All Articles Tagged "fraternities"
Fear Of A Non-Black Planet: How I Survived Having HBCU Dreams But A Predominately White University Reality
By Cecily Michelle
For the majority of my life, I’ve been surrounded by nothing but black and brown faces.
I come from a city where it’s hard to spot a white hue if it’s not draped in a police uniform or posted downtown at a hockey game. So naturally, I grew to love and accept environments where people resemble me. That’s why as a high school senior, there was no question about where I was going to college. If you asked, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that I would be stomping yards and strutting the halls in my finest threads at an HBCU.
But as graduation neared, my plans took an abrupt turn when I realized that my dream school didn’t supply my major, and most importantly, it didn’t offer much financial aid—for me, the ultimate deal-breaker. So instead, I decided to take a scholarship to my community college, which just happened to be predominately black as well. Although not an HBCU, I felt at ease when I saw skin, hair, clothes and faces that reminded me of the people in my neighborhood.
When graduation rolled around, I received another scholarship that promised me a free ride at any public four-year college or university in New Jersey— all Predominantly White Institutions (PWI). From there, any thoughts of attending an HBCU had washed down the drain.
It took awhile, but after making my decision, I was excited about going away to school. Still, I couldn’t shake the knots that had lodged in my stomach—the discomfort that moving outside of my mostly-black world had created. And after the first few weeks of settling in on the chiefly white campus, where most of the kids walking through the halls did not give me that comforting feeling from the neighborhood block, I fell into a serious funk.
All of the things that I had feared about going to a non-black college were coming to fruition. I was outnumbered, I felt like most people hated me, and I couldn’t shake the firm holds of feeling alienated. But as time progressed, those overwhelmingly negative feelings began to fade away, and I started to adjust. I socialized with people, both black and white, who were able to ease my worries and provide some level of comfort. I formulated strong bonds with professors who seemed to genuinely care about my success despite the difference in the tones of our skin. Basically, I got over myself.
Although I wasn’t getting the full experience of an HBCU, I discovered that there were plenty of events, clubs and organizations to make up for it. Black students from near-by campuses came to participate in step shows and showcase their frat’s signature stroll at parties. Student organizations aimed at black unity and empowerment hosted monthly events which provided entertainment that, at times, made me forget that I was surrounded by a race other than my own.
So on May 16, 2012, the day that I said goodbye to my years as a college student, I sat draped in elation. I thought about how rough it was for me in the beginning—how I walked the campus with my head hanging low and how I wanted so badly to transfer to a school where I would have been more at ease, where I basically wouldn’t have to put forth much effort, but just be a black woman around black people. Maybe that’s what made my success at this university so much more sweeter—I was proud that in just a few moments, my name would be called to receive the case to my degree.
That day is now gone, and I’ve since realized—from both my own experience and conversations with other students who felt the same as me—that some of us are so wrapped up in the comfort of our neighborhoods that we forget that the planet is not dipped in black. There are millions of new people, places and things to be explored. And for me, attending a PWI not only helped me to accept racial differences and diversity, but better prepared me for life beyond my neighborhood. I went through some tough times, a few encounters with subtle racism and smart remarks from both peers and professors, but it prepared me for the real world. I learned how to deal with complicated racial environments, how to behave when a person of a different race throws blows intended to evoke anger, and to accept cultural differences in people who don’t look like me. It wasn’t easy, but I survived at a predominantly white college, and it made me stronger.
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On his album, The Blueprint III, Jay-Z rhymes on the song, “What We Talkin’ About”: “What we talkin’ ’bout, fiction or we talkin’ ’bout fact? You talkin’ ’bout fiction? Hold up; pardon my back.” Unfortunately, that’s often how I feel–as one of the few academics, and only law professor, who researches and writes about black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs)–when I hear most people “talkin’ ’bout” BGLO hazing. This is National Hazing Prevention Week, and my hope is that this week there will be some serious and informed dialogue within and outside BGLOs about hazing. I am, however, not optimistic.
On 19 November 2011, Robert Champion, a 26 year-old, African American drum major in Florida A&M University’s “Marching 100″ band, collapsed on a charter bus and died as a result of hazing. Over the past ten months, commentators, critics, and concerned citizens have wondered and opined about why hazing persists within student culture. Many have focused — if not more, without question differently — on black student groups vis-a-vis their white counterparts, with physical violence seen as the main issue for the former and substance abuse the latter.
Read more at BlackVoices
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According to the site, Kollege Kids:
“There may be a big lawsuit in preparation against the oldest and most renowned sorority founded for African American women. Men interested in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, also known as MIAKAs, are threatening to file a lawsuit against Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a sorority founded at Howard University on Jan. 15, 1908. The group of men, whom all are homosexual, are alleging homophobia and gender discrimination by the sorority.”
There is not much about the MIAKA out there except a few pictures posted mostly on blogs and online message boards. In these photos, you see these men donning the pink and green, signature colors of the organization, wearing AKA paraphernalia and doing the signature “Ske-Wee.” But from what I gather, the group in question has established themselves at Prairie View University, a HBCU in Houston, Texas, sometime around 2005. The group is said to be rogue chapter of MiAKA Inc., which really stands for Men Interested in Alpha Kappa Alpha. MiAKA Inc., acts as a support auxiliary for the sorority, much in the same way that Alpha Angels Inc., Omega GEMS, Kappa Sweethearts, Sigma Rhomeos Inc., Delta BEUAX Inc. and so on work to support those fraternities and sororities. However, real members of MiAKA Inc., according to the message boards, strongly contend that they do not support or condone the MIAKA chapter at Prairie View.
No lawsuit has been officially filed as of yet. MIAKA has no official website (that I know of) or leader to speak on nor confirm this issue. So right now the story seems to be all speculation. However, MIAKA is real. And this story raises all sorts of questions about the intersection of gender, sexuality and inclusion. It seems that the same sort of national conversation on gender identity, which found its way at the steps of the Girls Scouts, the Ladies Professional Golf Association and the Miss Universe Pageant, now has landed on the yards of black Greek-letter sororities and fraternities. And while the authenticity of this lawsuit can not be fully confirmed, the reality is that it may not be too long until we start having to have this conversation. And there is no better time than the present. So in the interest of creating dialog: would it be homophobic and discriminatory for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., to deny homosexual men membership into their sorority or are these guys barking up the wrong Ivy vine?
I am not a black Greek. In fact, the only colors I wave with pride are the red, the black and the green, so I don’t have a horse in this race. But personally, I am leaning towards the latter. While I can sort of understand their reasons for wanting to challenge the status quo of gender-specific organizations, I find their quest for acceptance a bit misguided. For one, from what I have read, none of these men, while gay, identifies with being women. They are not transgendered or even women, who love the same sex. In fact, I would be more sympathetic and willing to side with them if these were transgendered women. But to claim homophobia, or even gender discrimination against a sorority doesn’t quite jive with me.
I don’t think members of the AKA organization are upset with these young men for trying to have a group of their own to identify. This is less about discrimination than it is about appropriation, peppered in with a little misogyny. The reality of a male-centered society is that women do not have a significant political or social identity or existence outside of the realm of what men have decided as appropriate definitions and actions of women. Thus, women-centered circles, such as sororities, which were created in response to women being excluded from the male fraternities, help to create a space on college campuses where women can bond, network and assist each other for a common goal. This is especially true of black Greek-letter sororities, who established themselves not just in response to male fraternities but because of their exclusion from the historically white sororities as well.
Yet these men, while gay but certainly still men, have taken to adopting the colors, symbols and other paraphernalia of the AKAs, which is not only tantamount to theft but also disrespectful to the historical identity that this women’s group has fought hard to establish. And while these men probably don’t see their actions as insolent–in fact, I’m willing to guess that they truly love the AKA organization – you have to ask yourselves, if this was truly a matter of inclusiveness, why not direct their angst at the fraternities as well?
There are a number of LGBT black Greek-letter organizations all over this country. For example, there’s Omicron Epsilon Pi Sorority, Inc., the nations first Greek letter organization catering to the needs of black lesbian women, and Delta Phi Upsilon Fraternity, Inc, whose mission is to improve the public stature of same gender loving people by supporting a progressive interest in the social and civic welfare. There is, indeed, a need for such organizations because, just like the rest of society, there are folks within these sororities/fraternities organizations that do not openly embrace the GLBT community. In that spirit, I have lots of appreciation for the MiAKAs, who just want to be accepted and celebrated for who and what they are, and also support the AKAs when they can. However, I also believe that this rouge MiAKA chapter would probably blaze more trails, if they would, in addition to fighting for inclusion of our GLBT brothers and sisters into these organizations, help the existing black LGBT Greek letter organizations establish more chapters on black college campuses as well as take their rightful place among the Divine Nine.
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Moved by the recent death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson says she plans to introduce a federal anti-hazing bill when Congress returns from its holiday break next month.
In Champion’s case, police say he was punched and paddled in a hazing ritual during the school’s Marching 100 band trip to the annual Florida Classic in Orlando. An autopsy report showed that the 26-year-old’s “muscles were beaten so badly that they were destroyed like you would see in a heart attack.” So far, the Marching 100 has been suspended from all activities and its director placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation but Wilson says overall, hazing is demeaning, dangerous, deadly, and needs to be stopped.
The question is whether a law would do any good? Most colleges and universities have policies prohibiting hazing as a means of granting students entrance into fraternities, sororities, and other campus organizations yet the practice still goes on. Some groups get suspended for a semester, maybe even a year, but when the next opportunity rolls around, hazing resumes and vows of silence and solidarity amongst members of these groups keep such practices from being openly exposed although the activity is well-known. So what good would a law do? It could ensure those who are caught hazing endure much stricter punishments, but for any practical change to come about, leaders of these organizations have to take a stance against hazing and truly desire to create alternative means of ushering in new members to a group that don’t threaten their well-being. As long as group members see hazing as a method of proving worth and loyalty, they will just find sneakier ways to go about it.
Do you think an anti-hazing law would stop this activity on college campuses?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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(ABC News) — The heartbroken mother of a Cornell University sophomore is suing a fraternity for $25 million after members allegedly kidnapped her son, blindfolded him, bound his hands and feet, and forced him to drink so much alcohol that he passed out and died. George Desdunes, the son of a Haitian immigrant, was pronounced dead on Feb. 25 from alcohol poisoning at Cayuga Medical Center. Desdunes’ blood alcohol level was .409 – more than five times the legal limit, according to the family’s lawsuit. Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andre, is suing Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for $25 million in the wrongful death of her only son.
Marie Lourdes André is suing the fraternity that killed her only son, George Desdunes, who died during a hazing ritual at Cornell University on February 25, 2011. She claims that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity kidnapped him, forced him to drink to the point that his blood alcohol level was five times the legal driving limit, left him bound on a sofa for hours, and then tried to cover their tracks by removing the binds. The bereaved mother hopes her $25 million law suit against the frat will inspire much tougher regulation of frat houses and their absurdly dangerous hazing practices. It would give some purpose to the meaningless loss of her son’s life.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon had already come under fire at Cornell for its hazing manual which included “requiring new members to clean vomit out of a car, purchase illegal drugs and perform sex acts,” according to court documents reviewed by the New York Post. As Desdunes was a new member, he was forced to engage in similar self-destructive activities that tragically cost him his life. The Post describes this poor man’s last night — and the legal consequences of Desdunes’ death:
He was bound and quizzed about SAE lore, because members are required to know as much about the fraternity as new pledges are expected to learn, the suit says.
Members who miss a question are “compelled to drink alcohol, often while blindfolded and tied up,” according to court papers
“Hazing is wrong, immoral and extremely dangerous to the well-being of the fraternity members,” said lawyer William Friedlander, who filed the suit yesterday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
Business Insider adds that since the untimely death of George Desdunes, “Cornell forced the frat to vacate the house and the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization shut down the Cornell chapter.” At least one formal step has been taken to administer justice. But it is not enough.
George Desdunes was a quiet soul, who loved church and majored in biology. His mother did not send him away to die. Hopefully, her $25 million law suit will terrify colleges, fraternal organizations, and the students engaging in these rituals to rethink their tolerance and perpetuation of brutal behavior. Common sense and compassion alone are not enough.
It’s a question that author Caitlin Flanagan, who believes that frat houses are the most malevolent of male power institutions, answers with a resounding yes.
Recently, Flanagan penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal about rape on college campuses, or more specifically, incidents of rape that involve drinking and fraternities. She cites a 2007 National Institute of Justice study, which concluded that fraternity men who tend to drink more heavily and frequently than non-members are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than non-fraternity men. Said Flanagan, “The Greek system is dedicated to quelling young men’s anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning by providing them with a variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women.”
Honestly, I don’t think I could disagree with her on that point. In my opinion, it’s really simple: if a particularly fraternity—or sorority for that matter—continues to be a source of sexual assault or other forms of violence, then they do not need to exist on a college campus.
However, what Flanagan is suggesting goes beyond scrutinizing the lack of accountability that colleges and universities place on fraternity organizations. What she is actually suggesting is that the entire Greek system helps to encourage the mindset that violence and mistreatment of women is okay. I’m not very certain of that.
However, Flanagan is not alone in her assessment of Greek-letter organizations. Samantha Wishman recently wrote a similar piece for the Daily Beast, in which she argues that a double standard exists between fraternities and sororities on college campuses. While fraternities are allowed to “party” without fear of being subjected to disciplinary action when they commit serious criminal offenses, sororities, on the other hand, are intensively scrutinized by their national organizations for even minor infractions, such as holding parties with alcohol.
In her piece, Wishman highlights an incident when 16 Yale students filed a complaint against the university for violating Title IX—“alleging that Yale had failed to curb a hostile sexual environment” for women on campus,” including an incident where pledges from Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity harassed women students chanting phrases such as “F—ing sluts,” and “No means yes, yes means anal” during their initiation rite.
Certainly, some fraternity organizations do give way to some pretty, immature and downright criminal behavior. With thousands of fraternity chapters in the U.S. alone, it only stands to reason that some of its membership would lack a certain moral compass. But to suggest that the actions of a few reflect the actions of all others fraternities is too broad of an indictment.
(Chicago Sun Times) — Corey White stepped onto the University of Chicago campus prepared for a four-year commitment. But that was small shakes compared with the commitment he also was prepared to make to Alpha Phi Alpha. That would be for a lifetime.
He’s about two years in, having joined the group’s Theta chapter as a freshman in spring 2008. That’s just a blip in the chapter’s 100-year history, which will be celebrated with a Saturday gala at the South Shore Cultural Center.