Black Fraternities and Sororities

Commencement Ceremonies at HBCUs

Commencement ceremonies at colleges and universities across America venerate the accomplishments of students who have committed themselves to satisfactorily completing their academic programs of study. For graduates, their family, friends, and those who played some part in their educational experience, this is truly a proud day, a day that will always be remembered as special. As I recently attended Commencement ceremonies for various individuals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my position about Commencement ceremonies at predominantly White colleges and universities just not being the same as Commencement ceremonies at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was reaffirmed. University of Wisconsin-Madison has over 43,000 students, with African-American students composing less than 2% of the student population. (African-American students are still the largest student minority group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) University of Wisconsin-Madison, like other predominantly White colleges and universities, has a small population of Black graduates who participate in Commencement exercises. While this small Black population of graduates, their Black friends, and Black families bring some elements of an “authentic blackness” to the Commencement ceremonies of predominantly White college and universities, one can only witness a comprehensive “authentic blackness” during Commencement ceremonies at HBCUs.

Just in case some of you ultra-professional and bourgeois people begin to develop the wrong impression about this article, you need to know that Commencement ceremonies at HBCUs are professional and they are respectful. You can be professional and respectful and show your great happiness and excitement for the graduates, especially for graduates you have come to see. Most graduates are not going to be offended if the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. have one of their sorority sisters graduating and they yell out, “Skee-wee.” Members of Black Greek-lettered organizations are going to vociferously express their excitement and happiness for members of their organizations who are graduating. Black fraternity and sorority members make a tremendous contribution to the experience of being at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. Additionally, they help to remind us that we are not attending a funeral and that this is a joyous occasion that we should be evincing some outward expressions of our elation for the graduates.

The family members, friends, and associates of the graduates also provide noteworthy entertainment at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. At every HBCU Commencement ceremony, family members, friends, and associates are going to go wild in their support for the people they have graduating. Throughout the graduation, even in traditionally quiet moments and/or before the ceremony can really get started well, people are going to cheer for the graduates, blurt out their “Alright now, I see you Rashaun,” “I see you Nupe,” “You better walk soror,” and they engage in other acts they have planned to do before they came to the ceremony or that they spontaneously organized.

Many HBCU graduates are not simply going to just walk across the stage and not give us a performance that demonstrates their great pride and excitement for this awesome moment and that exhibits the merriment this moment that honors their academic excellence and accomplishments triggers them to do. Many graduates also coordinate things they are going to do before and when they get on stage to receive their degrees. It’s the things that the graduates do that make HBCU Commencement ceremonies far different from what you witness at a predominantly White college or university’s Commencement ceremony.

If you ever question whether or not Black people are committed to academic excellence and have zeal for academic accomplishments, you should attend an HBCU Commencement ceremony. You will get to see Black people from all backgrounds enthusiastic about the academic accomplishments of their fellow Black people.  If you have never attended an HBCU Commencement ceremony, you should attend one near your area. You will have an opportunity to witness the “call and response” tradition that is highly characteristic of Black culture. Don’t, therefore, try to marginalize Black Commencement ceremonies by what you experience at them without a proper understanding of Black culture.

One thing is for sure, you will have an outstanding experience at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. You won’t be bored.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Black Greek-Lettered Fraternities and Sororities and Hazing

On college and university campuses across the nation, a phenomenon that has been going on for a tremendously long time persists: hazing. While hazing happens in non-Black Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities, the particular focus of this article is on the hazing that takes place in Black fraternities and sororities. The reason that I am electing to focus on Black fraternities and sororities is I am seriously concerned about how dangerous practices engaged in by some chapters of Black fraternities and sororities may not only be putting the emergence of new Black leadership at risk, but also continuing to put the lives of young Black men and women at risk. Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, President of Philander Smith College, a historically Black college in Arkansas, has penned a book that does a fairly decent job of highlighting the problems with hazing and other problematic behavior of some chapters of Black fraternities and sororities across the nation: Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Black fraternities and sororities played a significant role in participating in the struggles for justice and equality. After all, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a member of the first Black fraternity to be assembled, Alpha Phi Alpha.  Even during the 1970s, Black fraternities and sororities were playing instrumental roles in positive dimensions of the Black Power Movement. While hazing was taking place during the 1950s and 1960s (and even before the 1950s and 1960s), the constant occurrence of such egregious hazing was not as serious as it is in our contemporary moment. As a strong supporter of Black fraternities and supporters, I want to see them abandon hazing. I have many friends and family, including my father who is a member of Omega Psi Phi, who are members of Black fraternities and sororities.

Meaningful relationships can take place without engaging in hazing. Hazing is a violation of criminal law and is grounds for immediate expulsion from the academic institution in which the violators are situated. Black men and women have been murdered, made permanently handicapped, placed in comas, rushed to emergency rooms, taken to intensive care units, and etc. because they have been hazed in such brutal ways. Each Black fraternity and sorority has policies that forbid hazing. The reason why so many people have been victimized by egregious acts of hazing is many of the leaders in these organizations are allowing hazing to take place. Many of these leaders will say in public that they are against hazing and will punish those found guilty of hazing, but many of them are the main ones who participate in hazing.

Higher education institutions and state legislatures are going to have to place harsher penalties on fraternities and sororities and the individuals involved in hazing. People are dying and/or having their lives severely altered by being victimized by hazing. For those who were tricked into being hazed, I feel sorry for them. I do not feel sorry for the individuals who already knew that they were going to be hazed and ended up having something terrible happen to them. We have to assume greater individual responsibility.

I call for national and local leaders of Black fraternities and sororities to become more active in supervising and monitoring the activities of your membership. If you are really serious about being against hazing, then you will take serious actions to help to dramatically decrease hazing incidents. We are losing some of our potentially great American leaders because we are allowing hazing to continue to take place. To those who are involved in hazing people, stop beating your fellow brothers and sisters! Stop trying to alienate those members and new members who refuse to be hazed! I think that it is really crazy that many members of Black fraternities and sororities would not have the same respect for members who refused to be hazed. I know that the founders of your organizations would be ashamed of the egregious acts of hazing that have taken place in the last 10 years.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison