Existing in spaces not necessarily created for you tends to be synonymous with fighting for recognition. That’s a reality known all too well by the multicultural fraternities and sororities at predominantly white institutions, or PWIs.
In general, Greek-life is stigmatized as a choice for drunken and dangerous college experiences. This comes from the historical truths of pledging and more recent events since it has become illegal. These seemingly isolated events, while overshadowing the positive aspects of being a member of organizations committed to bettering the community, also promote the idea that there is no relevant need for these organizations on college campuses. In addition to this problematic reality, there are also major differences in how these organizations “show up”. The absence of recognition and knowledge of organizations that do not exist under the “predominantly white” umbrella is very relevant and effects the collegiate impact of organizations that do not have a place on Sorority Row.
From my personal experience, whenever wearing paraphernalia of my organization, I am often questioned about what organization it is and if we live in a house on Sorority Row. These questions are both incredibly infuriating, however, formulating an answer that resonates with anyone asking is quite difficult. After stating the same, I receive a puzzled look or, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that.” And, at no fault of their own, they haven’t. Our organizations truly seem to exist in oblivion to anyone who is not a member or whose success has not been directly influenced by one.
Though many of us can recognize that unawareness can not be charged to a specific source, with information such as websites, social media platforms, and the ability to ask questions, becoming knowledgable about these organizations eventually becomes a personal responsibility. Our lack of popularity amongst a majority of our peers does not hinder our intent or missions, though. We all have events regularly throughout the academic year and are actively committed to bettering the Harrisonburg community. These events are promoted through our respective social media accounts and on the CMSS calendar and television.
Interestingly enough, the first predominantly African-American sorority and fraternity in this council have existed just as long as, if not longer than, our university. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated was founded in 1906 and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated was founded in 1908. This means that when the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg was started, these organizations were already in existence and working to actively improve the communities in which they exist.
As a member of one of these organizations, the differences in how our existence is recognized on this campus is disheartening. Of course, for some, simply having the opportunity to exist on this campus is a step in the right direction, but we are far passed the phase of accepting the bare minimum. As Verna Myers, a diversity and inclusion expert and TED Talk star, once stated, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” And, I hate to break it to the administration, but, although the token pops of color attending this university help meet a quota, there is very little progress being made toward fostering an environment that feels like it was made for us all.
Of course, there are many other aspects of Greek-life that need to be rectified, but for now, I will leave you all with some terminology to familiarize yourself with the other side of “Greek life” that seems to be ignored, either intentionally or not.
- NPHC = National Pan-Hellenic Council
- BGLO = Black Greek-lettered Organization
- HBCU = Historically Black College or University
- Divine Nine, or “D9” = These are the nine organizations under the National Pan-Hellenic Council committed to actively enhancing the black community. (Of these are Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.)
- CMSS = Center for Multicultural Student Services — this is an office located in Madison Union and is the “home” for all multicultural organizations (not only inter-cultural Greek-life) at James Madison University. There are 33 organizations under CMSS.
Image: black men white women via Flickr.com