Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fraternity Membership in Black and White

Gregg Presbury (MD Zeta) sent us this thought provoking entry.

A Post for SigEp Blog:

My wife and I were finalizing our plans for inviting a mutual friend to educate Maryland Zeta Chapter (Salisbury U) on the history of the Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) Alpha Phi Alpha and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). During our discussion we began to talk about the glass wall between historically Black and White Greeks. This discussion got me curious as to the state of the Fraternity world in the Era of Obama. I searched the Internet and found some interesting things are afoot: President Clinton recently became a member of Phi Beta Sigma (NPHC Fraternity), Erica Schlemmer became the first white member of Vanderbilt's Delta Sigma Theta (NPHC Sorority), Darek Jackson as of September 2009 was LSU's only active member of Iota Phi Theta (NPHC Fraternity) he also is the first white member of the chapter and Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) was the first NIC Fraternity at Howard University (2006).

In the late 1950's Sigma Phi Epsilon was a trailblazer in the NIC world by stepping across the Jim Crow line and initiating former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Vermont Beta Brother (Middlebury College) Ronald Brown (8/1/41 – 4/3/96). Brother Brown was our first Afro-American member. Brother Brown's acceptance into SigEp was an extremely controversial and brave move on the part of our leadership and members as this occurred only about five years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat and nearly a full decade before Martin Luther King presented his “I Have A Dream” speech. At past Conclaves and Carlsons stories have been told of how our last surviving founding father had to be escorted from the room to allow a non-discrimination clause being added to Article I Section 1A of the National Bylaws in 1959.

I like to think our current membership is as at least as open minded as our Brothers of the 1950s and early 60s. Yet the question remains what has happened since then? More members of color have joined but not an overwhelming number. Chapters have been added to nationally prominent campuses but not prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Pi Kappa Alpha is still the only NIC Fraternity at Howard University. Of note since PIKE entered Howard we have established at east two chapters in the same community without mention of Howard U as a goal for a third SEC in DC.

When I attended the Centennial Conclave as a young alum I was encouraged that I was not the only minority present but was also discouraged that nearly fifty years after the diversity statement we only had a handful of non-white members present for such a momentous occasion. Years have passed and I have seen more minority members at Carlsons but still no HBCU representation.

SigEp offers a great program and enormous opportunities for those who truly take on the challenges of the Balanced Man education. There are thousands of young men of color on our campuses and at HBCUs that are not being offered the opportunity to benefit from our organization's opportunities. Do we have a plan to address this? In this era of tightening budgets, competition and globalization can SigEp afford to sit on the sidelines watching an untapped resource such as HBCUs go by? Do we need to introduce more diversity educators to SigEp's leadership training and Regional Director echelons? If so how? Is SigEp no longer a leader in diversity awareness and appreciation? Should we change our creed? What are your thoughts?

More food for thought: The nation will be more racially and ethnically diverse, as well as much older, by mid-century. Minorities, now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042, with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050. By 2023, minorities will comprise more than half of all children. - U.S. Census August 14, 2008

Brother Gregg Presbury
Salisbury University Maryland Zeta 1996