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Alternatives to Greek-Letter Organizations Warrant Second Look

Alternatives to Greek-Letter Organizations Warrant Second Look

By Marc C. David

Because of the discriminatory practices and lack of appeal of many predominantly White Greek-letter organizations, students of color sought the development of their own. Alpha Phi Alpha, Rho Psi, MALIK Sigma Psi, Lambda Theta Phi, and Alpha Pi Omega set the stage for later African American, Asian, African, Latino and American Indian Greek-letter organizations respectively. In addition, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community broke a barrier by forming Delta Lambda Phi as a fraternity that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Greek societies as a whole have made a positive impact on college campuses and communities throughout the nation. They’re involved in community service, philanthropy and often make a significant contribution to the diversity of the student body. On the contrary, Greek-letter organizations have been criticized for monopolizing the social life of college campuses, hindering recruitment efforts, impeding scholarship, and most detrimental of all, engaging in hazing-related activities, which have resulted in countless injuries and deaths. Anyone who read about the tragedy of the two women who drowned on Sept. 9, 2002, in Los Angeles during a pledging-related activity had to be troubled by this senseless loss of life. Yet this tragedy, as horrific as it may seem, only touches the surface.

For their participation in hazing-related incidents, Greek societies have been suspended from campuses, members have been expelled, sued or issued heavy prison sentences and administrators have developed policies that seek to limit Greek life or eliminate Greek societies all together.  

Despite these challenges, many students on campuses, including those where there is no Greek life, still desire to associate with Greek-letter societies, while others who are discouraged by the current Greek systems still seek organizations that foster brotherhood and sisterhood.

In response to this dilemma, many alternative organizations have emerged. For example at Hamilton College in New York, Sistergirls was founded by faculty and staff members as a support group for undergraduate women of color, and Sisters of the Round Table (SORT) was founded at Colgate University as a series of Saturday forums to address tensions between African American and Latina women, later evolving into a campuswide support group for all women at the university.

Other women’s organizations have been formed for specific ethnic groups or sexual orientations. For example, Nosotras and Native American Women of Smith were founded at Smith College to foster sisterhood among Latina and American Indian women; Witkaze (Swahili for sisterhood) was founded at Agnes Scott to support African, African American and West Indian women; and Half and Half was founded at Bryn Mawr to support interracial, intercultural and trans-racially adopted women. Holyoke College has several such groups including the Arab, American and International Woman’s Association (AAIWA), Asian American Sisters in Action (AASA), and Systa, a lesbian and bisexual organization for women of color.

Moreover, a number of these organizations have emerged as support groups for men of color. The Brothers Organization at Hamilton College, MOCA (Men of Color Alliance) at Colby College, More Organized Brothers (MOB) at Cazenovia College, Distinguished Men of Color (DMC) at Middlebury College and the Black and Latino Brotherhood at Wesleyan University are just a few of the organizations founded with this purpose in mind. Other groups like Brothers and Sisters Empowered at Bucknell were formed across gender lines, which is significant since many of these groups coordinate programs to create dialogue between the sexes.

These Greek alternatives provide viable options for those seeking organizations that foster brotherhood and sisterhood, promote academic achievement, encourage participation in community service, and promote the culture of their members, some of the same principles that are embraced by the members of mainstream Greek-letter societies. However, unlike some Greek-letter societies, these organizations do not participate in pledging, hazing or any activity that is contrary to the mission of the institutions where they reside.

These organizations should not be seen as a threat to Greek-letter societies, which are endowed with a rich legacy, however, for students who are seeking alternatives to current Greek systems, these organizations are certainly worth a second look.

David is assistant dean of students for multicultural affairs and advisor to a number of multicultural student organizations at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

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