Alleging Human Rights Violations, Howard Students Sue to Get Into Sorority
Howard University seniors and sorority hopefuls Laurin Compton and Lauren Cofield find themselves in a plot with elements of a teen novel: arguments about who can wear pink, accusations of snitching, a cabal of girls called "the Sweets." But instead of devising an elaborate way to get back at the in-crowd, Gossip Girl-style, they're suing the sorority and the university to become sisters—and alleging that their human rights have been violated.
The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 28 in federal court, accuses Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority of violating the students' human rights. The lawsuit also names Howard University as a defendant for failing to protect students who refused to be hazed.
According to the lawsuit, Compton and Cofield's trouble began when they were invited to "Ivy Day," a ceremony for outgoing and prospective AKA members in the second semester of 2010. The two then-freshmen were expecting to find sisterhood, but what they allegedly found instead was hazing!
Some of the "hazing" rules sound innocuous, if extensive, like being forbidden from wearing the sorority colors of pink and green or any colors that could be blended into pink and green. In one humorous moment, the lawsuit notes that the pledges, who were called the "sweets," couldn't even wear white pearls.
Other hazing allegations are more serious. At one point, the pledges were told not to talk to non-sorority members at Howard, according to the suit. "[Alpha Kappa Alpha members] on campus addressed the sweets by calling them weak bitches," Compton's mother wrote in a complaint to the sorority.
After Cofield's mother, also an Alpha Kappa Alpha sister, complained, the two pledges found themselves ostracized in the sorority for being "snitch-friendly" or "snitch-sympathists."
When 2013 rolled around, Cofield and Compton still hadn't been inducted into the sorority. (The lawsuit alleges official pledging had been forbidden because of previous hazing violations.) When they applied again, they say they were told that they couldn't be accepted because of a cap on new sisters. Much of the lawsuit hinges on this, but the gist is that Cofield and Compton say that, as legacies, they should be among the first to be inducted, and the sorority says there's nothing they can do to get around the cap.
How is any of this a violation of human rights law? The aspiring sisters say they're being discriminated against because, as legacies, their mothers were also in the sorority. In other words, they're being treated differently because of their "familial status"—a protected class under the D.C. Human Rights Act. In addition to monetary damages, the would-be Alpha Kappa Alphas want the court to grant an injunction putting the pledging process on hold.
J. Wyndal Gordon, the outspoken attorney who calls himself the "warrior lawyer," is representing Cofield and Compton. Like Howard and Alpha Kappa Alpha's national organization, Gordon didn't respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Update, 3/6: The lawsuit also contains other accusations of hazing at the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Photo by Flickr user NCinDC used under a Creative Commons license