From a Black Greek’s View: A Note on Greek (Dis)unity

The air is electric. A distinctly African-American crowd forms in Cougar Mall while indistinct hollering and calling fills the night. Four guys stand in the middle of it all; they match each other, all wearing bright blue and white clothing with very distinct Greek lettering adorning their attire. They stomp, they yell, they dance.  The rhythm is addicting, profound, as the white sorority girl I came with leans and whispers in my ear “Are these guys really Greek? I didn’t know Greek life did things like this.”

Greek life on the College of Charleston campus has a problem–a problem of disconnectedness. Members of Greek life often claim unity, solidarity, but students are constantly left asking themselves: How?

There are few members of the National Panhellenic Council, the primarily African-American Greek council, who can name every organization in either Panhellenic or Interfraternity Councils. On the other hand, despite the fraternity or sorority, members of Pan-Hellenic and IFC councils have on multiple occasions commented on NPHC being a single fraternity.

I asked multiple students on campus, “What do you think of first when you think ‘Greek life.’”  The answers varied considerably whether the student was a minority or not.  Ian Moore, a white non-Greek junior at the College, perhaps sums it up best.  “I think two completely different things when I think white and black Greek life,” Moore said. “When I think ‘white,’ I think privilege, and booze and bad decisions. When I think of black Greek life, I don’t see much. I draw much of what I know off of movies like Drumline.”

Much like the people themselves, much of one’s perception of Greek life on campus appears divided down racial lines. When asked, Michele Burton, an alumni member of Zeta Tau Alpha, admitted that when she thinks ‘Greek Life’ she thinks of Pan-Hellenic and IFC.  This is in contrast to what African-American students like Jasmin Wilson and Britnee Smalls stated, both of whose experiences with Greek life were exclusive to NPHC. “I don’t see a relationship,” Wilson said about Pan-Hellenic, IFC and NPHC. “I don’t see collaboration between the councils.”

“I don’t feel there is animosity; I think it goes back to lack of awareness,” Katherine Pezzella, assistant director of Greek Life at the College said. Pezzella goes on to say that a general lack of understanding between the councils is one of the major reasons for the divide within Greek Life. “[IFC and Panhellenic] are not learning enough about NPHC chapter life and the size differences.”

But why should differences in size matter? Chapter size is responsible for everything from income flowing into chapters to chapters’ abilities to spread their influence throughout campus.

In regard to mixers, the most common way to build relationships within Greek Life, NPHC chapters are often too small to represent themselves comfortably due to sheer numbers and mixer costs. Mixers are also exclusive to IFC and Panhellenic chapters on campus. “[IFC and Panhellenic] don’t recognize NPHC [chapters] don’t just have mixers” Pezzella said.

Another difference Pezzella highlighted was that “NPHC elect at the end of the council year and Panhellenic and IFC elect at the beginning of the year.”  This makes it much harder for NPHC, Panhellenic and IFC’s leaders to create intimate inter-council relationships.

But why should the councils collaborate?

“The school isn’t just black and white,” Britnee Smalls, senior at the College and member of Zeta Phi Beta said.  “We need to bring a communal front. If we as Greek life [members] can’t get together to do ‘X’,’Y’, and ‘Z’, why would anyone want to join this movement.”

Greek life members must take greater strides to understand one another whether NPHC, IFC or Panhellenic. Greek Life must be willing to support each other’s events and build each other up.

“I think [collaboration] would promote diversity,” Coty Murphy, an African-American student and graduating senior at the College said. “There’s a very big divide between the cultures on this campus.”

For the Greek councils to be so divisive is to set a precedent of divisiveness throughout the campus. Greek life is about scholarship, philanthropy, brother and sisterhood; not competition—not divisiveness.

So how do we remedy this? Katherine Pezzella said it best:

“There is a pronounced lack of understanding throughout Greek life. [Collaboration] is the only way to make each council stronger as well as Greek Life as a whole.”

*The views in this article represent the opinion of the author, and not those of CisternYard News. 

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