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    The First Black President At A University Of Alabama Sorority Has Gone Viral, And Now She's Sharing Her Full Story

    "I've never really spoken in detail about it, so maybe now is the time."

    "Bama Rush TikTok" is exactly what it sounds like: countless videos of freshmen at the University of Alabama rushing sororities and updating followers about the process via TikTok.


    Alabama rush sisterhood round day 1 💘💘 #bamarush #rushtok #sisterhood

    ♬ original sound - Ash

    For the past two weeks, most of TikTok has been taken over by either these videos or videos of people commenting on the entire process, which seems to baffle many.

    A young lady showing off her Kate Spade necklace
    @prettypinkash / Via

    The majority of the women are, as you might have guessed, thin and overwhelmingly white. So when 25-year-old Marissa Lee, an Alabama alumnus and first Black president of the Phi Mu chapter there, decided to post her own video reacting to the trend, it almost immediately went viral.

    "I've got the tea, I've got the secrets," she said in her initial video that has over 1 million views.

    BuzzFeed spoke to Marissa to discuss her experience as Phi Mu's first Black president.

    "In 2013, I was a senior in high school in Alabama," Marissa said. "I remember being at lunch and seeing the news that Alabama sororities were under fire for not being integrated."

    In that moment, Marissa started to consider how her college experience could maybe be different than she had envisioned. "My high school was pretty white, and I definitely had the experience of being comfortable in spaces of immense whiteness because that's how I grew up," she explained.

    So, Marissa, along with only a handful of other Black women, began the recruitment process in the summer of 2014. Phi Mu heavily pursued Marissa throughout her rush process, and while she had "friends who genuinely did think she would fit in," she has also spent a lot of time reflecting on other reasonings the chapter may have had for pursuing her, especially after going through the experience of being on the "other side of rush."

    When Marissa accepted her bid to Phi Mu in 2014, she was the only Black woman in a sea of more than 400 white sisters. "I remember always being sort of in the mindset that I can't behave as freely as girls in my sorority who were white. I was being held to a different standard, and my parents always raised me knowing that I would have to be twice as good to even be considered."

    However, Marissa also has distinct memories of being "the only girl" to not receive a rose from the "white frat boys" on bid day; or going on the pledge retreat and feeling anxious that no one would want to room with her; or never getting asked to formal throughout her entire sorority experience.

    In the sorority world, presidential election candidates are slated during their sophomore or junior years — usually girls who are involved in sorority leadership in some way — and are basically assumed to one day take on the role of president. However, when Marissa ran, a close friend of hers ran against her. "I had never seen a president run opposed," she said. "It got pretty messy because that friend group I thought I was friends with all backed her [over me]."

    Marissa struggled throughout her presidency to gain control on issues her white predecessors had previously had no issue with. "I really had a difficult time with the older women who were not active members of the chapter, I had a difficult time with our house corporation, I had a difficult time with some of the older alumni, and I had a difficult time with our national headquarters," she explained. "It was very difficult because a lot of the things that I wanted and that I would try and incorporate as the advocate for the girls that I was elected to lead, they [the older women] wanted. It wasn't like I was asking for these insane things."

    @mar_lifebelike / Via

    Marissa was the only sorority president on campus who wasn't afforded her own parking spot (which is a big deal for anyone who has ever tried to park on a college campus in the South), and when she asked in a house corporation meeting if they could have trash cans on the top floor of the Phi Mu house — a simple convenience most other sorority houses at Alabama had — because their trash would pile up on the weekends, she was told to "just take it to the dumpster."

    "That's when I started to feel the tokenization because I felt like a lot of the older women were so sweet to me when I was just sort of in the chapter, but once I started to open my mouth for things that I believed in, that was when I ran into a lot of adversity," Marissa said. "And that's when I started to feel like, so if I'm seen and not heard, I'm accepted."

    In her senior year, Marissa's negative experiences came to a head when she was accused of two violations for acts she did not commit, and put on probation.

    Brynn Anderson / AP

    First, on bid day, Marissa worked hard to coordinate the event so that the girls under age 21 would be on their pledge retreat and would not be tempted to break chapter rules of underage drinking at the event. Even with all of her careful preparation, one of the chapter advisors tagged Marissa in a post on Phi Mu's Facebook wall where she accused Marissa of encouraging underage drinking and that Marissa "put these girls in this situation and was to blame." 

    "I remember I spent my senior day in my room in the house, sobbing," Marissa said. "It was the way that she embarrassed me in front of the entire chapter and basically made me out to be this degenerate. ... That was probably the day where a lot fell in place for me. Like, it was great when I was just there to be a cute, smiling face on to show the diversity, but now when I'm actually trying to lead and do what I like to do..."

    Brynn Anderson / AP

    The second incident occurred at Phi Mu's "Dream Cake" ceremony (another initiation ceremony where pledges are encouraged to make a wish about their hope for their future as Phi Mus). "Next thing I know, our national headquarters rolls into town and accuses us of hazing," she said. "I had freshmen coming to my room being like, 'They're asking me questions and those things didn't happen, and I feel pressured.'"

    Marissa, along with the new member educator (also a senior), were the only two to be put on probation. But as Marissa pointed out, in a prior year, "when there was video footage of a freshman drinking alcohol, the entire chapter was put on probation." Because of her probation, Marissa was stripped of much of her presidential duties, including leading the new officer training for the upcoming class of executives.

    While these events took an enormous toll on Marissa's mental health, she said she does not regret her time in Phi Mu, because "regret is a useless emotion," and she believes that she would not be the person she is today had she not had those experiences. However, her hope for the future is that other girls won't have to go through those negative experiences.

    @mar_lifebelike / Via

    "I think there are reasons that diversity, inclusion, and belonging are all three different words. Diversity would be just having me in the sorority, right? Inclusion would be, okay, we'll give her an opportunity to run, and belonging is feeling like I'm not going to be at this fraternity party and feel like, 'I hope they talk to me too.'"

    If you want to keep up with Marissa and her journey, you can follow her on TikTok and Instagram.