About the Project
In the spring of 1953, the Knox College faculty voted to expel the fraternity of Phi Sigma Kappa from campus. This action was a response to the obstruction of its national organization in the initiation of an African American student on the basis that it violated racially exclusive clauses in their constitution. In a statement a year before the expulsion of Phi Sigma Kappa on December 2nd, 1952 the faculty had advised Phi Sigma Kappa's national office of its obligation to intercede on behalf of the welfare of its students. Despite the Knox faculty's strongly worded resolution, "that no student shall be the object of discrimination in any aspect of student life," the expulsion a year later of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity for discriminatory practices did not precipitate a system wide review of the other fraternities, and Knox Greek organizations remained segregated.
The faculty justified the expulsion action as a defense of the college's democratic principles from external interference, and yet they also stated that they did not intend to "legislate against discrimination"—that is, in effect, they would not extend the action against Phi Sigma Kappa to a more general principle, that would be applied to the other fraternities. The abolition of discriminatory clauses in the Greek system was not taken up again until more than a decade later when, in 1963, the Inter-Fraternity Council established a deadline for their removal by three years later. The 1963 decision was made by Greek students, unlike the 1953 expulsion action, which had been enacted by the faculty and endorsed by the administration and Board of Trustees. Why did it take this long—ten years—to address discrimination in fraternities? And why were students the key actors in later events, rather than the faculty or administration?
This project reviews the general context of how discrimination within fraternities was addressed across the United States, and then, examine in detail the Knox example, looking especially at the attitudes of the Knox student body on general fraternity issues, as well as specific issues of discrimination and race relations. I will additionally discuss the interaction of the various college constituencies—students, faculty, and administration—over the issue of fraternities and race relations.