Layla Evette is a black student just trying to get by at a predominantly white school in the middle of Texas.
According to TV shows like Scream Queens, mixed-race sorority life is no problem in 2015. When Evette found a different landscape at Southern Methodist University, she decided to share her sorority-recruitment thoughts online.
Can a black girl get a break with white sororities?
She was soon confronted by one of the most in-your-face examples of college campus bigotry ever shared in a public forum.
What did Evette do to provoke the backlash?
She wrote this: “So going through recruitment is 10x tougher as a black woman, and you will have to work harder than other white, Asian, Hispanic or foreign women… People can deny and act like the houses are flooded with black girls, but they aren’t.”
Rather than a friendly online neighborhood discourse, Evette got an ugly racial rash of anonymous trolls posing as White Soror Purity Testers pushing hate. A poster calling herself (we presume) “Reasons” popped a racist tirade that blew up the SMU GreekRank page. Here is what she saw:
“Reasons why black women do not and will not get bids:
2—Y’all are aesthetically unpleasing to the eye both for activities and the fraternity men we associate with… Sorry, but looks matter…
6—Y’all go to crappy schools and generally don’t deserve to be at SMU to begin with…
And these were just a few out of a vicious list of 10.
“American fraternity and sorority life is one of both deep racial segregation and inequality,” Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, told The Daily Beast. Hughey is an expert on the persistent petty racism permeating white sororities. “The hashtag #BlackatSMU reflects and illuminates many of the realities of that segregation and inequality, whereby the mechanisms of racial discrimination against black students are laid bare for many in the public, or at least those on Twitter, to see.”
Racist white fraternity and sorority members, unfortunately, are nothing new. We were hit last year with more than a shudder of unsavory news on the racist song-writing ways of Sigma Alpha Espilon fraternity, the Confederate-born Greek-letter organization that eventually had its University of Oklahoma chapter shut down.
And just when we thought it was an isolated event, an embattled SAE soon fessed up that the Oklahoma students learned it while at a national “leadership school” several years ago.
“Approximately 96 percent of the membership of traditional white Greek-letter organizations are composed of white members today,” says Hughey. “They’re even more segregated and exclusive than the already segregated and excluded predominately white colleges and universities at which they have chapters.”
This recent episode might seem like campus quad back-and-forth sorority sister cat scratching, the work of punk kids wasting hard-earned Mom and Dad tuition dollars on the Greek-letter chat room. But it wasn’t just the trigger for the fast viral #BlackatSMU hashtag coined by an unnerved Evette.
It also reflected the nasty big secret of traditional college life, especially in the South, where storied academic institutions are still acting like it’s 1962. Back then, white students went racist rioting when lone black freshman James Meredith tried enrolling at the University of Mississippi.
Fortunately, unlike that time, the president’s not calling in National Guard troops and folks aren’t dying. But SMU once had its share of integration troubles, too, being deep in the heart of Texas and taking some time before it would admit black students. That’s even more reason for the school to keep a close eye on situations like the GreekRank page to ensure it doesn’t spill over into the real world.
Still, like Evette explains on her bubbling #BlackAtSMU feed, “The distress in the black community does not begin and end with Greek life. We are underrepresented and underfunded here.”
Evette didn’t respond to a request for comment at press time, perhaps worn out from the racist dishing of folks with no faces. But there’s a point to the fear and isolated frustration.
SMU is a big AAC conference school, boasting 11,643 combined undergraduate and graduate students this fall. Of that, just 701 are black, SMU spokeswoman Kimberly Cobb tells The Daily Beast. That’s a little over 6 percent of the entire student body.
The new freshman class consists of just 52 black students—which doesn’t even register 1 percent on the overall student population scale. Somewhere in that lonely mix of very few black students, undergraduates like Evette are probably thinking “Where the hell did I end up?”
Cobb emphasized that “the abhorrent comments” on GreekRank were confined to just that. SMU, possibly taking note they’ve got an issue, had launched a Greek Life Diversity Task Force last spring.
“We as a campus must remain aware of issues or actions that can undermine our commitment to a nurturing and welcoming environment for all students,” said SMU President Gerald Turner. “We must continue discussions in our classrooms, student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and Residential Commons. The Division of Student Affairs is developing an intercultural center that will further these discussions, with plans to launch this spring.”
But are discussion groups enough when you’ve got a little over four dozen students of color finding themselves lost in a sea of white tension? Something led Evette, apparently a member of black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, to vent on GreekRank and hope for a receptive audience. It’s unclear if she felt a similar level of comfort with her SMU peers, faculty, and staff.
“Many universities have long focused on recruiting a more diverse student body,” Quinnipiac University political scientist Khalilah Brown-Dean explained. “But as the SMU incident shows, there has to be a similar commitment to enhancing the student experience beyond enrollment.”
“Social isolation is deeply connected to broader issues such as retention, student success, and even, mental health.” Evette and others could be finding that out the hard way.