Viewing page 13 of 40

August, 1936  The Crisis

during the preceding quarter, abruptly stopped the award when Alpha Kappa Alpha, a Greek letter society of Negro College women, became eligible for the honor.  One quarter after the other, the AKA's maintained their high scholarship ranking, and quarter after quarter, the Dean chose not to continue the practice of signalizing and rewarding high scholarship.

At one university, an institution whose athletic history could never be fully written without devoting tremendous space to men of color, a Negro, who had stood so far in front of the rest of his classmates, that he was made managing editor of the university's daily, was not elected to the journalism fraternity although lesser lights all around him were thus honored.  When the time for election came around, the local chapter telegraphed the fraternity's national office and asked:

"Can a Negro Be Elected to (Blank) Faternity?"

"A Negro has never been elected, but the constitution does not prevent such election," the answer came back.

The college men and their faculty advisers decided, however, that they would not set the precedent.  Although the decision not to elect was not unanimous, everyone complacently acquiesced to the Negro being passed over.

In the same university, a Negro girl majoring in home economics was barred from living in the practice home at the same time with white girls, the university thus tossing away an opportunity to promote understanding between members of the two races, and the colored victim robbed of the experience of living in a model home and sharing the duties of home-making.  Certainly the banishment of this young woman to perform her practice home duties all by herself was not equality and no compensation for the exclusion from living with her fellow students.

Alumni Often Reactionary

Sometimes it is the alumni members of an honor or professional society who, still marking time in the past, fan the flames of opposition and ill-will, and put a stop to a proposed election of a Negro to membership in an undergraduate chapter.

Not so many months ago, after a girl had already been pledged by a chapter of the leading journalism sorority, all kinds of pressure were brought to have the chapter rescind its action or have the pledgee to reconsider, and decide not to become a member.

At other times it is the national constitution of a fraternity or sorority which specifically states that "no Negro, regardless of his other achievements, may become a member," and there are numerous "honor" societies, whose requisites for membership are based on high scholarship, but whose anti-Negro clause ties the hands of the chapters and prevents them from electing a Negro.

These anti-Negro clauses obtain, regardless of how willing a chapter might be to elect a Negro, or how eligible the Negro.

Very fortunately Greek letter organizations like Alpha Omega Alpha in medicine, Sigma Sigma and Sigma Xi in scientific research, Phi Beta Kappa for high scholarship and Phi Kappa Phi for both high scholarship and campus leadership, a respectable list of significant scholarship societies, do not draw the color line in their constitutions.

Administrators to Blame

Academic and administrative deans, registrars and deans of women are in very pivotal positions to help or hurt Negro students.  These officials come into first contact with them, and give them the first encouragement or throw the first obstacles in their way – obstacles which may continue or through a student's career.  It is often these men and women whose sole desires and decisions admit or bar a Negro seeking to matriculate in a medical school (even the medical school of the tax-supported university).  It is these, too, who, arbitrarily shunt Negroes off to find rooming accommodations in the Negro district, regardless of how far away this district may be from the campus, the quality of the accommodation which the Negro families can offer, or of how

[[image: portrait photograph of woman captioned "Katherine Elizabeth Bell M.A. Columbia University]]

capable the Negro student may be of paying to live in a college dormitory.    Sometimes, with sincere purpose, a dean of men, or dean of women, will set out to establish some house "where you Negro students can give together and have your own nice social and home life."  Often, there are not really enough Negroes at the university to make it profitable to operate a house for either men or women, but, bent on keeping even a single Negro from living under the same roof with whites, these officials will try anything.  Negro women are perhaps the chief victims of housing policies.

A liberal college administration can often inherit a dean of women who is most reactionary and has never heard of Franz Boas, nor of the mature, enlightened courses in anthropology offered a stone's throw away in her own institution.  This kind of dean will try to set up all kinds of injunctions to limit, or prevent, joint activity on the part of white and Negro students, and, of course, one of her fine sweet, white girls must never stroll or sip a malted milk with a Negro.

Many Factors Involved

What a Negro student undergoes in one of our leading institutions depends on any number of factors, including these:

(1)  The courage and point of view of the president.

(2)  The traditional heritage of the institution and the State in their attitude to human questions and vital issues.

(3)  The courage and points of view of individual faculty members.

(4)  The interest of outstanding students and the articulate student body in other than the "rah rah" side of college life.

(5)  The concern of the Negro students in sharing to the fullest extent in the manifold experiences of college life and in building up friendships where these friendships will count most.

If a college president is not himself tied down to the narrownesses of race prejudice and a belief that he and his race are superior to all other races;  if his integrity is broad-gauged;  if he has seen the light — then, through his leadership, if he has the courage, he may force his deans and the rest of his facility to practice a more liberal policy to students representing minority groups.

Obviously, a faculty which looks to a president who declares and practices that "Here all the students are equal, whether they come from the homes of the rich or the poor, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, white or black," will be a different faculty from one which

(Continued on page 240)
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact