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It was the middle of Spring semester 1999 and dozens upon dozens of young women dressed in their professional best, nervously lined up outside of one of the University’s meeting hall.

It was the first orientation meeting for prospects for the first line on campus, since the organization was suspended for bad behavior by the school several years ago. Today was a new day. And we young hopefuls stood silently, surveying each other and smiling politely. It was the first time any of us had personally revealed intentions (outside of few close friends and family) publicly as well as the first time any of us got to see who else might be on the rooster.

There was lots of paranoia on campus about the Greeks. For one, talking about the fraternity or sorority you intended to pledge was akin to announcing to the campus your intentions of screwing the entire offensive line of the football squad.  Ya just didn’t do it. There were horrifying urban legends and folklore about those, who let their lips do the flapping. At the very least, if all that bragging, boosting and declaring you did got back to the wrong ears, it was almost guaranteed that you would not make it – the exception was those, who were legacy of course. But that day, the cat was out the Greek letter embroidered bag and your closely guarded secret would now be known – or gossiped about – around Virginia Union’s tightly-knit campus by sundown.

I was kind of shocked when I got my letter inviting me to line. There were so many legacies at the orientation and only a few available slots and yet they choose me. As flattered as I was, I also felt like it was well earned. A year or so before the letter arrived in my mail slot, I had made it up in my mind that this organization was what I was going to join. As such, I put in the work bringing my grades up and being active on campus as well as in the community – well, as active as I could, while going to school full time and working damn near full time. In may respects, having such a prestigious and notable organization, with a long legacy in the community, notice the work I put in, actually mattered.

And then I read to the bottom of the letter, where it said that they needed $438 in a few days…

Mom wasn’t an option because she was already helping me on rent.. Dad wasn’t an option because he rarely was an option. I asked Grandma and she seemed quite confused about why I needed the money. “What kind of organization cost that much…Greek what?…Nope, I ain’t got it…” A couple of my other friends, who too were in similar financial circumstances offered to chip in, but even with all that fundraising, I had only managed to raised about half the money. Reluctantly, I contacted the line adviser, who told me that if I couldn’t raise the money, my only other option was to drop line.

She met me at my job as a cashier at a local supermarket. She waited patiently for me to finish up my last customer on the line and handed me the paperwork to fill out. I can’t remember what all it stated but the gist of it was that I was dropping line on my own volition. Technically I wasn’t, but I signed the paperwork anyway. My face must have looked pretty pitiful because without asking, she pulled me close to her for a hug and told me to have strength. I would rather money.

As hurt as I was at the time, I’m over it. No seriously, I swear I’m not bitter about it all. Looking back, I probably could have taken the risk and gambled my rent money for the month, hoping that I could find some other way to make it up. Or I could have asked the one more affluent girlfriend for the money. But I felt after all the free rides (including back and forth to Philly), food and use of her personal computer and printer ink, I just didn’t want to ask her for anymore stuff. But I could have taken the risk – I suppose.

Still, I will own up to feeling a tinge of tartness whenever I hear about and read things like this:

Today was a very special day. I became and honorary member of #AlphaKappaAlpha! I made this very special lady proud. @sonjanorwood- My mom’s legacy as an #AKA continues. Love to all my #Sorors <3 #sisterhood #ethics #strength #class #leadership #intellect #power #LOVE”

That comment is from Brandy Norwood, who according to published reports just became an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Also according to these reports, there are also pictures of Norwood posing ever so dainty in all white and giving the Ivy symbol with her hands. I do not begrudge Norwood. But she had two advantages here: legacy and fame. Those privileges meant that in terms of gaining access to that particular organization, she never had to worry too much about risk.

And that is why I just don’t think honorary inductions are fair practices. Or legacies for that matter. And yet colleges, universities and all types of collegiate organizations regularly use these sorts of practices to help determine admission through its doors. Even as the practices totally spit in the face of everything everyone, including these same institutions, has ever said life was supposed to be about: hard work and merit. And if something doesn’t work out, well it is because you didn’t work hard (including taking those risk)- that has always been the narrative, anyway.

And, there is no denying that hard work matters in some respects. And there is also no denying the contributions of some folks to the greater society and it is only right they their work is honored. The AKA’s own list of other honorary members is pretty impressive. But then there are the people, who receive honorary inductions into these institutions for basically singing a song or two we liked (you can’t even say “write” as writing credits are few and far in between).  And that’s when the sourness sets in…

To be clear this is not and anti-affirmative action post. Affirmative action is largely a response to what are unearned privileges, like the honorary degree and legacy clauses as well as racism and sexism. In actuality, some affirmative action, particularly an economic-based affirmative action, might have aided me in my own quest for membership. But rather this is a post about the types of messages we put out into the world and values we reinforce when those, who studied, learned the craft, did the research, walked the right lines and struggled but ultimately played the game as the rules had been laid out, find their hard work and merit overlooked in favor of the notable, the inherited and pretty much those folks who already have the advantages.

Is that really fair?

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