By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
[Full disclosure: I am a member of a Black Greek-letter organization, specifically Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. The views you are about to read are NOT partisan. They are both practical and spiritual. This is not to boost the ego of those who have joined such organizations or to act as apologist for those who did not and believe such organizations are counterproductive. My aim is to deal with reality.]
This week I was listening to an Indianapolis midday radio talk show while driving from lunch. The call-in show conversation – spurred by news of a hazing incident that left a college student seriously injured – focused on the merits of fraternities and sororities.
The subject is nothing new. It was agued constantly during the years I attended Indiana University in Bloomington. There were people my age, a year younger or older, who believed the compulsion to pledge is born of insecurity and lack of self-identity.
Who needs Kappa or Omega, or Alpha or DST or AKA or Phi Beta Sigma or Sigma Gamma Rho or Iota Theta Phi or Zeta Phi Beta to confirm identity? Is one not already complete when she or he arrives on campus? What is the need of affiliation?
Perhaps the most contentious position against fraternities and sororities is the equation of pledging to slavery. Many frat and sorority members reject the idea of allowing people to join by simply completing a form. Many denounce the controversial pledge process-big brother/sister relationship as reminiscent of slave-slave master dynamics.
One caller said the colors of the organizations were tantamount to sophisticated gang colors and the mentality was not that different.
I pulled over and called the radio station in an effort to shed light on the subject. The essence of their response was, “Of course you would defend them, you are a Kappa. Don’t confuse us with the facts – our minds are already made up.”
Clearly when it comes to the pros and cons of Black Greek-letter organizations, many have long-held perspectives that are not likely to bend. That made me wrestle with the decision for this week’s column. Convinced that the truth is the light, I decided to go for it – even though hordes of folk insist that they know more on the outside looking in.
First, it is true that Black fraternities and sororities – like white fraternities and sororities – sometimes go too far. Tragic hazing incidents have left students injured and some outcomes have been fatal. Infractions aren’t tolerated. Punishment is swift and thorough.
It happens with no more frequency than surgeon missteps injure rather than heal; than when rogue cops are caught on the wrong side of the law; than when incompetent lawyers botch cases; than when reprehensible behaviors of teachers, preachers, judges, government officials, scientists, engineers, journalists and businesses are revealed.
The ratio of all the successful pledge classes on all the campuses of the country far outweigh the percentage of Black Greeks behaving badly. Tragic outcome of pledging is an anomaly – the exception rather than the rule.
Motivation for people joining frats and sororities is a mixed bag. Some people enjoy the camaraderie of brothers and sisters with a common bond. Some are dedicated to the concept of “Greeks” presenting a unified platform through which to channel Black identity and address issues indigenous to African Americans.
Some affiliate out of concern for young people and the desire to be part of mentoring or scholarship initiatives. Some see Black Greek letter organizations as conduits for community service projects. And, undoubtedly, some join for social purpose, superficial needs, with thoughts of membership being a status symbol or for personal ambition.
The only media play for fraternities and sororities will be negative. CNN thrives on the sensational hazing story, over news of a group of college students interacting with terminally ill children; or raising thousands of scholarships dollars; or establishing youth mentoring initiatives, or launching voter information/registration campaigns.
This complex discussion inspired me to write a play entitled, “The Divine Nine” which premiered last October at Indiana University. Crowd response was overwhelming; so much so that two individuals in the audience decided to bring the performance back to the stage at two locations this month and next.
“The Divine Nine” will be performed at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the Campus Center Theater at 6 p.m. Friday, March 23rd and Monday, March 26th. IUPUI tickets are available at https://tinyurl.com/ybhqfrsr.
Northwest Indiana residents will get a chance to see the two-act comedy at 6 p.m. Friday, April 6th at the Holdcraft Performing Arts Theatre at 1200 Spring Street, Michigan City. Contact Carl Ridle at 219-873-1429 or [email protected] for ticket information.
“The Divine Nine” will not end the arguments. It will be a chance, however, to insert humor into the debate. Along with laughter are stirring vocal solos by Gary-native recording artists Anjelah Evans and Alaina (Williams) Renae. One thing people on both sides of the discussion will agree on is that these soulful divas’ voices are divine.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].