For more than a century, an effective leadership network for black male college students has existed with dynamic results. The fraternities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council—Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta—have helped provide members with avenues to become effective leaders in communities around the world.
As Iota Phi Theta celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 and Phi Beta Sigma celebrates its centennial in 2014, (with Alpha Phi Alpha having celebrated our centennial in 2006 and both Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi having celebrated their respective centennials in 2011), questions loom about the effectiveness of our organizations.
Going into 2014, there are five critical issues that black fraternities, namely members of NPHC, must address:
1. Membership Selection
From chapter to chapter, black fraternities have come under fire for how we select potential members. In the court of public opinion, there are too many members who simply don’t seem to uphold the aims and ideals of our organizations as evidenced by behaviors such as academic mediocrity and poor social skills. At the same time, too many chapters are criticized for denying membership to men who appear to fit the respective missions of our organizations very well.
Black fraternities must clearly identify and define what makes a potential member a quality candidate and the chapters must be consistent. This is serious business. We are expected to stand on the shoulders of great men like Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Carter G. Woodson, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Arthur Ashe, and countless other Black Greek luminaries.
2. Hazing in Black Fraternities
We continue to see national media stories on a consistent basis about hazing incidents among black fraternities. Hazing is not unique to our ranks, however, it affects the black community more significantly than any other community. NPHC organizational leaders have worked tirelessly to discourage hazing but significant alternatives are needed. In my commentary, “Improving the Black Greek System Through an Intellectually Rigorous Intake Process”, I call for our organizations to adopt an intake model that is based on an extensive vetting process, human resources training modules, and use of human resource metrics.
3. Misbehavior in Social Media
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Too many black fraternity members seem to completely miss the part about representing the letters with dignity and pride. Either some get sucked in by the “instant celebrity” of social media or they are too selfish to be in a fraternity in the first place. Organizations must hold members as accountable for objectionable content as they hold them for hazing. Mindlessly dropping N-bombs, F-bombs, P-bombs, etc. and posting trash for the world to see has greatly compromised the quality of our organizations.
4. Diminished Public Perception
In the 2006 book, “African American Men in College”, one of the challenges identified for black fraternities was diminished public perception; and that challenge still exists. Having been a public relations director for institutions with damaged brands, I found that media outlets won’t come running every time someone does something nice. Effective public relations is about creating opportunities to tell your story, especially when no one else will.
To create public awareness about members who represent their letters with dignity and pride, our organizations must utilize the widely-read front line resources that are available to us–our web sites and social media. We should also take advantage of opportunities to partner with media outlets. An outstanding outlet for Black Greek Letter Organizations is ProgressiveGreek.com. Also, having worked in urban radio, I know that radio stations that cater to Black America are willing to help us tell our stories. It’s not about getting exposure from news giants, it’s about creating exposure then aggressively promoting content.
5. Black Male Leadership Development
All black fraternities have some sort of leadership development initiative and that is a fantastic thing, but we must answer the call to intellectually fortify young black males on a more substantive level. The founders of each fraternity were thought leaders and the need for thought leaders in the black community is as critical as ever. Black fraternities are well-positioned to create knowledge and opportunity among young black males.
Internally, members must be developed just as people in the workforce enhance their careers via professional development. Members must also be pushed to acquire intellectual capital via post-graduate degree attainment and/or career leadership. Our fraternities must also continue mentoring initiatives and tell the stories of those who have benefited from our programs and initiatives.
Dr. Change Agent says
The 5 items you have mention miss the whole entire idea. They are upper middle class questions with concern more about upper- middle class values, which in most cases are those who can afford to go to college in the first place. I want to address what you consider in part to be concerns.
1) Membership selection and I quote: In the court of public opinion, there are too many members who simply don’t seem to uphold the aims and ideals of our organizations as evidenced by behaviors such as academic mediocrity and poor social skills. Fraternities need to take off the glasses in see, that is now the product coming the communities that the fraternities have abandon for acceptance into the upper class who never cared about the neighborhood they came from after they made it. Most would rather not go back to do anything for the black boys struggling to live and the community. Fraternity programs do not address the real issues. They are canned and demanded by national to complete. The sincerity is not from the heart. Thus answering the question of what you get by the time that boy reaches college.
2) “I call for our organizations to adopt an intake model that is based on an extensive vetting process, human resources training modules, and use of human resource metrics. ” Since 1990 and the experiment with intake began, the population of fraternities has decline. I was made in 1975 when lines were double digit on black campus. Now HBCU and traditional college have lost chapters because of lack of membership and the cost of becoming a member. When we begin to install extensive processes for a short amount of time and take way the ability for fraternity men to interact with potential candidates, those study session in the library and mentoring from brother to potential candidates became a liability. They studied black history, fraternity history and learned how to be leaders. We need to decide because of the new dynamics of black boys what we want them to be and experience. We do not need a scientific system, we need something real. Hazing has so many definitions now, it depends on who you ask. It s like the black mom and dad being told by the white society you cannot spank (Whoop) your child. Spare the rod spoil the child. Society mentally hazes us everyday, it is called “Social Problems” we did not make that up. I am not saying physically haze candidates but when we are mentally teaching you something’s they may benefit you for the rest of you life, then you can call military basic training hazing. I pledge 4 times in 3 regions over a period of 2 years. I made it and became a state, regional college brother of the year founded 3 chapters, been chapter president 3 times and became a national officer national officer in the 70’s. I think that qualifies me to speak on this subject.
Of course the experts would probably not ask me for a solution. I have studied first hand all of your subject matter and look forward to hearing the comments that follow.
I will address you other 3 issues another day.
Dr. Change Agent
Joe Maldonado says
I’m surprised and disappointed that service, social impact, activism are completely absent from this assessment. Those are the qualities that really took NPHC organizations to the next level and I see that as one of the key reasons we are losing our potency. Not taking away the importance of factors like character and the selection of excellent candidates, but we’re nothing if we’re not putting service and social change at the forefront of our priorities.
Bertram L. Lawson II says
I agree with Dr. Change Agent.
Gerald Lane says
OMG. I’ve been trying to articulate these sentiments for a long time. I totally agree with this assessment, though it comes across as harsh. It should be harsh. Some of my so-called frat brothers embarrass me with the way they present themselves. I wouldn’t even want to be around or with some of them because of the way they are perceived. Ironically, based on what I see, most of them wouldn’t have been accepted as possible members because they wouldn’t have meet up to the standards we had when I was in school. I’m not claiming to be a saint, but it just doesn’t make sense to put your hands on a pledgee, or to put them in harms way; not with the ramifications in place. You can be expelled from college, and/or prosecuted. Your academic career is ruined, and you might end up in jail. For pledging? Forget that! I don’t particularly like the concept of an intake process, but if frats (mine anyway) went back to the essence of the pledge process (which doesn’t include abuse) it would still be a meaningful experience for everybody involved. Lastly, it amuses me that frats pledge the way they do today because they want them to “go through what they went through”. They didn’t have to do half the stuff frats did back in the day. lol
How many ppl die from military basic training?….
How are Black fraternities dealing with homosexuality within their organizations?
Qasim Rashad says
Dr. Change Agent seems as if he wanted to pen an article himself. While he had some valid points he needn’t challenge the authors point to do so. For the most part I identified completely with the author. To go off on a tangent only distracts from those five salient points brought to the fore in the original article. We all know black boys need discipline. If they come to college not having received it there is probably little that an intake program can provide to instill that. Fraternity’s role are to provide the professional polish and refinement mom and dad couldn’t. But having the discipline not to make an ass of yourself and disgrace your family on social media is something you should have come to school already knowing.
The fact that we are selecting an inferior quality member is because our ranks are riddled with such. Why a potential member who is a jock with a 2.5 GPA and very popular on campus is valued more than the nerd with a 3.9 GPA and a future doctor, engineer and possible Nobel Prize winner is a sign of the times. This clearly indicates a shift in paradigm for if you examine the founders of all these organizations their founders were comprised of the latter and not the former. Omega was founded by a three science majors and one religion students all of whom excelled in their studies and professions. Today Omegas most prominent members all almost all exclusively in the entertainment arena…again a sign of the times.
If we are to contribute to society we must be the best of society. Smackin boys up side the head is not going to get us that result. Brother Francis is a clairvoyant in a land of the obvious meaning he speaks the truth while others seek their past. We have to change with the times or we will die with the times.
Define inferior quality member/student. Do you mean one with lower grades? Do you men one with a lack of social graces? As a member of one of these fraternities, I came to college from a poor public school district and high school. I was from a working class family that was socialized with friends that lived in the projects and poor neighborhoods. I was a first generation college student in my family. It would have been quite possible that I was one of those inferior quality students. I have consistently been involved in my community sine my graduation from undergrad 27 years ago. I have gone on to get two graduate/professional degrees from other institutions. Most of which I have achieved and done since undergrad was influenced by my involvement with my fraternity (specifically) and Greek life (in general). GPA and social skills/graces should not be a deciding factor of who is allowed into fraternities. Since I now live in and am involved in the community I grew up in, I can say that being in a fraternity helped prepare me for my role here. If I was filtered out due to my family’s social position, that would have been a detriment to me, my fraternity and my community.
Eddie Francis says
First, I would like to thank all who have commented so far. One of the reasons I wrote this opinion piece is to inspire much-needed intelligent conversation among the ranks of the five major African-American fraternities. There are no right or wrong answers neither are there simple answers for our complex issues. Gentlemen, please continue the respectful discourse. We need it.
Vinnyism, I am interested in hearing more about your path to fraternity life. Could you please email your contact information to BlackGreekSuccess@gmail.com, please?
Again, brothers, thanks for your feedback. Keep it coming and take everyone’s perspective back to your respective NPHC communities!
M. Sean Lovell aka ML says
I for one appreciate your views on the topic. I am a proud member of a black fraternity who has experienced the joys and lows of frat life. Although the highs are much more numerous there are some lows. I have to agree with many of your opinions and I am also empathic to the views of Dr. Change Agent.
Fraternities do need to implement a more comprehensive vetting process for potential members and that’s aside from pledging/intake process. The quality of young men being selected for membership has been sub par to say the least for the past 20 years. I can proudly attest that my undergraduate chapter has maintained a high standard for selection but even within that process there have been some lows. But just the same I can count nine recent graduates, two medical doctors, three law school students and three doctoral candidates as frat brothers who were made after me. However one of the main elements I appreciated about was learning how to conduct yourself as a professional and representative of the fraternity. I can now say with pride I am happy that my prophytes (sp) constantly chastised, mentored and supported me in learning how to conduct myself as a professional person. They did not teach me how to be a man. Thank god my parents did that but they taught me how to be a person of stature. I can say this because I also made some missteps as an undergraduate but I always knew the standard.
Dr. Change Agent I understand your point. Dissolving the pledge process has taken away from the the relationship building, learning of history and respect for fraternal protocol. The pledge process when done right encompasses more than ritualistic hazing and I am proud to say I learned the meaning behind the task required for me to enter the fraternity. However improving the vetting process and making adjustment to the intake process are a result of the changing times and to be quite frank it is needed in order to raise the standards of the character of men we want representing our organizations. I find it hard to digest young men entering the fraternity who don’t want to follow protocol and serve older brothers or believe they have the right to question decades old practices that are designed to refine our professional image. Too many enter and think they know it all. Instead let’s do a better job of selecting young men of character with outstanding academics and community interest.
I do take exception to the one comment regarding Omega and the belief that only celebrities are touted as members and not scientist and engineers and etc. If you believe that then you have not been doing your own research. Real Omega Men and I mean Real Omega Men never have to shout they are members of the fraternity regardless of their profession. Their actions and accomplishments speak loud enough. We are aware there are many celebrities and athletes that are in the fraternity. We should not begrudge them their status because they have earned the right to be on that platform. but there are plenty of politicians, scientist, engineer, financial managers, doctors and lawyers throughout the nation that proudly call themselves Omega Men. I suggest you research and you will find more than you care to recognize in your own backyard. So if the Saints CB Malcom Jenkins a member inducted at Ohio State proudly admits his membership in the fraternity why should we criticize him. The fact is a fraternity member from his high school days served as a his mentor and he was a prominent teacher in his community.
Brother Francis I cannot agree with you more regarding the Black Male Leadership Initiative. The time has long come and is passing us by that we take a more proactive role in mentoring young men. The real issue is that as professional black men we are often accosted on all sides and we find it hard to give back our time due to our many commitments. To me I believe their has to be a shift and we raise the priority level in our professional and personal lives to mentors young men in our community. I no longer find it acceptable for a member to have 20+ years in the frat and has established himself and does not find time to give back via the fraternity. I also find it acceptable for members of the fraternity who are not active but dedicate their lives to the building of young men. These men serve as coaches in youth leagues, members of their church, tutors and etc. We all need to swallow pride and look to women have made mentoring young ladies a national project.
Bro Francis and Bro change their is room in this argument for both views. I enjoyed contributing to this dialogue and hope we move to action and not just talk.
Bro. M. Sean Lovell
“Friendship is Essential to the Soul”
This may be off subject, but how do these schools afford Greek life. My college does not have any and it has to o with finances. Is there a way to cut these costs down?
With the many complex socio – political issues facing our communities right now (e.g. mass incarceration, health crises, unemployment, etc) I’m struck that this piece is more focused on style than substance. Where is the call for frats to disrupt the school to prison pipeline by mentoring young boys? How about having frats address the increasing rates of domestic violence and sexual assault amongst young people? If our D9 organizations are to remain relevant and meet the challenges of the 21st century they must cares less about what’s posted on Instagram and more about what’s happening within the communities who sustain them
As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha AA 81,
my son presented and thought about going down the road of Black Greek life, then he gathered himself and asked,,,,,,,,,”Are they relevant in 2009, considering the current membership and aims of the fraternity?”
he decided(with the help of the fraternity) that they we not relevant based on their behavior/academic standing…..and in hindsight, he was right based on the events that followed.
Eddie Francis says
I’m just catching up with the comments and wanted to answer this question to the best of my ability. There are three sides of this that I can think of. The first side is the college’s side which may have to do with insurance costs.
The second side would affect the college’s side–litigation. Because most of our organizations have had to pay for litigation connected to hazing, that has contributed to the high cost of going through intake. That, in turn, may push the cost of insuring our organizations up.
The third side may have to do with how many students have shown interest in NHPC organizations. The college may have determined that there is not enough interest in NPHC organizations to justify the cost.
These are my best guesses based on your question. This encourages me to learn the economics of having Greek life on a college campus, too. We can learn something together. 🙂
Eddie Francis says
That’s unfortunate yet understandable. Every fraternity needs a few good men but we can’t expect improvement on the backs of the few. 🙁
Eddie Francis says
I’m not sure about the purpose of the question. If you’re trying to draw a comparison between Greek life and serving our country, there is no comparison whatsoever. Granted, the military should pay for lives lost in basic training but training to defend a country is much more important than being hazed to death for a frat.
Listen Up says
Sororities and Fraternity members are poster children for identity crises, weak character, and low self-esteem. Always was and will forever be. And famous people cant negate that fact. Just b/c someone is famous and did some good works don’t make everything they were affiliated with automatically good (Martin Luther King was known for being heavy into the prostitution scene, real historians and history buffs would know that)
But frats are immature, irrelevant, and damaging the black community more than you all realize. The Greek System is a burning building with no water around, so it’s best to get out … it can’t be saved.
They kill the social life on college campuses trying to constantly monopolize and hi-jack all social activities, the hazing is just inhumane and bigger than ever, the brainwashing have people thinking they’re more than what they are and as a result develop seriously flawed character traits, the obnoxious behavior consistently displayed by them is distracting to a peaceful learning environment. I can go all day … this mess is so easy to tear apart.
I mean just any man with a healthy amount of self-esteem, intelligence, wisdom, and class would not want anything to do with them. It’s all a weak illusion, the people in these frats are worse off mentally and spiritually than those who didn’t subject themselves to it. This I know to be true as told by ex-fraternity/inactive members.
Don’t Go Greek, Go To Christ instead!
Eddie Francis says
Interesting. A late member of Delta Sigma Theta bequeathed a portion of her $1.7 million estate to her church and it’s the largest donation they had ever received. Maybe her estate should cancel that donation. http://www.lasentinel.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12640:holman-umc-celebrates-legacy-of-arie-wheeler-jones&catid=97:religion&Itemid=187
Eddie Francis says
I understand your point but the piece is far from focused on style. It’s difficult for us, from organization to organization, to have influence in communities without effectively addressing our internal issues. This piece addresses some of those issues in an effort to inspire members to see the bigger picture.
Eddie Francis says
What do you mean by “dealing with”?
That’s an expert answer to an insitetreng question
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Roderic Tyler says
The grammar in your reply ( or lack thereof) make your post really difficult to understand, Brother. I agree with my Chapter Brother wholeheartedly. I was made in a college chapter that required me to have a 3.0 GPA just to attend the smoker. I think we have somewhat abandoned quality.