Lee: The problem of forced integration

BY ASHLEY LEE | APRIL 04, 2014 5:00 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Last week, the Student Senate at the University of Alabama struck down a proposal that would require greek life to be racially integrated. In light of events last fall, when two black females were denied entry into all 16 Panhellenic sororities, the university has attempted to show its commitment to inclusion by presenting a plausible integration plan for Alabama’s greek organizations.

The resolution, which sought to “remove the stigma that currently surrounds this campus regarding its legacy of segregation,” insisted how much the Senate would support integration “with respect to social diversity among its membership.”

According to the Senate’s 27-5 ruling against the resolution, however, its idea of brotherhood and sisterhood does not extend beyond racial lines. Part of me can only laugh, because what can you expect? Alabama has a long history of racial exclusion, after all. Then again, it’s 2014 — all the more reason to expect more from the University of Alabama and its greek culture.

The Senate’s sentiment speaks to an even bigger set of issues: the merits and harm of not only legal integration but forced integration in today’s society.

I’d like to think that, in theory, integration of greek life or anything, really, would ensure equality. But in practice, what good have integration mandates really done in America? In situations where only one of two parties (or neither party) wishes to not interact with the other, forced integration has only increased tensions.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) theoretically ensured integrated classrooms. However, many schools did not integrate until the 1970s (through forced busing) and neighborhoods were divided. Not all Americans were willing to stand firmly behind the law. Some blacks simply wanted the same privileges, access to opportunities, and schools with the same resources whites had — not necessarily to live next to or attend the same institutions.

More often than not, Americans willingly segregate when it comes to living arrangements. Because of ethnic or historic ties in a particular area, coupled with “white flight,” redlining, and gentrification, our present-day realities have largely been shaped by these factors. Legally mandated integration has not fully eliminated this.

Therefore, I’m not so sure the merits of desegregation are enough to dismantle the powerful force of de facto segregation. I’m not arguing for Jim Crow, but in some ways, even with integration, America remains separate and unequal. There are still people who prefer to live and associate with those who look like them. Even if someone attends school in a racially diverse setting, chances are, they may return to a racially homogenous neighborhood.

Legal integration in public policy has not corrected racial inequalities, especially in education. While there have been improvements, several predominantly black and Latino public schools have inexperienced teachers and do not offer advanced classes. On the other hand, predominantly white schools and neighborhoods tend to have greater access to public services, high-quality education, test-prep, and chances of earning college credit through advanced classes.

While it’s disappointing to hear that Alabama students rejected the integration proposal, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. They could have passed it, but that doesn’t mean they would abide by the commitment. Even if they offered an invitation to a prospective black student, their time with the organization may not be genuine.

In this case, we are able to see their attitudes for what they are. More importantly, we see the falsity of a post-racial America. By recognizing this, we can truly ask ourselves if segregation is something that is preventable or bound to happen, regardless of intent.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.