Race, tradition factor into Greek membership

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – From an outsider’s point of view, UCM’s fraternity and sorority life may appear as one community, but it is comprised of three separate councils — two of which work closely together.
Panhellenic Council governs sororities and works closely with Interfraternity Council. The National Pan-Hellenic Council operates relatively independently.
“I do see a disconnect between NPHC and PC and IFC because I feel that we are just two different types of organizations,” said Christian Ricketts, a member of Phi Beta Sigma. “Besides NPHC being a predominantly black group and PC and IFC being a predominantly white group, from the way we party, to the music we listen to, to the events we all plan out, we’re just different.”
While the three councils aim to work together as a whole, that doesn’t always happen. Each council has its own programming and goals, which can conflict with other councils.
NPHC is a traditionally African-American Greek organization. Six of its nine total chapters are represented at UCM – Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
While they do accept members from any racial group, the current membership at UCM is made up of all black students. It appears that race is only a small part in why these NPHC chapters remain at a distance from PC and IFC. And while there may be distance between the councils, members of NPHC don’t see it as a major problem.
Jasmine Thompson, an alumna of Delta Sigma Theta and UCM graduate student, said she thinks that it stems from tradition, but the relationship between the three councils is slowly changing.
“I see a change happening, even if it is slow progress,” she said. “Sometimes we can get stuck in tradition and want to keep the same things going. Some people say, ‘We didn’t participate last year, no harm if we don’t participate this year.’ Now there are a lot more new initiates coming, big additions to small chapters. There is new energy, and they want to be heavily involved, making a statement and name for NPHC.”
When asked about the relationship between the three councils, the presidents of PC and IFC declined to comment.
“IFC and PC have a very delicate and growing relationship with NPHC and it’s dependent on personal relationships rather than council business,” said Sydney Swinicki, president of PC, in an email. “Personally, I don’t feel comfortable speaking on behalf of all Panhellenic about these relationships, and I would hope men in IFC would feel the same.”
Ryan Staggemeier, president of IFC, also declined to comment via email, saying he did “not feel comfortable answering those questions about the other council.”
While the lack of comment from the other councils suggests that there is a problem within the fraternity and sorority life community regarding NPHC, the group’s recent increased involvement says otherwise.
NPHC typically only participates in the step show during Greek Week, but this year they were represented at every event.
“NPHC being more involved in Greek Week this year had a lot to do with the new members who joined various organizations,” Ricketts said, of Phi Beta Sigma. “The new members of NPHC wanted to make sure that NPHC would be represented and that our presence was felt. We wanted to show that NPHC does support PC and IFC and really try and break that line of IFC and NPHC.”
Many members of the fraternity and sorority life community commented that they noticed the increased attendance and involvement by those in NPHC during Greek Week activities. Their efforts continued to be noticed, this time by fraternity and sorority life advisers during the closing ceremonies event.
Aubrey Frazier and Terry Wehrman, graduate assistants for fraternity and sorority life, spoke at closing ceremonies about the achievements of each fraternity and sorority pairing during the week. Frazier commented on NPHC’s increased involvement, commending them for becoming more involved and representing themselves well as members of the fraternity and sorority life community.
For members of NPHC, that compliment didn’t go unnoticed.
“It actually meant a great deal,” Ricketts said. “It reassured us that even though we didn’t win any awards, that it was known that we were there and gave it our very best.”
NPHC is typically paired up as a whole council with another fraternity and sorority, due to its small size. There are 42 members of NPHC this semester, spread among six chapters, while the average Panhellenic Council sorority size is about 75 women. Overall, Panhellenic Council had 456 members at the start of the spring semester. Interfraternity Council had 249.
Over the past four years, membership in NPHC has stayed relatively constant, with a small dip to 33 members in spring 2011. When asked about what it means to be grouped as NPHC rather than individual chapters during Greek Week and other fraternity and sorority life community events, Thompson said she, and others, don’t mind.
“We don’t mind because we understand why, it’s because of numbers,” she said.
If we were by ourselves, we’d have little to no participants. No one is too upset about it. It seems fair and logical.”
While Thompson said she understands the reasoning behind it, Ricketts said he doesn’t think that it happens often.
“Actually we are viewed as individual chapters among the campus,” Ricketts said. “I would say that we are looked at as separate organizations more than as NPHC.”
Small numbers in the fraternity and sorority life community can mean hard times for a chapter, but members of NPHC take it in stride and seem to work well with what they have.
When Thompson joined her chapter in spring 2008, she was the only member, meaning she had the responsibility of carrying her chapter on her own.
“It is very difficult. Everything PC does, like philanthropy, socials, programming, NPHC does the exact same things with fewer people,” she said. “Fewer people hold multiple roles. You could have three titles along with school, your social life, anything else going on. It’s very challenging to juggle and manage it all. It’s best for members of NPHC to learn to prioritize and organize because it can be overwhelming.”
Thompson’s chapter now has 10 active members, and Rickett’s chapter has nine. People may think that they should try harder when it comes to recruiting new members, but NPHC doesn’t openly recruit. They wait for potential new members to come to them.
To join NPHC, homework is a must, researching all the chapters and finding the best fit. The next step is to approach that chapter and explain why you would be a worthy member, demonstrating that you’ve done your homework.
Having a more public recruitment could help NPHC gain more members, but Thompson said it’s quality over quantity.
“That’s how we weed people out. If we were to switch roles and have open rush, it loses its value,” she said. “If we go out to everyone, we wouldn’t recruit the right people to wear our letters. If you have someone who has done the research and knows what goes in this organization, then you have a sense of how they will be able to contribute to your chapter.”
Ricketts said their form of recruitment makes for a better chapter, even if that means lower numbers.
“I believe we have low amounts of members within NPHC because our organizations do not accept any and everyone,” he said. “There is a certain image each chapter tries to uphold, and if someone who does not represent their self in such a manner, then they would not get selected. That’s one of the reasons the numbers in NPHC aren’t as big as they could be.”
While race isn’t much of a factor in the relationship between the three councils, both Thompson and Ricketts said that it is a factor in recruitment.
“The black population is small at a mostly white school, so it’s hard to initiate because the numbers just aren’t there,” Thompson said.
That was part of why she decided to join an NPHC sorority in the first place. Many of her family members were members of NPHC and she wanted to carry on the tradition.
“I was exposed to being Greek even before college. It was something that was intriguing to me, something I wanted to do,” Thompson said. “I did my research to know which one I wanted to be a part of. I talked to aunts and cousins who are in NPHC sororities, asked how they coped and how they feel about it now.”
One of the main differences between NPHC and the other two councils is their coming-out shows, or showcases, for their new members. After a two-month new member education process, the new initiates participate in a coming-out show on campus. It’s the chapters’ way of presenting their new members to the UCM campus.
“We showcase a sample of stuff we learned. It’s a presentation to the campus to say we worked hard, and this is what we’ve been doing the past eight weeks,” Thompson said. “It’s a rewarding feeling to get that gratification for all the hard work you put into it.”
The events have good turnouts, with a primarily African-American audience, which Thompson said is who they’re putting on the show for, as well as other Greeks. Friends of the new initiates will usually attend, as well as alumni from the chapter.
When it comes to the relationship with PC and IFC, Thompson said that NPHC has a good relationship, but it could always be better.
“It could be intertwined more. You tend to stick with your kind and what you’re familiar with,” she said. “We’re more familiar with organizations in NPHC, so we collaborate more with them. We need to break those barriers. We’re all students and need to come together. We’re all here trying to do the same thing – uphold our organizations, plan programs for campus, give back to the community.
“There has been a lot of talk about improving the relationship, and our previous fraternity and sorority life adviser tried to make sure NPHC was heavily involved with PC and IFC. We’re putting our best foot forward to bridge this gap. To keep improving, they need to think outside the box of what they’re already doing.”
As an active member, Ricketts said that it is a goal of NPHC’s to improve the relationship in the fraternity and sorority life community.
“I wouldn’t mind being more involved with UCM (fraternity and sorority life) because we are a small council to begin with so it would just be another helping hand for us to be able to do more and better things on campus,” he said.
As for now, Ricketts is fine with his choice to be a member of the Phi Beta Sigma brotherhood and all it has to offer.
“Some of the benefits I’ve noticed are being able to have our own step show and stroll offs,” he said. “Most importantly though, is being looked at as the faces of campus. We have a lot of people who look at us as the leaders on campus and being put in that group over the entire campus is a big honor.”
For more information about NPHC, contact Ryan Acklin, president of NPHC, at [email protected] For more information about FSL, contact Jessie Stinson, assistant director of housing and fraternity and sorority life, at [email protected]