Black Greek Life Struggles for Recognition

It has been hard for the black Greek organizations on campus to get other Greek organizations to understand the issues they face. “They do not even give you the basic acknowledgement of being a sorority, as if we are not one of them,” said Alexis Metcalfe, senior psychology major and member of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Getting support is an issue that black fraternities and sororities at USF are constantly negotiating.


While USF has a small Greek life compared to to other universities, the black sororities and fraternities on campus are even smaller. “We don’t have the numbers of the bigger organizations,” said Marcus Aguilar, junior finance major and president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.


Aguilar recalled going to present at a chapter meeting of a sorority on campus. He said that he was made to feel like his organization was more like entertainment than an equal organization. “The first question we got was, ‘can you step for us?’” Aguilar said. Stepping is not limited to, but includes, stomping, clapping and chants, which are meant to show the pride and unity black greeks have for their organization.


Metcalfe noted that the assumption that all they do is stepping is something she frequently  faces. “That is very patronizing,” she said.


Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE) requires each organization at USF to maintain a minimum of five members in order to be chartered on campus. But many of the black Greek organizations on campus have less than that. Recognizing that there is already a small black population on campus, SLE has been accommodating to the issues regarding the number of members for black Greek organization. “We’ll get a special pass, because we only have five members in the chapter,” Aguilar said.


Metcalfe pointed out that, although they may get a pass for certain rules, the rules and requirements for Greek organizations on campus are innately based on the needs of majority Greek organizations. For example, Aguilar feels that they do not even try to bring up issues regarding black students on campus, like the low retention rate of black students on campus. “It doesn’t pertain to them, so why bring it up. We’re the minority,” said Aguilar.


There are a total of nine historical black fraternities and sororities, referred to as the Divine Nine. USF is home to three black Greek organizations. On campus, Delta Sigma Theta is the biggest chapter, with seven members, followed by Alpha Phi Alpha with five members and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. with two members. Kalin Venable, junior communications major and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, recalls when she attended a new member orientation for all new Greek members on campus. “There was a huge showing of members from Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Zeta,” said Venable. But representing her sorority, it was just her and one other new member.


Recently, the members of USF’s black Greek life have been advocating to leave the all-encompassing USF Greek council for their own USF National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), a council of black sororities and fraternities, to properly address the issues black Greek organizations face on campus. Other schools with larger Greek life have these smaller councils. However, the black Greek members point out that Panhellenic sororities have their own separate council on campus. The hope is the formation of this council will help the black Greek organizations better organize their presence on campus. However, there has been some push back from other Greek organizations about forming NPHC. Aguilar notes that the feedback from other Greek organizations is, “why would they even need to leave?” “I had a conversation with somebody, and they were like, ‘if you leave you will lose the support of everybody,’” said Aguilar.


As an alternative to the NPHC, there is a proposed creation of a multicultural Greek council that would include the Latina and Latino sorority and fraternity on campus. While the black Greek members understand creating a multicultural Greek council will be more inclusive, there are still needs that have to be addressed that pertain specifically to black Greeks. “If they had a better understanding of how we operate and how all Divine Nine organization operate together, then it would help to understand why we see the importance of this council,” Metcalfe said.


While many members do not think there are going to be any major changes anytime soon, they are not discouraged. “We’re so passionate about being Greek,” Aguilar said. “African-American sororities and fraternities have a history of tradition, and we still hold them to this day.”

Featured Photo: Members of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Fraternity Inc. at Involvement Fair last semester. COURTESY OF GREEK COUNCIL

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