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Underground Greeks: Dealing With the Not-So-Secret Pledge Process

About one month into the fall semester, four of my students mysteriously started missing classes, showing up late and missing assignments.

All of them barely passed my class, but, on the last day of the semester, I found out why their production had slipped so greatly. They all proudly wore their fraternity’s colors, indicating they had just “crossed.”

As a minority Greek member myself, I know the mystique, the camaraderie and the long-term benefits of joining a Greek organization. But I also know all of the downsides, and, at Lincoln, I’m confronting them head-on.

Students who go “underground” when they are initiated into Black Greek letter organizations must keep the process a secret from everyone: their family, their professors and close friends. Unlike White fraternities and sororities, which “rush” members during the first few weeks of a semester, Black and Latino Greeks usually have a drawn-out process that lasts for eight to 10 weeks.

Since the beginning of this month, I’ve had several students ask me for letters of recommendation as they make bids to join fraternities and sororities on campus. I have tried to be blunt with them, especially to the students who are in my classes or my advisees. I ask them if it’s worth sacrificing their GPAs to join an organization.

A lot of my students entertain fantasies about joining Black Greek organizations because they see step-shows, have friends who are members, or desire the social status that comes with being a member. Few understand the rigors of going through a process in the middle of a semester.

When I was in college, I actively recruited young men to join my fraternity. Even after college, I stayed active as an alumni adviser. It was only when I became an academic that I saw the huge toll that pledging takes on young men and women.

For example, students who are pledging do not tell their advisers about what they’re going through. One of my students failed a course and told me he had family problems. It wasn’t until this semester I realized that he had lied and had pledged a fraternity in the fall.

Some of my students are surprised when I tell them I’m in a fraternity and even more taken aback when I tell them to reconsider their decision to join a Greek organization. I just want them to be aware of the consequences of their actions, especially if some of those consequences include performing poorly in my class or missing class altogether.

I will proudly watch these students when they have their probates later this spring (assuming they endure the process), but I’ve made it clear that their performance in school cannot be compromised.

Here’s hoping that earning their letters won’t come at the expense of their letter grades.

Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.

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