UA sorority accepts its first black pledge BY CHRIS BRANAM ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE FAYETTEVILLE ? The first black student to pledge the University of Arkansas chapter of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority smiled Thursday as she described herself as a "so-called pioneer." Autumn Gardner said she?s genuinely surprised that she?s gaining attention because of her choice. "I had no idea it would be such a big deal," said Gardner, a freshman who broke the color barrier at the Fayetteville campus? chapter last week. "[But] I can see how it would arouse interest," she said. Gardner isn?t the first black student at UA to pledge sororities or fraternities that have been historically all-white at the state?s flagship campus, said Debra Euculano, director of the campus? Greek Life programs. Two black students pledged fraternities and a black student pledged a sorority since she joined the UA campus 18 years ago, Euculano said. The university doesn?t keep official records of the ethnic backgrounds of members, she said. The campus has four historically black sorority chapters and three such fraternity chapters, said Scott Walter, UA?s associate dean of students and former director of Greek Life programs. UA tries to get the groups to mingle, Walter said. "When we do programming, diversity is always an issue that comes up during the semester," he said. "We get our historically black groups and historically white groups together." Yet, Gardner?s inclusion at Kappa Kappa Gamma "opens the door to diversifying the Greek system," at UA, he said. White students have traditionally constituted the Greek system because most fraternities and sororities were founded more than 100 years ago when college was "for upperclass white citizens," Walter said. In fact, many sororities and fraternities wrote exclusionary clauses into their constitutions so that they would not accept black or Jewish members, said author and lecturer Lawrence Ross Jr., who wrote The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities in America. Despite the clauses, some chapters of all-white fraternities tried to accept black students in the 1940s and 1950s, but those efforts were quashed by the national organizations, Ross said. The racial clauses eventually disappeared, he said. "It?s still unusual to see black members in predominantly white fraternities and sororities," Ross said. Institutions in other parts of the country have had integrated sororities and fraternities for several years, Walter said. "I worked at [Pennsylvania?s] Lehigh University, and it wasn?t an issue 10 years ago," Walter said. "The South has been one of the last thresholds to give in." Gardner?s new membership at Kappa Kappa Gamma "isn?t new or surprising" to the National Panhellenic Conference, Chairman Sally Grant said. The 101-year-old conference is an umbrella organization for 26 international women?s fraternities and sororities, including Kappa Kappa Gamma. "Certainly campuses on the East Coast and West Coast and in Canada, all their sororities have been diversified," said Grant, an Alpha Phi alumna. The South has more integrated sorority chapters than one would think, she said. Anna Reed, Kappa Kappa Gamma?s UA chapter president, talked recently to chapter representatives at the University of Oklahama in Norman and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Both of those chapters have black members, Reed said. Word spread quickly through the UA sororities and fraternities when Gardner pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma, Reed said. The Arkansas Traveler, UA?s campus newspaper, reported the story in Monday?s edition. Sorority members approved Gardner because of her academics, strong morals and leadership ability, Reed said. The sorority accepted 57 pledges after Rush Week, Reed said. Gardner, 19, was an honors student at Searcy High School who was listed in the 2001-02 annual edition of Who?s Who Among American High School Students. "It really didn?t have anything to do with her color," Reed said. "She wouldn?t be here if the majority of our house didn?t want her here." Although the selection process is secret, Reed said she didn?t hear any negative comments from sorority members or alumni about Gardner?s race. Gardner said she didn?t pledge the UA chapters of historically black sororities because she didn?t know much about them. She felt comfortable at Kappa Kappa Gamma, Gardner said. "My intent wasn?t to prove a point," she said. Gardner, who plans to major in nursing, wanted to pledge Kappa Kappa Gamma because she knew some Searcy High graduates who belonged to the sorority, she said. "I looked up to them a lot," Gardner said. Reed said members of the UA Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter weren?t trying to "make a social statement" by accepting Gardner. But Gardner?s pledge is "a step forward for the chapter and our whole Greek system," Reed said.