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Desegregating the Wabash Fraternities

Rodolfo Solis, Collin Bell, Jordan Smith, Dan McCarthy

February 19, 1949 is potentially the first time the issue of desegregating fraternities was addressed publicly at Wabash College, which could have been very problematic for advocates because exclusion clauses were imposed and enforced by the national organizations. The consequences that could have been faced did not prevent faculty, and much less the students, from speaking up about this matter. There was an evident presence, at Wabash, of individuals who opposed the exclusion clauses among fraternities, from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The issue caused much controversy among fraternities, as well as the Wabash community, which then led to conflict among brotherhoods. These circumstances led to the establishment of the TKE fraternity at Wabash College. TKE was distinct from all the other Greek houses because it resulted from an inter-fraternity conflict that took place at Fiji due to some brothers’ willingness to initiate any student regardless of his ethnicity. As a result, it is possible to get a sense of the role of fraternities and how the Wabash community felt in response to this disregard for exclusion clauses. For example, David Kendall, a Kappa Sigma alumnus, wrote against the national fraternity clauses, which impeded black individuals from joining fraternities. Kendall and a Phi Psi chapter at Amherst were not alone. Many institutions, such as Brown University, advocated against national clauses that discriminated against minorities during the 1960s. Under those circumstances, many universities warned their charters to eliminate their exclusionary clauses, imposed by nationals, or to withdraw from the national organizations. As a response, some national organizations would send representatives with instructions and arguments in order to impede fraternities from allowing minorities to pledge and ultimately to protect their exclusion clauses.  

There was a mixture of feelings in regards to this issue especially when the civil rights movement reached its prime. For instance, the faculty’s support for fraternity integration and the progression of the civil rights movement were directly proportional. Contrarily, the administration at Wabash, along with fraternity leaders, was hesitant to accept fraternity integration because it believed that it was a problem to be taken care of by fraternities and nationals themselves.

Fraternity System Examined

"Fraternity System Examined,"
the Bachelor, February 16, 1949

This article takes a look at the fraternity systems within Wabash and how they discriminate against “non-Aryans.” It notes that the men within the fraternities would like to see reform, but national regulations of the fraternity may not allow it, as exemplified by the Amherst Phi Psi chapter mentioned in this article.  It is unheard of for a local fraternity to willingly cut itself off from their national counterpart unless significant differences arise. When this article was written, this conflict had yet to appear.

Senior Council Drops Clause Controversy

"Senior Council Drops
Clause Controversy,"

the Bachelor, February 1955

This article shows how the Inter-Fraternity Council reacted during this time. The Senior Council in response chose to refrain from the idea of desegregating fraternities. The choice to refrain from the issue shows the pressure leaders on campus would have faced if they took a side. The issue of segregation in the fraternities had a lot of Wabash students torn. Some wanted it to change, some wanted to keep it how it was, and some felt that it was not their place to decide for the fraternities.  

Interview with Norman Moore (excerpt)

Norman Moore Interview Excerpts,
Wabash College Oral History Project,
February 16, 1984

These excerpts from an oral history interview with Norman Moore, a former Dean of Students, focus on his experience during the 1950s and 1960s. These excerpts show a time when black students were not allowed in fraternities due to clauses that prohibited the recruitment of colored students during this time period. This document also shows the origins of the Wabash Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, the only fraternity with a history of recruiting black students.

Is Racial Discrimination Still Prevalent at Wabash?

"Is Racial Discrimination Still
Prevalent at Wabash?"
the Bachelor, April 22, 1966

David Kendall, a white student at Wabash College, makes it known that it isn’t just an African American problem but a Wabash problem through his article in The Bachelor.  Kendall, being a big voice on campus, shows that people do want change in the fraternity system at Wabash College. He was willing to stick up for what is right and was public about it. This was a sign of hope that African American students could, in fact, pledge at a fraternity and be given the rights of a brother of that fraternity.

Letter to Robert Spear

Letter from Frederick Whitmer
to Robert Spear,
April 8, 1968

This letter, written by the president of Tau Kappa Epsilon in 1968, rejects the signing of a petition that was written up in order to promote further desegregation among Wabash College’s fraternities. The student body had gotten the names of other fraternity men on the list, but Tau Kappa Epsilon refused to sign it because it believed itself to already be practicing the policy of desegregation.  This letter confirms that there was a discriminatory nature amongst the fraternity systems, and that Wabash students and Tau Kappa Epsilon were fighting against it, but from different angles.

On Being BLACK at Wabash

"On Being BLACK at Wabash,"
the Bachelor, October 4, 1968

Preston Greene, an African American student at Wabash, talks about the issue of being discriminated against by the fraternities. This article gives us a point of view of students of color and how they felt about the discrimination that they faced from the fraternities whom had the total support of administration. The article gives a sense of the struggles of the African American student being accepted by white students. Receiving the opinion of the African American students was key in changing the fraternities’ policies.