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and fraternities have historic
the days of official
Times have changed, but black Greeks still want to
By Christy Riedel
ARE BASKING IN SUCCESS. RUSH IS ATTRACTING
record numbers of students. More than one-fifth of the'
undergraduate population is a sorority sister or fraternity
brother, and the figures are growing. New chapters are
starting at the University, and some are having problems
But talk of Greek success doesn't present the whole
picture. It invariably neglects a less known, virtually
invisible component of the University's fraternities and
sororities: the black Greek system.
The differences between Michigan's large, noisy white
system and the small, low-profile black network lie in
tradition-tradition that is rooted to the time when racial
separation in American society was the rule.
Members of both systems say they prefer the current
arrangement because it preserves longstanding customs
particular to each group. Racism, they insist, is no longer a
"We have traditions that are so different that (to unite)
would really cramp that," said Yolande Herbert of Alpha
Kappa Alpha, a black sorority. "But we feel we would truly
benefit from working with other sororities."
Members of white houses say the two systems can
coexist, technically separate, and still interact as one large
"There's an obvious line drawn, but I think there's been
progress" in bringing black and white Greeks closer
together, said Wendell Brooks, president of Delta Tau Delta.
"I really believe that (white) fraternities don't know what
goes on in the black system," agreed Gary Rabin, rush
chairman for the Interfraternity Council. "We really wish
we had more communication with them."
The biggest difference between the two systems is size.
There are 54 white houses. Only six are black, with a total
membership of about 80 students.
The black groups-none of which have houses-belong
to the Black Greek Association, equivalent to a combined
IFC and Panhellenic Association.
According IFC vice president Julius Turman, Alpha Phi
Alpha is the only black fraternity that is affiliated with the
white organization. But Alpha Phi Alpha pays only a
portion of the regular member dues, usually used to cover
rush expenses, because black fraternities and sororities hold
rush in the winter, after the IFC and Panhellenic (sorority)
Other black fraternities and sororities are also trying to
become affiliate, rather than full, members of Panhel and
IFC. The arrangement would exempt them from rush
requirements and some fees, while allowing them to
participate in campus-wide Greek events such as Greek
Week and intramural sports.
Although they say they want to interact more with the
white fraternities and sororities, black Greeks think that
becoming full-fledged members of Panhel and IFC does not
justify sacrificing their particular traditions.
For example, rush in black fraternities and sororities
lasts longer and falls later in the year than in the white
system. Informal meetings, called 'teas' in the sororities
and 'smokers' in the fraternities, kick off rush by providing
prospective pledges with general information about the
group and the opportunity to meet some members. After
several of the sessions, a pledge class is chosen on the basis
of personal interviews.
"Because of the way we rush, you know people so well,"
When a prosective member pledges, he or she is
considered "on line," and spends time getting acquainted
with members, other pledges, and the history and objectives
of the group.
Unity is emphasized as soon as one pledges, especially
in the fraternities, where pledges spend most of their time
together for the duration of the pledge period, usually at
least six weeks long.
"During the time of the pledge club, you are in constant
contact with each other. You have study tables where you
study four hours a day," said Ernie Robinson, a member of
Kappa Alpha Psi. Robinson said such requirements vary
among fraternities, but he was required to attend the study
tables five days a week.
Of the 45 to 50 men who rushed the fraternity with
Robinson, only 12 were chosen for the pledge club. And of
those 12, eight made it through the pledge period.
"If you're in a pledge club with someone, the unity that
it builds is so great... The eight of us who finally got
initiated, the bond between us is so tight, I can almost tell
what each of us thinks," Robinson said.
That feeling of unity grows to include the other,
fraternity brothers, he said.
"I can honestly say I'd die for anybody in my fraternity.
That kind of love, next to your family, is just like... I
never had any brothers, and now I have 24."
Alpha Phi Alpha president Marcus Webster said that
when he was on line, he spent five hours daily studying
with the other men in his pledge class. Regular exercise
sessions and time for talking with the active members were
also scheduled. By the time pledging was over, Webster
said, he lost 20 pounds.
"What we try to do in our pledge program is mold the
person," Webster said. "We don't try to change them, we
try to instill some of the qualities that are needed in the real
world." Webster said pledges get in shape and learn to
function in groups and manage their time wisely.
"We call it 'on line' because we consider everyone one
person. They are built on the strengths and weaknesses of
each other," he said.
"We have them study together, they eat together; and we
have them visit the brothers together."
Alpha Phi Alpha conducts most of its "Hell Week"
activities in private to avoid the appearance of hazing,
"I think that's just a misconception of what's going on,
of what's being taught in these things, because they're from
the outside looking in. We seek not to publicize what
pledges are doing because of the misconceptions."
That unity formed during the pledge period is a way for
the groups to stay cohesive, even though the fraternities and
sororities don't own official houses, as do most of the other
ut living apart doesn't affect unity, according to
"We're in constant contact with each other," he said.
"There's about 25 of us right now. I know all their phone
numbers, and the ones who don't have phone numbers, I
know where they live. You alyays stay tight."
Webster believes the experience will shape the rest of his
"I think Alpha was one of the better things that
happened to me. I learned a lot, I matured a lot, I'm more
ready to take on. the world now, and I made a lot of
brothers. I made strong bonds."
Some of the men identify so strongly with their
fraternity that they brand themselves. Branding is done after
pledging, according to Robinson, and is an individual
Rush traditions aside, members of the black Greek
system also say that they don't need to become fully
integrated because the purposes of the two systems are
"In our organization and in other black Greek
organizations, there's a stronger stress on community
service and trying to help the black community as a
whole," said Brian Mathis of Alpha Phi Alpha.
Yolande Herbert said she considered joining sororities in
both the the predominantly white and black systems. But
the community involvement stressed in the black system
influenced her decision.
"I found that I was a lot more interested in intense
community service," Herbert said. "I found (the white
system) was much less intensified."
Alpha Phi Alpha has won a student service award for
three of the past four years for its projects, which include
bringing minority speakers to campus, organizing a tribute
to Martin Luther King, donating food baskets to local needy
families and organizing parties for area children. Delta
Sigma Theta has sponsored lectures on South Africa and
conducted food and clothing drives for needy families.
Kappa Alpha Psi's projects include a voter registration drive
and a scholarship fund for an incoming freshman.
Involvement in community service continues after
graduation. Alumni chapters of the sororities and
fraternities meet and conduct projects on a larger scale; the
Cleveland Job Corps, for example, was started by an
alumni chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
The predominantly white system also contributes to
charities - Greek Week festivities alone raised $40,000
last spring - but the commitment seems to vary widely
from group to group.
Delta Tau Delta President Wendell Brooks estimates that
his fraternity donated about $5,000 to charity last year, in
addition to volunteer time. Projects included a bucket drive
for Mexican earthquake victims and the group is currently
planning to volunteer at the Pound House children's center,
One of the most important services of the black Greek
system, some members say, is providing cultural awareness
on an overwhelmingly white campus.
"There is a wealth of important history in the Black
Greek system. It's a measure of how far (blacks) have
come," Herbert says.
Black fraternities began on the East Coast in the early
1900s as study and support groups for the few black
students attending college. Alpha Phi Alpha appeared on
Michigan's campus in 1909, three years after its beginning
at Cornell University. Other black fraternities followed,
while black sororities came to the campus some 20 years
I can honestly say I'd die for
anybody in my fraternity. I
never had any brothers, and
now I have 24.'
'We have traditio
different. But we
with other sorori
Riedel is The Daily's City Editor.
Continued on Page 9
PAGE 6 WEEKEND/OCTOBER 3,1986
WEEKEND/OCTOBER 3, 1986