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Pledging Greek - Why and Why Not?

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Waaaay back during my youthful excursion into the college scene, me and my small clique of high school girlfriends decided we would attend the U of Illinois. We were persuaded to pass up a chance to be among the first black coeds to integrate womens' housing on this campus and, instead, we accepted an invitation from another friend to take up residence at the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority house which was anxious to fill up its rooms in order to stay float. As an aside, during this time, this chapter(Gamma) was the only black one in the entire country to actually have a sorority house. The rest of the AKA chapters and other black sororities had to make-do with whatever living quarters and accomodations they could find for meetings and activities.

In contrast to the large palatial mansions that were occupied by the white sororites, the home of the AKAs was a 3-story ramshackle old frame house, with just adequate facilities. If you weren't already an AKA member(soror), in order to live here, you had to join what was called the "Ivy Leaf" interest group. After being a member of this club for a year, and if your grades were passing, you could then be upgraded to the rank of "pledge", after which you would go through a intense interval that culminated in the hell week designed to degrade and break you down in order to make you over in the image of womanhood that this organization represented. Once you got through this ordeal, you were ready to be lifted up and initiated into the sorority.

The year I spent in these Spartan circumstances was interesting, to say the least, mostly because "Ivies", as we were called, were expected to be humble and submissive, to perform menial chores, and to regard our "big sisters" as the role models we wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, I was not inspired to embrace this attitude and at the end of the year I was told that I would not be invited back and would undoubtedly fare better living elsewhere. Elsewhere turned out to be one of the large luxurious women's dormitories, that included maid service and being served by waiters and watresses in the spacious dining room. The encounters and adventures I experienced in the dorm's diverse setting during a transistional time in America's racial relations taught me lessons that benefited me throughout my life.

Years, later I ran into one of my ex-big sisters and we recalled this incident. She chuckled and told me that a couple of the sorors had actually admired my spunk and rebellousness. But it was a unanimous decision to kick me out because I didn't fit the mold...

The Kappas and Alphas and "Qs" also had chapters and houses on the U. of Illinois campus at this time. Then, there were those who skipped the frats and referred to themselves as "GDIs" - god damned independents. They were always the most interesting guys; edgy and free-spirited. But, yeah, the Kappas had the best parties!

Troy likes this

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Interesting story Cynique. 


I started Syracuse University during the Summer of 1980.  At the time, I had no idea what a fraternity was.  The following is an exchange I had in July of 1980. 


I'm walking with a Brother, I just met, from Rochester New York.  We were both Black but he seemed very different than myself.  He was certainly more civilized in terms of his behavior.  
    Tony, the Brother from Rochester asked, "Troy you goin' to the Alpha party?"
    I looked at Tony, not really sure what he just asked me, and replied, "What?"

    "Are you going to the Alpha party this weekend?"

    I was always down for a party, but I had no clue what an Alpha was. "What's an Alpha?"

    "What's an Alpha?  You, mean you don't know what an Alpha is?!", Tony said, almost incredulous.

    I knew alpha was the first letter in the Greek alphabet  but I knew that is not what it meant in this content.  So I asked again "Yeah, what's an Alpha?"

    "It is a fraternity."
    Ok now I'm becoming more confused, because I know I'm no dummy.  In the 5th grade, I was reading on a college level, but this Brother managed to drop two words in a causal conversation that I did not know the meaning of.  Too astonished to make believe I knew what he was talking about, which is standard protocol for my hood, I continued with the questions, "What's a fraternity?"

    "You don't know what a fraternity is?"

    Completely unashamed of my ignorance and anxious to get up to speed I responded, "No."

    With much more patience than I would have shown him, Tony said, "Well, the Alpha's are a Black Greek letter fraternity."

    At this point, I'm completely lost and have no idea what Tony is talking about.  I had actually seen the the 1978 film Animal House one of my favorite films at the time. But at that moment I failed to draw a connection between Animal House and the Alphas.

    Tony contiinued, "Just come to the party, you'll see."


I did indeed see.  Ultimately, Tony would pledge Alpha, but would leave school soon after crossing.  I saw what pledging and hazing was like and I had less than zero desire to go through the process.  The Que's used to brand themselves.  That just seemed crazy to me (still does -- all due respect to my Omega Brothers).  The benefits did not seem to warrant the punishment.  I attended the fraternity parties, I had no problem getting a girl and I had plenty of friends -- some of them even members of the Black fraternities.  


My mindset in college was very similar to the Brother in the video.  I almost got into a fight with a Alpha at Cornel University.  I was making fun of him by mocking the stomping of feet called "stepping".  Stepping was something completely new to me at college.  I'd never heard of stepping or seen it before. 


Years later I learned I have many relatives in Black Greek letter organizations.  I don't think any better or worse of them, or anyone, as a result.  But today I understand people have many good reasons to pledge or not to pledge.  It really is a matter of one's personality and what they need to get though this thing called life.


Today some of my closest friends are Brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I also know that Cornel University was where the Alpha Phi Alpha was founded.  If I knew what I knew today I would never had made fun of that Brother that day, over 30 years ago.  Then again, there are a great many things I would not do, knowing what I know today :)


Some people thrive in structured organizations where conformance in ideas, behavior and dress is important.  I'm just not one of those people. 


This is one of the reason I liked the sister in Can you see her pledging AKA :rolleyes:   At the same time, one of my oldest friends is an AKA, from Syracuse University.  Her mother, as well as her grandmother, are AKA's.   Legacy is important too.  If my father and grandfather were Alpha's I'm certain I will have done my best to become one too.

Cynique likes this

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I spoke with the filmmaker recently and the cool thing about this video is that it was unscripted and the two people (Aki and Lee) are friends and have know each other for years.

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