In 1928, more than half of college fraternities incorporated an “exclusionist” clause in their constitution in order to deny membership to people of color, according to Charles LaPradd in College Male Fraternities in Controversy. (p. 60) One such clause was written into Phi Delta Theta’s constitution, which stated that “only male, white persons of full Aryan blood not less than sixteen years of age, shall be eligible.” (LaPradd, p. 61)
However, following the end of World War II, a national movement to eliminate racial and religious discrimination had begun. Many war veterans returned home with little tolerance for discrimination, having “fought alongside Negro and Jew in a war precipitated by men with an Aryan philosophy.” (LaPradd, p. 61) Universities started to take steps toward abolishing discrimination practices.
The Associated Students of the University of Utah, or ASUU, formed a committee in the beginning of 1962 called the Human Relations Committee. The purpose of the committee was to investigate various sectors of student living for discrimination or unfair practices. The Daily Utah Chronicle reported in May 1962 that the committee found certain Greek organizations with “white clauses” (clauses that denied membership to non-whites) in their constitutions, and that even groups without such clauses still practiced discrimination. Additionally, an off-campus charter of Delta Gamma pledged a “Negro” and consequently had its charter suspended by the fraternity’s national office.
Students wrote letters to the Daily Utah Chronicle expressing their views on the discriminatory practices of the fraternities. Their opinions were varied. Student Doug Mottonen wrote one such letter in May 1962, describing the fraternities as “discriminating institutions.” He believed that each fraternity needed to be supplied with “a copy of the Bill of Rights, a Bible, a New Testament, and related documents.”
Three days later, a response to Mottonen was published in the Daily Utah Chronicle titled “Free Association” and signed by 12 male students. They called Mottonen’s perspective “narrow and bigoted” and asserted that the Constitution does not say that a person does not have the right to choose their friends. They claimed that they had no problem with riding or eating with a person of another race, but defended the notion that fraternities had the right to exclude whomever they see fit.
Mottonen wrote another letter the same month defending his initial assertions. He reasoned that “stipulating membership requirements on racial grounds implies inferiority. Such an organized practice is a breeding ground for egotism, prejudice and racial superiority attitudes. A discriminating act of a single sorority or fraternity may seem like a small thing. But if one were to multiply all the organized discrimination of our society in its totality, what emerges is a tremendous cost in human suffering.” The group of fraternity members did not submit a response.
On January 25, 1963, the Daily Utah Chronicle published the University of Utah’s Student Affairs Committee’s policy on discrimination in group organizations. The policy stated that the aims and goals of the organization needed to be aligned with the objectives of the University as a whole, and that membership requirements of the group were to further serve to reach the goals of both the group and the university. The policy emphasized unauthorized membership discrimination, stating that “the educational goals of the University are not best served by restricting organizational membership on the basis of religious belief or ethnic origin.”
This policy sparked another series of articles and letters to the editor. An editorial published in February 1963 in the Daily Utah Chronicle argued against the policy, reasoning that the policy was in direct conflict with the national policies of fraternities, thus jeopardizing the existence of the campus organizations. In a letter to the editor, three students argued that fraternities had the right to discriminate. They defended their stance by claiming that fraternities were not the only groups that practiced discrimination, and that “fraternities discriminate on more than just race and religion, although these are indeed important.”
As the University of Utah and its students grappled with discrimination within fraternities, there were those who worked to abolish discrimination, and those who defended and rationalized it. Although the community and society as a whole have since made great steps toward equality and fair treatment, social injustices still exist. In our society, there too will be those who work toward justice and those who find justifications for long-standing oppressive practices, practices that are harmful to a variety of marginalized groups. Today, the social issues that we face might involve people of color, or the LGBTQ+ community, or women’s rights. It is important to examine our own beliefs, and the practices of the organizations and societies to which we pertain, and to work toward justice and equality.
Megan McKellar is a junior at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism.
“Letters to the Editor,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, May 7, 1962, 2.
“Letters to the Editor,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, May 10, 1962, 2.
“Greek Discrimination ‘A Problem,’” The Daily Utah Chronicle, May 11, 1962, 1.
“Letters to the Editor,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, May 16, 1962, 1.
“Student Organizations Set Policy,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, January 25, 1963, 4.
“A Threat to Greeks,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, February 5, 1963, 2.
LaPradd, Charles William. “College Male Fraternities in Controversy, 1950-1965: As Reported in American Magazines.” EdD diss., Florida State University, 1965.