Black Greeks Debate Their Future

“Enough is enough” was the sentiment of panelists and participants in Diverse’s Web chat last week, when they expressed that dangerous hazing undermines the noble principles on which Black Greek-letter organizations were founded.

However, the more than 100 concerned participants couldn’t reach a consensus on the best course of action and instead proposed a variety of remedies including, disbanding undergraduate chapters, having open membership and/or having a more involved and effective national governing entity. Dangerous acts of initiation have compromised the principles on which these organizations were founded and have taken several lives.

Dr. Ricky Jones, associate professor and chair of the department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville, suggested disbanding all BGLOs, stating, “The groups either don’t want to or can’t stop hazing. I, for one, am not willing to see another kid seriously injured or killed. National disbanding will solve the problem.

Others recommended disbanding BGLOs solely on the undergraduate level, where the majority of hazing incidents take place, or implementing a brief moratorium to reorganize, restructure and realign students with the original vision of BGLOs.

These recommendations, however, were challenged by younger BGLO members such as Titilayo Akinmusuru, a graduate student at Wayne State University and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Akinmusuru reminded participants that BGLOs were designed to be on undergraduate campuses and that the majority of BGLO founders were undergraduate students.

Since their inception, pledging, violent or otherwise, has been an integral part of Black Greek culture. But in recent years, reports of extreme hazing indicate that pledges are being pushed to the limit to prove their love and loyalty for their fraternity or sorority. For this reason, the question of how BGLOs should initiate members surfaced as an important topic during the Web chat.

The idea of open membership, suggested by one guest, was dismissed immediately. “Open membership doesn’t help our organizations be what they are intended to be,” said Dr. Gregory S. Parks, editor of the new book Our Fight Has Just Begun: The Relevance of Black Fraternities and Sororities in the 21st Century and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.

BGLOs aim to recruit the best and the brightest candidates among them. Testing the resilience of potential candidates is an important factor to many, especially alumni members who endured “rigorous” intake processes. Still, separating the pledging process from hazing has become increasingly difficult and almost impossible.

“Can’t we have a pledge process without hazing?” asked Dr. Deborah Whaley, an assistant professor in the department of American Studies at the University of Iowa.

Jones responded, “Hazing and pledging are inextricably tied to these groups. Any argument to the contrary is disingenuous and Greeks know it.”

Hazing was officially banned by the National Pan-Hellenic Council Inc. in 1990 following the death of Joel Harris, a student at Morehouse College, and replaced by a membership intake process. Each NPHC affiliate organization implements the guidelines and details of its own pledging process, leaving a lot of grey area for hazing to occur.

Generally, the process includes an orientation period, the final induction ceremony and an in-depth education program.

To rid BGLOs of hazing, the NPHC needs to enact stricter intake regulations, panelists agreed.

“A better Pan-Hellenic Council with a national agenda will help [BGLOs] survive another 100 years. We need a strategic plan and a third-party strategic planner to help us control this uncontrollable monster,” said Dr. Kathryn Malvern, a retired Rutgers University professor and chairwoman of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority National Educational Foundation, Inc.

Undoubtedly, the future of BGLOs is in peril, and a pathway back to greatness has yet to be chartered. Extinction is not currently on the horizon, but it could be sooner than later, Parks suggested.

“A number of these organizations will fall by the wayside and some others will cease to be relevant. The few that will remain will get the picture, retool and fight modern forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc,” he said.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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