"You don't want to mess with us" Nick Beadle The Crimson White March 10, 2004
Students detail Machine threats, intimidation during SGA election last year
In the 1920s, the editors of The Crimson White dubbed Theta Nu Epsilon, the select coalition of traditionally white fraternities and sororities designed to influence campus politics, as "the Machine" because its candidates were elected so efficiently.
But no matter how good any machine is, every now and then it is not always going to work. And when Theta Nu Epsilon does not work, there can be a volatile reaction.
"'You fucked up the day you started thinking against us.'"
That statement is among the threats Emily Aviki recalled receiving last year as a result of being a member of Chi Omega, a sorority traditionally associated with the Machine, and running for a student government position without the Machine's permission.
Those who worked with or recruited Aviki into the Capstone and its greek community speak of her highly.
"Emily is without question one of the most outstanding students our campus has ever known," said Kathleen Cramer, the UA senior associate vice president of student affairs who recruited Aviki at a high school youth legislative event.
"Emily's a strong girl," said SGA President Katie Boyd, who was Chi Omega's Rush chairwoman when Aviki entered the University.
The part-Iranian student entered the Capstone in fall 2002 with great success, finding her way into organizations like Freshman Forum and Capstone Men and Women and excelling in her studies.
But Aviki said that along the way, she broke a cardinal rule that sororities' coalition representatives laid down to members of Machine-affiliated sororities after they entered the greek organizations.
"After you pledge, the Machine rep tells you the gist of the Machine and comes out and says, 'You do what we say or else,'" Aviki said. "'You don't want to mess with us.'"
Aviki said her troubles began early. While serving on the Financial Affairs Committee as Freshman Forum president, she said Chi Omega's sole Machine representative chastised her because she voted a way the coalition did not approve of -- just as former Independent Voters Association chairman John Beasley.
Aviki said that though she was asked to vote per the Machine's orders, she refused to do so.
Tensions were exacerbated, Aviki said, when she decided to vie for a SGA Senate seat in the College of Engineering in February 2003 without consulting her representative.
Aviki said her representative contacted her and informed her that the Machine would have to make an exception for her to make such a bid because another Chi Omega member -- Boyd, who was then sorority president -- was mounting a presidential bid with the coalition's backing.
Asked if the Machine backed her, Boyd attested she had stuck by her February 2003 assertion that she was seeking the SGA presidency without vying for any group's endorsement.
"You can't help who decides to support you," she said.
Aviki said her representative was willing to negotiate with her at first, offering her the chance to win an executive office in the 2004 election and the SGA presidency in 2005 if she sided with the coalition by sitting out the election or serving in legislative assistance. She said she did not know of the offer's validity because it only came from the representative, not Machine leadership.
When she turned down the offer, the Machine representative became less amicable, Aviki said, and began threatening her regularly. She said the representative also told her pledge class "[her] life was in danger."
And there were also two threatening phone calls.
"'You fucking bitch!'" Aviki recalled being told. "'Who the fuck do you think you are?'"
Emily Lumpkin, Aviki's campaign manager, said that despite the harassment, Aviki did not file a complaint with UA police or the University. Lumpkin said Aviki did make a statement to the University of Alabama Police Department for privacy purposes, since neither the coalition nor the media could access it.
Aviki did contact Cramer, who said she, in turn, contacted "student leaders aware of Emily's [situation] and asked them to promote safety."
Though Cramer did not specifically say she contacted Machine leadership, she did say she thinks "it is apparent that there is a political coalition on campus."
As for other attempts to quell threats, Aviki said she believed Boyd could have done more to help her out, but Aviki said Boyd did try to aid her.
"With the Machine, she [Boyd] did talk to them and told them, 'Don't touch her,'" Aviki said.
Asked about the situation, Boyd repeatedly attested she encouraged Aviki to make her senatorial bid.
Boyd also said she called Aviki when she heard about Aviki's situation. Because of her experience with harassment from various parties in the 2002 SGA election, Boyd said, she tried to send a clear message to anyone who harassed the freshman.
Asked if that included the Machine, she said she "made it clear to anyone it was necessary to do so."
Aviki said the threats subsided after Cramer's communication. While Aviki said her Machine representative continued threatening her, Aviki said she only received one more phone call, which she did not answer because she recognized the perpetrator(s)' methods.
The last incident occurred during polling for last year's second SGA election when Aviki was driving students to the polls from Paty Hall, she said. She said buses rented by the Machine for the same purposes drove up beside her car and blocked her in.
Aviki's campaign was successful last year in both the voter fraud-laden online SGA election and the subsequent ScanTron ballot election.
To win in the first election, Aviki had to contend with numerous election rules violation complaints filed against her.
She was charged with violating expenditure limits, zoning rules for sign placement and chalking rules. Aviki was sentenced to 10 hours of community service after the Student Elections Board ruled she had violated mass e-mail limits by responding to a Computer-Based Honors Program list e-mail that asked which of the program's students were seeking an SGA office.
Though she had run against the Machine twice and won, "by then the damage was done," she said.
Despite all her accomplishments, Aviki said the emotional and psychological toll the event had upon her led her to enroll at Duke University after last year's elections, well after the application deadline.
Though she said she would not have spoken with The CW if she were still at the Capstone, Aviki insisted she is not done with the Machine.
"I'm not going to let things go," she said. "They're holding back that campus so much."
Others affected by the Machine
Though her experience was not as bad as Aviki's, Lumpkin said she did suffer for being part of Aviki's campaign.
Lumpkin recalled that shortly after Aviki received her first phone call, a meeting was called in the basement in which last year's pledges were taken to the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house's basement and told to sit in a circle. Lumpkin said a Machine representative who knew she was managing Aviki's Senate bid sat directly across from her and explained the coalition's voting rules.
When the representative was finished, Lumpkin said, she asked if anyone in the house had a problem with it. When no one answered, Lumpkin said the representative panned across the circle to her and asked, "Emily, do you have a problem with it?"
Lumpkin said she responded that she did and opted to explain it after the meeting.
The house's elder representative joined the subsequent conversation and tried to convince Lumpkin that what she was doing was wrong because the Machine's rules are for the "benefit of all greeks," Lumpkin said.
Though Lumpkin said the elder representative did not explicitly say she agreed with Lumpkin, the representative seemed to see from where Lumpkin was coming.
Lumpkin also said the elder representative informed her in subsequent conversations that she was not to bring Aviki to the Alpha Gamma Delta house or wear her letters while campaigning.
At the end of the spring 2003 semester, Lumpkin also said she heard she would likely be placed on inactive status in the sorority like Riley Buck. Lumpkin was told Buck had become inactive because she had led a successful College of Arts and Sciences Senate campaign against the Machine's wishes.
Though Lumpkin said she was concerned about the issue because she is an Alpha Gamma Delta legacy, she said her mind was eased when she learned of the true reason Buck was no longer an active member.
Though she said she had already planned to go inactive, Buck said her exit from Alpha Gamma Delta did have some ties to the Machine.
Buck said that because she had missed several chapter meetings during her tenure, particularly because of her involvement with the UA water ski team, she did not learn of the Machine or its rules until her Senate campaign gained steam last spring, when she said then-Alpha Gamma Delta President Elizabeth Hunley approached her.
Buck said Hunley explained very nicely that if Buck did not drop out of the Senate race, Alpha Gamma Delta would be subject to punishments, including not having a Homecoming queen for a certain number of years.
Buck said that because of her previous plans and her desire not to hurt the sorority's members, she decided to drop the house rather than withdraw from the election.
Asked about the situation, Hunley said Alpha Gamma Delta encourages members to pursue their goals and wished Buck the best of luck. Additionally, she said that because of the sorority's bylaws, she could not discuss conversations about membership or Alpha Gamma Delta policy.
She also said she had no knowledge of Alpha Gamma Delta being part of the Machine or if it had coalition representatives.
How the Machine does business
Though it has been tweaked slightly, Aviki and Lumpkin confirmed the Machine still uses the tried-and-true method of bloc voting it has relied upon for numerous years for SGA elections.
Machine ballots are transferred to houses the night before each election. Members of Machine sororities are often given note cards with candidates' names written on them the night before the SGA election, though Aviki said they might also be told to memorize names on a poster in the sorority house.
As for the coalition's makeup, Aviki said most Machine houses have two Machine representatives. Lumpkin said some only have one due to graduation or if a representative drops the sorority.
While Aviki and Lumpkin gave the names of numerous Machine representatives and leaders, the names could not be confirmed at press time.
Before massive voter fraud led to ScanTron balloting in last spring's SGA election, Aviki said Machine representatives tried to collect student identification and personal identification numbers to vote for students if they could not or would not do so.
Asked about, among other things, her knowledge of such information collection and the extent of Chi Omega's affiliation with the coalition, Boyd said she took a hard stance as the sorority's president.
"There might be things that go on before you, but as president I did not let things like that go on in the house," Boyd said.
Aviki said Machine representatives are usually people "you don't want to take orders from," and most of their time on campus centers around being a Machine representative.
Neither Aviki nor Lumpkin said she knew the selection process for Machine leadership.
Aviki said the group meets on Sunday nights. She said she did not know the location of the meetings, but she said it changes yearly.
Aviki said the purpose of the Machine's continued existence is simple.
"The only reason I see them still here [is] they are the good ol' boys and the good ol' girls," she said. "The only reason I see them in power is to make sure your white Anglo-Saxon man and his wife stay in power."
Lumpkin said that before she pledged and before she encountered its operation, she thought the Machine was a good idea.
"I was intrigued by its mysteriousness," she said.
Lumpkin also said that in addition to racism, the system's power or push seems to be among Machine fraternities, which she said she thinks uses the sorority wing to maintain its power.
"A lot of girls in the greek system are [bred to be] submissive to white male authority," Lumpkin said. "They look at it that they're getting Homecoming queen every 10 to 15 years."
What neither Aviki nor Lumpkin believed, however, was that the Machine was involved in last year's online voter fraud. Both women said online voting allowed the coalition to cast its voting bloc's ballots with ease, and they said they had not heard anything concerning Machine involvement in the situation.
But in the end, Aviki said the Machine finds a way to get its candidates elected.
"Either way, they do what they got to do," Aviki said.