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Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0

Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0: New Directions in the Study of African American Fraternities and Sororities

Matthew W. Hughey
Gregory S. Parks
Foreword by Theda Skocpol
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0
    Book Description:

    At the turn of the twentieth century, black fraternities and sororities, also known as Black Greek-Letter Organizations (BGLOs), were an integral part of what W.E.B. Du Bois called the "talented tenth." This was the top ten percent of the black community that would serve as a cadre of educated, upper-class, motivated individuals who acquired the professional credentials, skills, and capital to assist the race to attain socio-economic parity. Today, however, BGLOs struggle to find their place and direction in a world drastically different from the one that witnessed their genesis.

    In recent years, there has been a growing body of scholarship on BGLOs. This collection of essays seeks to push those who think about BGLOs to engage in more critically and empirically based analysis. This book also seeks to move BGLO members and those who work with them beyond conclusions based on hunches, conventional wisdom, intuition, and personal experience. In addition to a rich range of scholars, this volume includes a kind of call and response feature between scholars and prominent members of the BGLO community.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-922-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword Fraternalism and Leadership
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    By now, most Americans of all races know about Thurgood Marshall, the great civil rights lawyer who remade American law, first as an advocate for equal rights and later as a justice of the Supreme Court. If asked about the associations of which Marshall was a member, many would bring to mind the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), spearhead of our nation’s most fruitful civil rights litigation across the twentieth century. This was the organization from which Marshall championed landmark cases. But few, at least outside the African American community, would be able to name Marshall’s...

  5. I. Introduction

    • 1. Public Realism Propounding a Critical and Empirical Black “Greek” Scholarship
      (pp. 3-24)

      In 2005, Tamara Brown and colleagues published a unique book.African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision, became one of the first scholarly books on black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). To date, it is one of only three multidisciplinary works on the black fraternal tradition. The second appeared three years later in 2008. Gregory Parks’sBlack Greek-Letter Organizations in the 21st Century: Our Fight Has Just Begunpicked up where Brown and colleagues left off. Not only did Parks tackle a wide range of new substantive issues in his book, he also called for something that heretofore had...

  6. II. BGLOs and the Intersection of Leadership, Religion, and Civil Rights

    • 2. Passive Activism African American Fraternities and Sororities and the Push for Civil Rights
      (pp. 27-48)

      Black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) have a rich history of service, activism, and leadership training.¹ These organizations have also been the subject of much critique, including charges of elitism, hazing, and colorism.² In recent years, intense criticism has overshadowed many important contributions that BGLOs made throughout their history. During the late 1950s and 1960s, for example, members of BGLOs participated in myriad ways in the struggle for civil rights.³ Much of this participation is lost upon contemporary audiences, evident in hard-to-find house histories, BGLO archival papers, and black newspaper articles. Given the intense criticism from black intellectuals such as E. Franklin...

    • 3. Alpha Kappa Alpha, Community, and Professionalism Constructing the Significance of BGLO Involvement in the Life of Loraine Richardson Green
      (pp. 49-68)

      Written works about black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) often discuss the success of their members. In addition, BGLOs invite prominent members of society to join their prospective societies as honorary members. For example, Coretta Scott King is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Nevertheless, there is a considerable dearth of information on how BGLOs—specifically, Alpha Kappa Alpha—directly affected the character, ideology, and success of individual members. Additionally, there is little empirical research about the interconnectivity between BGLO membership, professionalism, and community activism. This chapter examines the life of Loraine R. Green, Alpha Kappa Alpha’s second national president, in...

    • 4. Faith and Fraternalism A Doctrinal and Empirical Analysis
      (pp. 69-92)

      Black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) have been accused of being anti-Christian. Though not a wholly original critique of college-based fraternities and sororities, Christian critics of BGLOs are either becoming more vocal or increasing in number.¹ In the early twenty-first century, a number of anti-BG-LOs—and, by extension, anti-secret societies—Web sites and writings surfaced, in many instances authored by former BGLO members. A consistent thread in the fabric of their arguments is that BGLOs are inherently incompatible with Christianity because they demand allegiance to an organization in a manner that supersedes a commitment to Jesus Christ. Anti-BGLO activists claim that secret...

  7. III. The Gender Politics of Black Fraternalism

    • 5. Becoming Men in Burning Sands Student Identity, Masculinity, and Image Construction in Black Greek-Letter Collegiate Fraternities
      (pp. 95-113)

      Across college campuses, African American men who gather in crowds, groups, assemblies, and organizations like fraternities frequently draw interest and suspicion and often face questioning from nonblack “Others.”¹ Many African American college men are no strangers to these anxieties associated with such scrutiny. Before African American men join collegiate fraternities, they may serve as a source of bewilderment for many student peers, faculty, and staff.² As these men move within and between collegiate spaces, nonblacks often perceive them with a combination of fear and desire, envying their physical abilities but sanctioning their behaviors.³ As African American fraternity men frequently evoke...

    • 6. Black Greek-Letter Fraternities and Masculinities
      (pp. 114-136)

      Although various black student communities have a relatively young existence in higher education, black student movements in America flow from movements in the African American community.¹ Black student communities came into existence during Reconstruction when land-grant colleges and universities were established for “colored” people.² Whether it is a Black Student Association, the college chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, 100 Black Men, or black Greek-letter organizations, black student organizations are important social settings for African American college students. These organizations’ meetings and activities serve as spaces for the discussion of topics relevant to their interests, a place where...

  8. IV. Racial Identity and Racism

    • 7. Transforming Racism Asian Pacific American Women in African American Sororities
      (pp. 139-161)

      African American sororities at “Pacific Coast University” were founded in the context of legalized segregation in which African American women as other women of color were excluded from joining Panhellenic or historically white sororities.¹ Among the sixteen sororities at Pacific Coast University (PCU), four are currently African American sororities. Pi Zeta Mu, the first African American sorority established at PCU, was chartered in 1923, followed a year later by Beta Tau. University policy did not officially ban the discriminatory policies of historically White sororities and fraternities until 1964. Despite the decline of legalized racial barriers, Pi Zeta Mu and Beta...

    • 8. The Realities and Consequences of Unconscious Antiblack Bias among BGLO Members
      (pp. 162-178)

      During the twentieth century, African American men and women founded and propelled black Greek-letter organizations. The broad principles upon which these organizations stand are three-fold: personal excellence (e.g., high academic achievement), brotherhood/sisterhood (e.g., creation and maintenance of fictive-kinship ties), and racial uplift (e.g., campus and community programming, civic action, community service, and philanthropy). Though there is little known about the racial attitudes of African American BGLO members, some have suggested that African American BGLO members develop strongerexplicitracial identities than their nonmember counterparts.¹ Indeed, given recent research on explicit racial identity and behavior, it seems likely that these strong...

  9. V. Representin’:: Images of BGLOs in Popular Culture

    • 9. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as Filmmaker The Making and Demise of Countdown at Kusini
      (pp. 181-190)

      Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., was founded in January 1913 at Howard University as an organization for college-educated women. Delta’s founders established, as part of its charter, a service agenda with the goal of assisting blacks of the diaspora in achieving their political, social, and economic objectives. Today, Delta has approximately 200,000 members, making it the largest black sorority in the world. Delta’s history of public service, including, support for the Anti-Lynching Bill of 1922, bookmobiles, scholarship funds, and voter registration, took a different turn under Lillian Pierce Benbow, its fifteenth national president.

      Benbow believed that media images of blackness—...

    • 10. “You Make the Letters. The Letters Don’t Make You” The Construction of Memory and Identity in Stomp the Yard
      (pp. 191-211)

      The 2007 release ofStomp the Yard, by director Sylvain White and distributor Sony Pictures, helped to usher black Greek-letter organizations into the mainstream milieu. Opening at number one with a first-weekend gross of just over $22 million, and produced on a budget of $13 million, the film eventually grossed over $61 million in the United States and $75 million worldwide. Audiences flocked to witness the story of protagonist “DJ Williams” (Columbus Short)—a new college student at the fictional historically black college/university not so subtly named “Truth University.” Upon his arrival at Truth U., DJ pledges a fictional BGLO...

    • 11. Challenging Controlling Images Appearance Enforcement within Black Sororities
      (pp. 212-232)

      Recent studies on black Greek-letter organizations embrace the notion that the groups are vibrant, multifaceted, and too complex to serve simply as comparison groups to their white counterparts.¹ The evolution of Greek life scholarship paved the way for research exploring previously unexamined processes occurring within and between the groups. Researchers who focused on BGLO scholarship examine the various ways membership affects individuals’ lives and also analyze BGLOs’ power dynamics, philanthropic efforts, and impact on popular culture.²

      Sororities are uniquely situated within African American culture. Members volunteer frequently within their communities, host educational programs and community events, and raise money for...

  10. VI. Keeping Things In/On Line?: Hazing and Pledging

    • 12. Factors That Contribute to Hazing Practices by Collegiate Black Greek-Letter Fraternities during Membership Intake Activities
      (pp. 235-252)

      Acts of violence among black Greek-letter fraternities during their respective membership intake activities have made for great concern among fraternity national officers and higher education administrators. For example, in a 1990 report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, university presidents and chief student affairs officers listed Greek life as one of the top-five campus issues of greatest distress and disquietude.¹ According to Pamela Reese, hazing in BGLFs has been a primary concern for national governing bodies and university officials for quite some time despite the fact that fraternity and university officials banned hazing decades ago.² Hazing is...

    • 13. Old School Values and New School Methods Preserving the Integrity of the Pledge Process and Defending against Hazing Liability
      (pp. 253-274)

      Let’s just get the awkward part out of the way. I believe in pledging. As a proud, active, and financially contributing member of a black Greek-letter sorority, not only do I believe in pledging, but I believe that pledging is essential to the livelihood of black Greek-letter organizations. Pledging separates BGLOs from organizations such as the Urban League, 100 Black Men, and Girl Friends Inc.¹ And pledging is a major attraction for those who wish to join. But without defined pledge programs that speak to their historic values and traditions, BGLOs face extinction—hazing liability will bankrupt their finances and...

  11. VII. Ebony in the Ivory Tower:: BGLOs in Higher Education

    • 14. Black Greek-Letter Organizations at Predominantly White Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities
      (pp. 277-293)

      In April 2007, we participated in a panel discussion held during a national meeting of college student affairs administrators—one of us as facilitator, the other as a panelist. The session was titled, “Black Greek Letter Organizations—Is there still a need?” Other panelists included a chief student affairs officer, a BGLO chapter advisor, and Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander-Smith College and an authority on black fraternities and sororities. The discussion between audience and panel members was characterized by overwhelming emotion, unfettered loyalty to the sanctity of one’s own Greek-letter organization, and an endless refrain of questions. Is there...

    • 15. College Student Satisfaction and Greek Organization Membership
      (pp. 294-310)

      This chapter analyzes survey and focus group data in regard to how Greek membership affects student satisfaction for black and white students. This topic is significant for several reasons, including that much of the existing research on the impact of Greek membership generally does not make any distinctions by race despite evidence indicating its import.¹ Available literature records important differences and similarities between historically black organizations and predominantly white ones. When organizational differences are analyzed in the context of acquired knowledge about voluntary organizations and their impact on members, we can logically expect organizational differences to moderate the impact of...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 311-330)
  13. Index
    (pp. 331-342)