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Howard University students sue over sorority rejection

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Photo - Two Howard University seniors and their mothers have sued the university and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in U.S. District Court after the students were denied membership to the sorority. (Photo: Examiner file)
Two Howard University seniors and their mothers have sued the university and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in U.S. District Court after the students were denied membership to the sorority. (Photo: Examiner file)
Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

Two Howard University seniors and their mothers have sued the university and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in U.S. District Court after the students were denied membership to the sorority.

By failing to accept plaintiffs Laurin Compton and Lauren Cofield, the sorority has discriminated against them because of their status as daughters of dues-paying AKA members, the lawsuit argues, and the sorority has broken its agreement with the students' mothers that they would have the opportunity to "pin" their daughters as sorority sisters.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Howard University officials both declined to comment Wednesday.

Compton and Cofield had wanted to be members of Howard University's chapter of AKA -- the sorority's flagship chapter -- "for their entire lives," according to the legal complaint filed last week.

According to the lawsuit:

Compton and Cofield attended unofficial recruitment events when they arrived at Howard as freshmen in 2009, but to join before officially eligible as sophomores, Compton and Cofield had to undergo an unofficial rush process that involved "hazing."

Women participating in this process were not permitted to wear pink, green or any colors that could be blended to make pink or green; they were "mentally tormented" by sorority sisters, and they were forbidden from speaking with friends outside the sorority.

Compton and Cofield decided to join through the university-sanctioned recruitment process as sophomores, avoiding the hazing, which is not only illegal but is forbidden under the sorority's bylaws, said J. Wyndal Gordon, their attorney.

In the meantime, Cofield's mother, Lessie, called the chapter's undergraduate adviser to discuss the hazing, causing members to "ostracize" Cofield and Compton.

Then, in the spring semester of their sophomore year, the chapter was suspended for hazing, preventing Compton and Cofield from joining through anything but the unofficial pledging process until their senior year, the lawsuit explains.

Finally, as seniors, they were denied membership. The chapter, under direction from the university body that oversees sorority activity, could only allow a third of its 50-person class to be admitted through the priority legacy process reserved for daughters and granddaughters of active members. Since the sorority received 28 legacy applications, younger students were prioritized, the sorority wrote in a court document filed Tuesday.

This "quota" constitutes discrimination on the basis of the students' "familial status" as daughters of active sorority members, a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act, Gordon said. He compared it with a limit on members of a certain race who could be admitted.

The students and their mothers have asked for at least $75,000 in damages. They also have asked that they be granted membership in the sorority and that the sorority's recruitment process be put on hold until the matter is resolved.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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