.” But members were troubled, especially Jewish members who “wanted to know how they could tell family members who had been in concentration camps that they now belonged to an organization that had a policy of discrimination.”

The issue came to a head in the fall of 1956, shortly after Sigma Kappa was suspended for pledging two black Jackson members. An official sent by Alpha Xi Delta to meet with its restive Medford members told them the sorority “had to have this policy,” says Atkinson, who headed the Jackson chapter at the time. “‘What if you take in a black sorority sister and you have a dance, and she has a black date, and he asks one of you to dance?’ One of our Jewish members said, ‘If I can dance with a gentile, I can dance with anyone.’”

A short time later—and without dissent—each member of the Jackson chapter put her sorority pin in a box that was mailed to the national office with a letter of withdrawal. “It was a difficult decision,” says Atkinson, who teaches history at Thayer Academy in Milton, Massachusetts. “Do you stay and try to reform the organization? Or do you disassociate yourself? What had happened with Sigma Kappa that summer was a catalyst to push us forward. We reached the conclusion that we had to leave, especially after that visit from the national. To stay in was to support discrimination."

Phil Primack, A70, is a freelance writer who lives in Medford, Massachusetts.
From: http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/maga...e1sidebar.html
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  #2  
Old 01-15-2017, 09:00 AM
d59u d59u is offline
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It is probably difficult for today's students to understand the archaic habits of 50 years ago. It was at least a decade long struggle and confronted EVERY organization, not just those sited from Tufts. Interestingly, it was one of those things that started from the "bottom up" not "top down" decisions that have affected other changes in our organizations. It began on the east & west coasts. I was in the midwest where we were somewhat open-minded but not necessarily in favor, but caught between the "pro" coasts and adamantly opposed south. I look back now and wonder why we even thought that way and am thankful the we have come so far.
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Old 01-15-2017, 12:12 PM
DaffyKD DaffyKD is offline
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More than a decade long struggle. The struggle was still going on when I pledged in August 1971. As a member of a minority who did pledge a NPC chapter, I definitely felt the struggle. I was from progressive California, but was told by a National President the chapters in the south would have a hard time welcoming me. Our charter was threatened several times but we stood our ground and our charter still stands strong on campus today.

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Old 01-15-2017, 03:53 PM
navane navane is offline
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Wow...great articles. I enjoyed reading them - thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-15-2017, 04:16 PM
sorority_woman sorority_woman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d59u View Post
It is probably difficult for today's students to understand the archaic habits of 50 years ago. It was at least a decade long struggle and confronted EVERY organization, not just those sited from Tufts. Interestingly, it was one of those things that started from the "bottom up" not "top down" decisions that have affected other changes in our organizations. It began on the east & west coasts. I was in the midwest where we were somewhat open-minded but not necessarily in favor, but caught between the "pro" coasts and adamantly opposed south. I look back now and wonder why we even thought that way and am thankful the we have come so far.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I, too, am thankful that we have come as far as we have, even though there is still more to go.

This struggle affected every organization and everywhere across the country, just as the broader struggle of civil rights every person across the country. I'm a Tufts alumna, so I came across it as I was looking into sorority histories at Tufts. I had heard that Tufts had had Sigma Kappa and Alpha Xi Delta chapters at one point, which is how I found the articles.

Through further research I found that Sigma Kappa has been cited as the first NPC to pledge a non-caucasian woman, in 1956 at Cornell. So that seems like it could have been the match that lit this fire. Or maybe both chapters were thinking the same thing at around the same time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaffyKD View Post
More than a decade long struggle. The struggle was still going on when I pledged in August 1971. As a member of a minority who did pledge a NPC chapter, I definitely felt the struggle. I was from progressive California, but was told by a National President the chapters in the south would have a hard time welcoming me. Our charter was threatened several times but we stood our ground and our charter still stands strong on campus today.

DaffyKD
I'm so happy to hear that your chapter sisters stood their ground and that your chapter survived. I'm a minority as well, and pledged in the early 2000s, so I had a very different experience, but my collegiate sorority experience may not have been as great as it was if chapters like yours and many across the nation hadn't paved the way and stood their ground on this. I am very grateful for that.
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Old 01-15-2017, 08:26 PM
Cheerio Cheerio is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sorority_woman View Post
Thank you for sharing your experience. I, too, am thankful that we have come as far as we have, even though there is still more to go.

This struggle affected every organization and everywhere across the country, just as the broader struggle of civil rights every person across the country. I'm a Tufts alumna, so I came across it as I was looking into sorority histories at Tufts. I had heard that Tufts had had Sigma Kappa and Alpha Xi Delta chapters at one point, which is how I found the articles.

Through further research I found that Sigma Kappa has been cited as the first NPC to pledge a non-caucasian woman, in 1956 at Cornell. So that seems like it could have been the match that lit this fire. Or maybe both chapters were thinking the same thing at around the same time.

I'm so happy to hear that your chapter sisters stood their ground and that your chapter survived. I'm a minority as well, and pledged in the early 2000s, so I had a very different experience, but my collegiate sorority experience may not have been as great as it was if chapters like yours and many across the nation hadn't paved the way and stood their ground on this. I am very grateful for that.
Out of curiosity, does NPC consider Japanese-American women students non-caucasian? I am aware of at least one NPC group that pledged and initiated (probably American-born) Japanese collegians earlier in the 1950's.

It would also seem to me likely that in the 1940's after WWII Asian-American women were more positively accepted by a few NPC groups, although not Down South but perhaps more likely in Midwest or West Coast chapters.
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Old 01-16-2017, 09:37 AM
d59u d59u is offline
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Don't know about sororities. It is true that from almost the beginning a fraternity chapter from time to time might pledge a "non-white" but it was so rare that it was almost a novelty. No one reacted. Remember, this was a time in which most groups did not even accept a Jew!

After World War II students began questioning the non-inclusive policies, and at more liberal institutions they determined to defy the national regulations. Rather than quietly do it, as in the past, they did it very openly and challenged the powers to accept it. In DU a chapter not only pledged & initiated an African-American (there never was a written discriminatory clause) but made him their chapter representative at the forthcoming national convention. Since the fraternity was making a concerted effort to expand into the south, this so perplexed the national officers that they actually cancelled the national convention to try to sort things out. As with most other groups, the subject was heatedly debated for many years before it was resolved.
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Old 01-24-2017, 04:31 AM
naraht naraht is offline
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For Alpha Phi Omega, I think the fact that at the time we were restricted to scouts, the fact that we *wanted* to be as international as the Boy Scouts*and* the fact that we aren't housed helped it go more quickly.

In 1946, the national convention minutes
"The motion plus the fact that the section be made a part of the national constitution. It shall be the policy of APO to include in its membership men of social fraternities and men of all races, creeds, and colors, being elecled by respective chapters, etc." (was carried 79 to 5)

And given that this discussion included the statement from a brother from University of North Texas that this included that if a colored brother were to visit the chapter, it was up to the chapter being visited to find him a date, they were definitely including negros.

The first negro brother that I can find was one of the charterers at Oregon State in June of 1946. The first charter to a negro school was in 1947 (Johnson C. Smith U.) and in 1950 the first charter was granted in the Philippines.
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Old 01-24-2017, 06:31 PM
naraht naraht is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d59u View Post
Don't know about sororities. It is true that from almost the beginning a fraternity chapter from time to time might pledge a "non-white" but it was so rare that it was almost a novelty. No one reacted. Remember, this was a time in which most groups did not even accept a Jew!

After World War II students began questioning the non-inclusive policies, and at more liberal institutions they determined to defy the national regulations. Rather than quietly do it, as in the past, they did it very openly and challenged the powers to accept it. In DU a chapter not only pledged & initiated an African-American (there never was a written discriminatory clause) but made him their chapter representative at the forthcoming national convention. Since the fraternity was making a concerted effort to expand into the south, this so perplexed the national officers that they actually cancelled the national convention to try to sort things out. As with most other groups, the subject was heatedly debated for many years before it was resolved.
Brown University, http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/c.../view/2981/40/

Dartmouth and Bowdoin were also in the mix not long after.
http://dartmouthalumnimagazine.com/a...s/house-united

The relationship with this brother as of 2006 can be seen at https://issuu.com/deltaupsilon/docs/...ywinter2006/12
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Last edited by naraht; 01-24-2017 at 06:33 PM. Reason: add note.
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Old 01-26-2017, 02:19 PM
ellebud ellebud is offline
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Somewhere (way WAY) back I wrote my recruitment story at a prominent southern California school. I went through in the early70s. At that time Jewish women had one viable option which was an historical Jewish sorority. When one of my daughters went through recruitment she joined the house that she wanted to join. My sorority no longer existed on campus.
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