Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Few Black Students Join Historically White Houses - Untold Stories

Article in the "Daily Northwestern" discusses reasons for the slow progress of diversity in the Greek world.
Weinberg sophomore Courtney Sharpe, center, chats on Monday with her sorority sisters in the Kappa Kappa Gamma house. Kappa Kappa Gamma, like many other sororities, is predominantly white.
Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Tommy Giglio
Weinberg sophomore Courtney Sharpe, center, chats on Monday with her sorority sisters in the Kappa Kappa Gamma house. Kappa Kappa Gamma, like many other sororities, is predominantly white.
[Click to enlarge]
Left: Weinberg sophomore Dre Collier joined Delta Tau Delta last year after meeting members who lived in his dorm.
Media Credit: Tommy Giglio/The Daily Northwestern
Left: Weinberg sophomore Dre Collier joined Delta Tau Delta last year after meeting members who lived in his dorm.
[Click to enlarge]
Weinberg sophomore Courtney Sharpe has always felt caught between two worlds.

Growing up in a mostly white Houston suburb, she became accustomed to being one of the few black students in her classes and never found a place in the black community. So when she came to Northwestern, joining Kappa Kappa Gamma, a predominantly white sorority, was an easy transition.

Still, there are times when Sharpe, who was raised by her grandmother, a former sharecropper, longs for friends in her sorority who can share her background. And while she knows she can find that in NU's black community, she fears not being accepted there.

"I guess in most aspects of my life, I've been the outlier," Sharpe said.
[...]
But membership still brings challenges, from finding cultural commonalities with members of the house to connecting with the black community. Today, members of both traditionally white and historically black chapters are taking steps toward healing the divide that separates the two worlds.

"Although these organizations no longer engage in overt rejection of candidates based on race, many did in the past and, thus, have a history of such racial - as well as ethnic - exclusion," psychology Prof. Jennifer Richeson said in an e-mail. "Such a history is very hard to overcome, even if all of the current members would never think of engaging in such racial exclusion."
[...]
Greek officials said the number of black students remains low today in IFC and Panhel, which make up the bulk of Greek life on campus. Representatives from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, who were contacted by e-mail, phone and approached in person for this story, said they don't track the number of black students in Panhel and IFC. They declined to comment further.

But students say the reasons for small numbers are more a matter of comfort and logistics than overt racism.

"I don't think people are looking to be divided," said Weinberg senior Alex Lofton, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. "There is some sort of barrier that's less malicious and more about how they grew up."
[...]
For Weinberg sophomore Dre Collier, the decision to join an IFC group was based on proximity and ease. Collier joined Delta Tau Delta last year after meeting members who lived in his freshman-year dorm, Bobb Hall.

Race was not a factor, Collier said. Although there are only a handful of other black students, Collier said he doesn't feel a cultural disconnect with other members.

Being part of a mostly white organization is "normal if you grew up in an upper-middle class society," Collier said.

"That's the way the other (black) guys (in Delt) grew up," he said. "Our styles don't conflict."
[...]
[SESP senior Jen Leyton, former president of Delta Delta Delta] said it's important to develop closer relationships with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which represents historically black Greek organizations. Since Spring Quarter 2006, through a program called "Bridging the Gap," leaders of every chapter have attempted to overcome their differences by forging friendships.
[...]
But for blacks in mainstream Greek life, it is easy to feel like a minority among other black students, particularly those in the NPHC groups.
[...]
Collier said, for him, historically black fraternities were less accessible than mainstream Greek houses.

"I was never approached by (black Greek leaders)," Collier said. "I went down one path and they saw me as a lost cause. That community is very closed. It's more based on a network."
S&P had an opinion post about diversity some time ago. It is still relevant.

Few Black Students Join Historically White Houses - Untold Stories