|Image by Ryan VanWilliams via Flickr creative commons|
The presence of the divine nine has always been heavy and unwavering.
For those readers who aren’t very familiar with the upstanding sororities and fraternities of the divine nine…
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906—Cornell University
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908—Howard University
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911— Indiana University
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911—Howard University
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913—Howard University
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914—Howard University
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920—Howard University
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922—Butler University
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963—Morgan State University
There is no denying that the original Black sororities and fraternities are an important part of African American culture as we know it today. They were responses to the discrimination presented by white Greek organizations, and create bonds that thrive long past the days of college parties, probates, and stressful classes; in fact, they include members from multiple age groups. These organizations host a variety of members from the Black community, from educators, to scientists, to judges and these connections can make for successful networking.
Essentially, when you make the commitment to pledge, the Black Greek system is capable of leaving you with lifelong benefits.
But even with all of these potential benefits, I still struggle with my decision. Then I ask myself:
I’ve grown up around the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority because my mother pledged in a small line at Northwestern University. As a child, I’ve watched the women clad in red and white participate in fundraising events and community service projects. I’ve even participated in Delta’s youth projects such as Delta Academy and Delta Gems, and while the goal of those two youth programs aren’t to convert young women into Deltas, some of my friends in those groups still feel obligated to pledge in the future.
I have to admit, I still feel a little bad when I go to a Delta Gems meeting and I’m sandwiched between two girls who are adamant about joining the sorority. They declare that they will pledge as soon as they hit freshman year and after minutes of musing, they ask me who I’m going to pledge.
But the truth is I don’t feel obligated to join any sororities and when I tell them this, they treat me like I’ve committed some treason against womankind. Well, Black womankind. The very first response I get is something along the lines of:
But again, I’m not sure if I want to join any sororities, black, white, blue, purple, pink or polka-dotted. It might be because the idea of rushing stresses me out, because I don’t want to pay extra money as a broke college student, because of hazing horror stories and my paranoia over prioritizing academics.
But even though I feel a little bad about it, I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world if I choose not to pledge. The process shouldn’t be stressful— pledging is supposed to be fun.
Of course there are those who don’t agree with my choice to fly solo, and that’s fine.
There’s no telling how many times people have shaken their heads at me and promised that I will regret my decision. But I can only regret what I do if I allow myself to feel regret. The purpose of this article isn’t to berate sororities and fraternities, but rather to show certain students that they aren’t alone in their hesitations to commit themselves to a Greek organization—to reassure them that choosing not to pledge is O.K.
What some fail to realize is that the sorority process isn’t so black and white. Literally. The process is more than legacy, expectations and reputation. The types of people who represent a sorority on campus are very important.
If I went to college planning to join a sorority, I would look at the members on campus. Let’s say my final choice is between a Black sorority and a White sorority. If they are equally active, and their activities are similar, I will look at the way the members treat me. The Black sorority might have a bad set of members on campus that year, so they may seem rude and unpleasant when compared to the white sorority that might be going through an upswing of abundantly kind members at that time.
I don’t care how black I am, if the students who happen to be in the Black sorority are treating me like crap, I’m probably going to join the white one. If the situation were reversed, I’d join the black one. My goal is to never put myself through humiliation and abuse just to be a part of a group that is supposed to understand love and sisterhood (and for men, brotherhood) to be a priority.
My mother had the opposite experience. She initially pledged a white sorority and while the events were nice, she found her experience to be shallow. Not to mention the fact that she never saw the members again after graduation.
By her senior year, she was fortunate enough to pledge Delta when her campus’ chapter of the sorority was full of compassionate, mature, and professionally pleasant young women. Women who actually represented the ideals of the sorority.
That’s the sort of experience I would want.
Hazing is another problem. While it’s not supposed to happen, it still can, and it affects black and white organizations alike.
I think of a family friend:
Her son is Black, but he grew up in a predominantly white setting. Therefore, he didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the Black community. Once he got to college, he was looking forward to some much needed exposure to Black culture and brotherhood. He signed up to join one of the divine nine fraternities and because he attended a predominantly white university, his line was small.
But the hazing was so overwhelming that he and everyone else had to drop out of the process. He got bruises instead of brotherhood—this happened only a few years ago.
There is nothing wrong with rolling solo.
Joining a sorority or fraternity isn’t an insta-pass to popularity because it’s all about what you make of it. It’s just as easy to be social and unaffiliated as it is to be anti-social and in an organization. There are so many opportunities in college to make friends through classes, clubs and events.
To those who have found success in the Greek system, I’m genuinely happy for you. But as a college-bound daughter of a Greek, I’d like to speak on the behalf of your college bound daughters and sons who aren’t too sure about pledging.
Support them in whatever they do and don’t make them feel obligated to keep the organization in the family. If they are interested, tell them to keep an open ear for the Black organizations, but don’t ban them from joining the non-Black organizations. Everything happens for a reason, and whether your child joins a Black sorority, a white fraternity, or no organization at all, it might be better just to let it swing.
Students: If you join a sorority, do it because you really want to. Not because of pressure, fear, or social solidarity and if you change your mind once you get on campus, don’t hesitate to join. Most importantly, live and enjoy college while you can because there won’t be any other time like it.
Lauren Harris is a high school senior at an arts school. She is an advocate for the educational enrichment of African-American children and is also very interested in researching how African-American women are perceived by themselves and by the rest of the world. She enjoys online shopping, curly hair, macaroni and cheese, “The Twilight Zone”, and Friday nights playing The Sims. Please read more of her work at her blog www.afrogirltalks.com.