Howard University students debate Black Greeks issue

Black College Wire

Fridays on the Yard at Howard University would be a little quieter without the calls of Omega Psi Phi fraternity members to one another, and the homecoming step show would be virtually nonexistent, at least if one follows the logic of Ricky Jones.

Jones is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville who recently called for universities to consider disbanding black Greek-letter organizations.

In light of serious injuries that one Fisk University student recently received while trying to join a black fraternity, Jones, a fraternity member himself, wrote that, “if these people can’t stop themselves, maybe it’s time for us to at least consider the possibility that the only way to stop them is to disband these groups.”

For the reasons Jones listed, some students question the purpose of black Greeks on college campuses, while others feel that, historically and currently, these groups play an important role.

“These organizations were all started as support systems, whether it was for themselves or for the larger African American community,” said Mikel Husband, publications manager for the Office of University Communications and member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

“Today, more than ever, Greek-letter organizations are needed, and serve a greater purpose,” Husband said.

In addition to their service role, Husband noted, these organizations allow students to “build confidence, business aptitude and leadership skills in ways that many people on the outside do not see or ignore.”

Junius Carter, a senior finance major and member of the Beta Kappa chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, agreed that people often do not see the positive aspects of fraternities and sororities.

People might say that all his organization does is party, Carter said, but they might not know that sometimes the money earned from the parties goes to service projects.

His fraternity recently donated more than 2,000 school supplies to Washington, D.C., schools, he said.

Unfortunately, said Carter, “the negative always outshines the positive.”

The one negative aspect that people such as Jones focus on is the issue of hazing.

According to Clint C. Wilson, a journalism professor and member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, hazing was not a part of the origins of these organizations. “When you go back to our founding,” Wilson said, “our founders were not hazed or beat up.”

Wilson said he believes that over time, hazing was incorporated into the pledging process, and now national headquarters is working to remove it. “Just as it took a while for hazing to get in there, it’ll take a while for it to get out,” he said.

All Pan-Hellenic black Greek organizations did away with pledging in the 1990s and initiated a “membership intake process.”

This process is more stringently monitored by the national organization and is devoid of the characteristics associated with pledging, such as belittling treatment and hazing.

Although some might applaud the new system, Husband, who pledged at Howard in the spring of 1991, said that in their caution, national organizations took some of the personality out of joining these groups.

“I remember pledges walking or running on the Yard in full uniforms and cutting corners and greeting their big brothers or sisters on the Yard,” Husband said. “There was a lot of fun stuff that was done years ago that is no longer allowed.”

Husband said there was a misconception about pledging, that it is like the movie, “School Daze,” when in actuality it is “a time to learn about your organization, your abilities and what is expected of you as a lifelong member.”

“There still will be some underground pledging,” said Traci Washington, a member of the Alpha chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. “Those organizations run the risk of being nationally being suspended.”

While hazing has not been eradicated, some members of these groups still feel that they should not be disbanded. “I think this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Barbara Williams, dean of Special Student Services and member of Delta Sigma Theta. “While these matters of injuries and deaths as the result of hazing certainly must be taken seriously, we are talking about a very small number of incidents, given the size of pledge lines across the nation and internationally.”

Students on Howard’s campus have different views of fraternities and sororities and their roles in college life.

“Socially, they have a purpose, but in regards to community service, you can do that in so many different ways,” said Vincent Sherry, a sophomore print journalism major.

He said the initiation practices deserve closer scrutiny from the university, but said he did not feel the groups should be banished.

Ayesha Rascoe, a student at Howard University, writes for The Hilltop.