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Ricky Jones offers sobering assessment of historically African American Greek groups

Perspectives:*
*From ‘School Daze’ to ‘Stomp the Yard:’ Why Black Greeks Must Go
*By Ricky L. Jones
Feb 5, 2007, 07:52
http://diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_6961.shtml
Most Americans are not very familiar with Black Greek-letter organizations.
Their small numbers and obscurity, however, do not lessen their threat, and
it is high time we give it serious attention. I would advise college and
university administrators, students, parents and all others of good
conscience to educate themselves.
Mainstream America’s greatest exposure to Black Greeks has been filmmaker
Spike Lee’s “School Daze.” Among his numerous critiques was a story thread
that took the organizations to task for their cultural shallowness,
retrograde apoliticism and unchecked misogyny. Even though Lee intended
“School Daze” to, at least in part, chastise and even condemn Black Greeks,
he failed to effectively highlight the groups’ greatest problem —
ubiquitous, life-threatening hazing. In fairness to Lee, “School Daze” was
released a year before Joel Harris died attempting to join the Alpha Phi
Alpha fraternity at Lee’s and my alma mater, Morehouse College, in 1989.
Almost two decades later, another theatrical representation of Black Greek
life has entered into America’s public sphere. Disturbingly, “Stomp the
Yard” does little to address some of the troubling issues Lee touched upon.
Contrarily, it largely plays like a “brag piece” centering on one of the
most superficial, but popularized aspects of Black Greekdom — stepping. At
the same time, the movie emphasizes the romanticized benefits of membership
that Black Greeks glorify without end — purpose, unity, sacrifice, teamwork
and love. Unlike Lee’s movie, “Stomp the Yard” makes little effort to
substantively speak to the deeper sociopolitical quandaries faced by Black
folk. This latest characterization is unfortunate and dangerous.
It should be understood that Black Greek-letter organizations are almost
exclusively populated by college-educated African-Americans. Hence, one
would expect them to be in the vanguard of the struggle for an egalitarian
society. This, however, is not the case. Organizationally, Black Greek
voices are, in fact, absent in most discussions of today’s pressing issues.
When have they substantively addressed Black poverty, political
disempowerment, disproportionate incarceration, police brutality, etc.? Make
no mistake, the intentional or unintentional simultaneous glorification of
certain aspects of Black Greekdom coupled with the refusal or inability to
speak to its underbelly literally has deadly consequences.
When I finished writing *Black Haze*, the only book to date to solely center
on the violence of the Black Greek pledge process* *at the end of 2002, I
did not give the idea that the organizations may need to be eradicated any
serious consideration. Since then, Black Greeks themselves have forced me to
reexamine that commitment. At various speaking engagements on campuses
around the country, I have talked about students being abused, injured and
killed while pledging. Non-Greeks in the audiences often sit with mouths
open — aghast. Greeks, however, are unflinching — emotionless. Often, they
even openly defend the processes in spite of the deaths and damage recounted
during our sessions.
It was disturbing. Their attitudes persist in the wake of hazing deaths and
damage across the country. Joel Harris at Morehouse: Dead. Shawn Blackston
at Louisville: Kidney damage. Kenitha Saafir and Kristin High in Los
Angeles: Dead. Michael Davis at Southeast Missouri State: Dead. Braylon
Curry at Southern Methodist: Brain damaged. Joseph Green and Vann Watts at
Tennessee State: Dead. The list goes on.
In October of 2005, in the wake of an injury at Fisk University involving my
own fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, I penned “Is it Time to Disband Black
Greek-letter Fraternities and Sororities?” for *Diverse*, then *Black Issues
in Higher Education.* The very title of this short piece ignited a firestorm
of the likes *Black Haze *never did. The reason, of course, was simple. Even
though I had not arrived at the point where I openly pushed for the
dissolution of Black Greek fraternities and sororities, I certainly posed
the question as to whether or not they should be. I never took that step in
*Black Haze.* I must now not only pose the question, but answer it with a
resounding “yes.”
Here are a number of stark and disturbing realities we must consider. In an
effort to eradicate hazing, Black Greeks have constructed various Membership
Intake Programs, which, in many respects, created more problems than they
solved. Pledging did not die, it simply moved underground. So many chapters
augment illegal underground pledging to the point where it is now the norm
instead of the exception.
Black Greeks continue to deploy the empty argument that pledging and hazing
are not the same thing. This is a semantic ruse only effective with those
not familiar with the organizations. In fact, the activities are
inextricably tied.
National organizations refuse to admit that hazing is not an activity
limited to small groups of “renegade” members. In fact, it is deeply rooted
in the cultures of the groups and is actively or passively condoned by a
majority of members. Little has been done to effectively curb it. This
indicates that the groups’ leaders have largely lost control of their
memberships. Consequently, they have resorted to rule changes and public
stances which they hope will shield them from legal attack, but have little
or no effect on stopping the dangerous behavior of their members.
So, what is to be done?
Greek leadership, like alcoholics, must first publicly admit they have a
serious, deep-seated problem that they have little idea how to stop and seek
real help. To date, they have proven that they cannot, or do not want to,
stop hazing on their own. It is essential that they, and their members, stop
making excuses and demonizing those who offer real and legitimate critiques.
Until then, they must accept responsibility for each and every injury and
death resulting from hazing in their organizations.
National organizations must immediately adopt a real zero-tolerance policy
on hazing. Any chapter involved in such activities should not be suspended —
it must be closed forever. There are too many instances of the same chapters
incurring suspension after suspension without end. In fact, some see
frequent suspension as a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame. If
Greek leadership is serious about stopping hazing, these chapters simply
will have to cease to exist.
Black Greek leadership should also proactively seek legislators in every
state who will sponsor bills to make hazing a felony instead of a
misdemeanor. When faced with hazing cases, they should then join in the
prosecution of hazers to the fullest extent of the law. I wonder how many
Black Greeks will be committed to “keeping it real” when people are sent to
jail or prison?
If none of these measures stops the hazing in these organizations, they must
disband. If they will not do so voluntarily, colleges and universities
should mobilize their in-house counsels to seek legal redress and have them
banned from their campuses. There is no other choice. From an
administrator’s point of view, these groups are risk-management nightmares
and can no longer be tolerated in their present incarnations. From a
concerned citizen’s point of view, they offer a continuous threat to life
and mental health, and that cannot be tolerated either.
In 2006, while attempting to join Kappa Alpha Psi, Florida A&M student
Marcus Jones was beaten so badly that he required surgery on his buttocks.
At points, Jones and others were literally knocked out by Kappas, revived
and hazed more. I stated my belief to a Tallahassee newspaper that Kappa was
“primarily concerned about protecting the fraternity from legal
entanglement. I, on the other hand, am concerned about Black children
continuously put at risk by this process [pledging]. I don’t think one more
life should be lost because of Kappa or any other fraternity. Where do you
draw the line? Two? Five? Twenty? Fifty? Five hundred? I think I have the
high ground.”
I still think I do.
Like many Black Greeks, I love my fraternity and believe in its ideals. But
after years of this hazing madness, I must, without apology, take the stand
that either Black Greeks have to stop it or they must go! I hope other
reasonable people of good conscience will join me.
*Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the University of
Louisville’s Pan-African studies department and author of *Black Haze:
Violence, Sacrifice and Manhood in Black Greek-letter Fraternities.* He is a
life-member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.*
* *

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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