by Adria Walker
Prior to the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year, Millsaps College had no active National Panhellenic Conference (NPHC) chapters on campus, even though four of the organizations have been represented on Millsaps’ campus before. As of last semester, the Lambda Iota Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated is once again active on Millsaps College’s campus.
Claudia Brunson, a senior communications major and President of the Lambda Iota Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, understands why it is important for students to be able to join the sororities or fraternities they grew up around. “I decided to rush AKA because I’m a legacy,” Brunson said. “I have family members that are AKAs and I grew up around AKA.”
Other than her familial connections to AKA, Brunson identified with the organization’s purpose, history and service aspects. Due to the life-long nature of NPHC membership, in addition to its global reach, Brunson credits her membership in AKA for providing her with networking opportunities. “I will always have someone to contact or to lean on who’s also a fellow AKA that I can depend on if I have issues or if I’m just looking for a connection. Just to know that I have sisters around the world is something that is really amazing,” Brunson said.
“I know that we have other sororities and fraternities on campus,” Brunson said, “But to know that we have something that has been founded by black undergraduate students is something that is very important because it is also part of our history.”
Brunson believes that it is important for black students on campus to be able to join an organization in which their history is represented and celebrated.
“I want to be part of an organization where I know that I am being placed in a situation that I am doing the best that I can do. I want to know that this is an organization that has my back. That this is an organization that has the same ideas that I do. This is an organization that faces the same social problems that I face on a daily basis… I don’t see how it’s fair and why it’s fair [that black students who don’t want to rush IFC] don’t have the option,” Brunson said.
Will Takewell is the Director of Campus Life, which means he works with Fraternity and Sorority life, freshmen experience, and he advises the student body association.
“It’s important that we have Alpha Kappa Alpha back on campus because it shows that [Millsaps] is committed to having NPHC member organizations back on our campus,” Takewell said. “Millsaps is willing to make a commitment to having a diverse array of organizations that students can participate in.”
Takewell highlights the fact that entire sorority and fraternity councils exist including the Multicultural Greek Conference, historically Asian-American organizations and Latino and Latina fraternities and sororities—the likes of which Millsaps’ campus has never seen.
In short, there are many more Greek organizations that allow students to feel safe in their collegiate spaces other than the Interfraternity Council (IFC ) and National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations that dominate Millsaps’ Greek life.
Lori Genous, Director of Health Promotion, was active in getting AKA back on campus, something she had been hoping to accomplish since she first returned to Millsaps in 2013.
“It was labor intensive in that the last the chapter was active on campus was 5 years ago, so it was like starting from scratch,” Genous said.
Because the chapter had been inactive, both the national AKA organization and a local graduate chapter had to be involved in the reactivation process. “We met with several members [of the graduate chapter], to just talk about what it would look like for AKA to return to campus… Overall, [it was] a pretty smooth process in that Millsaps was on board with NPHC groups returning.”
With five men’s organizations and five women’s organizations, of which only one is an NPHC, some students on campus find issue with the fact that there is an effort to continue to get NPHCs, also known as “Black Greek Letter Organizations” (BGLOs) or the “Divine Nine”, on Millsaps’ campus. These people don’t understand why students of color, particularly black students, who are interested in Greek life don’t just rush IFC instead of choosing to join a historically black organization.
“Students who don’t know anything about NPHC organizations need to understand what those groups are about, why they even existed in the first place,” Genous said. “I think it’s important for… students who want to be a part of Greek life who had parents or aunts or uncles who have been part of those organizations who want to continue that legacy to be able to do that.”
In addition, Genous says NPHC organizations allow black students to have a sense of community in spaces in which they are the minority. These spaces, which she refers to as “ethnic enclaves” allow students to be able to be themselves.
“It’s very helpful for our current Greeks to see that there’s a whole wide world out there and that it’s much more than just a few organizations that they’ve grown up hearing about,” Takewell said. “There are 81 different men’s organizations and south of 45 women’s organizations across all the different types of councils that we might have (at Millsaps). That’s a whole lot of potential and we only have 10 organizations here.”
Students who are members of the various organizations undoubtedly have different interpretations of “Greek Life” because of the different reasons that NPHC, IFC and other Greek Councils were started in the first place .
BGLOs were founded for a variety of reasons. Alpha Phi Alpha, the first black fraternity, was created by seven black men attending Cornell University who faced isolation and racism from their peers. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the second BGLO and first black sorority, was founded at Howard University, a Historically Black College (HBCU), to create a sisterhood, or support network, of mutual encouragement and benefiting others. Delta Sigma Theta, the second black sorority, was also founded at Howard. DST was founded to encourage academic excellence and to help people in need—DST’s first public act was participation in a Women’s Suffrage March in Washington D.C.
Takewell believes that increased diversity in the types of Greek organizations offered to students will help minority students feel included and it will help each branch of the “Millsaps Greek” metaphorical tree hold each other accountable.