By Crane Friedman
This project was inspired by the work of Professor Ratchford and each student that has passed through the Introduction to Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies (REMS) course who has poured through the archives for their final project to study the nature of race, gender and equity at the college. Before the antiracism report was even conceived of, Professor Ratchford, as well as REMS majors, minors, and other interested students, were doing this antiracism work through these projects. Now, we seek to share these important stories with the CC community. If you took part in the Introduction to REMS course or have completed a project into the issue of equity in Colorado College’s history please email firstname.lastname@example.org for submissions or questions.
Greek life has a long history of racism. Before the 1960s, most fraternities only accepted white and Christian people. While for a long time there have been “minority-specific” or “cultural interest” fraternities that support marginalized groups, Colorado College has only had white fraternities. For my project in Jamal Ratchford’s Introduction to REMS course, I researched the first time in national history that Kappa Sigma initiated an African-American member, which occurred at Colorado College.
The national dialogue surrounding the acceptance of people of color into fraternities and sororities began to enter the mainstream in the 1950s. A 1955 paper titled “A Symposium on Segregation and Integration in College Fraternities” put forth many of the discussion points of the era. The author acknowledges the defacto racism that existed at the time in Greek life organizations: “Many social fraternities and sororities never have had discriminatory membership practices in their constitutions. However, this does not necessarily mean that they do not indulge in discriminatory practices.”
In 1957, this dialogue manifested itself at CC in the form of a report on the discriminatory practices of the fraternities and sororities on campus, and recognized that while three fraternities had no discriminatory clauses, one had a defacto “socially acceptable” clause, and one had an explicit “bona fide white clause.” The report also acknowledged that no African-American had signed a fraternity rush card.
Finally, in 1965, President Worner acknowledged that the college would support its fraternities and sororities in bucking the national trend: “The Board of Trustees of the Colorado College supports the right of all fraternity and sorority chapters on the CC campus to accept or reject members without interference from anyone outside the chapter, and commends our fraternities and sororities for working actively toward the elimination of any practice which interferes with this right.”
Shortly thereafter, Kappa Sigma at CC initiated the first black man in the history of Kappa Sigma. In 1966, the National Director of Kappa Sigma deeply opposed any Kappa Sigma chapter initiating a black man. While Kappa Sigma had no explicit national clause about race, it was understood that no chapter was to initiate an African-American.
After hearing about the Colorado College chapter giving Clifton Arrington — a black student — a bid, the Director flew down to Denver several times over the course of the fall of 1965 to wine and dine with the executive committee of the CC chapter. However, he was not successful, and the Kappa Sigma brothers at the time were adamant that Arrington was to be initiated.
This did not stop other chapters from continuing to try, however. On initiation night, members of a Kappa Sigma chapter in El Paso, Texas used a loophole in the rules that any Kappa Sigma brother could come and vote on whether a pledge should be initiated. They would have constituted a majority, but President Worner came to save the day, and kicked the El Paso brothers out. Kappa Sigma at CC initiated Arrington.
The fallout from Kappa Sigma nationals and from other fraternities on campus was not light. Kappa Sigma nationals removed the chapter’s charter, and other students on campus at CC disparagingly called the Kappa Sigma members “negro-lovers.” The national fraternity has remained a predominantly white organization despite Kappa Sigma nationals eventually accepting the CC chapter back and the integration that has begun across the country.