TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Former student leaders at the University of Alabama went public Thursday in support of more diversity within the school's racially segregated sorority and fraternity system, and a federal prosecutor said her office is watching for signs of change on campus.
Eighteen former campus leaders, including a past Alabama attorney general and an ex-governor's son, signed an advertisement in the student newspaper supporting integration of both white and black Greek-letter groups.
Published in the Crimson-White, which last week detailed allegations of racial bias during sorority recruitment in August, the ad said sponsors wanted to "publicly encourage diversity among the University's white and black Greek fraternities and sororities."
Kenneth Mullinax, a fraternity member when he was an undergraduate at Alabama who now works as a spokesman for Alabama State University, said 18 people pooled funds to pay for the $1,000 ad.
The group included former state Attorney General Bill Baxley and Birmingham attorney Rob Riley, a former student government president at Alabama and son of former Gov. Bob Riley. The signers included whites and blacks, men and women, Greek alumni and people who didn't join a group while in college.
"We have a lot of frat boys," said Mullinax, who was a fraternity member and part of the powerful campus group known as The Machine while a student at Alabama.
Recent reports in Alabama's student newspaper highlighted segregated sororities, prompting administrators to order changes in recruitment. University President Judy Bonner referred to the system as being racially segregated and said at least some membership decisions were based on race.
Federal law prevents racial discrimination in housing, education and other areas, and U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said her staff in Birmingham has been reviewing statutes and monitoring the situation on campus. The office has a unit dedicated to enforcing civil rights laws.
"We have talked to a lot of people in Tuscaloosa," Vance said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Vance said she was hopeful the university would make "significant progress" on its own without outside intervention.
"What we see now is a community that is trying to transform itself, and we will do anything we can to assist in that," she said.
Vance declined comment on whether her office had received any formal complaints about the Greek system at Alabama.
While the student body of about 35,000 is around 13 percent black, there have been only rare instances of blacks joining traditionally white Greek groups or whites joining black groups. Many Greek organizations have multimillion-dollar homes where members live on campus.
Rebel Steiner, an Alabama graduate who now practices entertainment law in Los Angeles, said he lent his name to the advertisement because he was saddened to see media reports of racial segregation still being practiced at Alabama 50 years after the school admitted its first black students.
While the student body of about 35,000 is around 13 percent black, there have been only rare instances of blacks joining traditionally white Greek groups or of whites joining black groups.
"We have diversity in the student body and it's not reflected in the fraternities and sororities, and I think it's time that the Greek system catches up," Steiner said.
In a move meant to help foster more togetherness and with the first home football game of the season this Saturday, the student government association said it was suspending a system in which groups are given assigned blocks of seats in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Students have long complained that the most powerful and richest fraternities on campus often get the best football seats.
The university previously said it was changing sorority recruitment rules and expanding chapter sizes in an effort to make it easier for minority students to join traditionally white groups.