Meet the black greeks

On October 28, 2004, two CMU students stood in front of the campus community at the Fence as new brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Along with two other brothers, they wore nicely ironed black pants, white shirts, and black ties.

But something else stood out ? they wore skullcaps. That day marked the beginning of the resurgence of the black Greek community at Carnegie Mellon University.

This movement has its roots almost 100 years earlier, when Alpha Phi Alpha, the first fraternity for African-Americans, was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Created by seven young men, the fraternity initially served as a study and support group for minority students at Cornell, who faced racial prejudices both educationally and socially.

Today, there are currently four historically black Greek organizations being increasingly represented on the Carnegie Mellon campus: Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and one sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. These organizations operate under the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). At a school where The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported the graduation rate of African-American students as one of the lowest among selective colleges in 2004, these organizations are influencing students to strive for academic excellence and providing support and new social opportunities.

For some, the growth of black Greek organizations at CMU could not have come at a better time. ?I almost didn?t come back to CMU. I wanted to stay home in Puerto Rico because I thought it was too hard,? said Ricardo Alvarado, a recent alumnus from the Tepper School?s class of ?05. ?I would have never graduated from Carnegie Mellon; I would have stayed back home if not for Kappa Alpha Psi.?
Reasons for joining vary. Damian Dourado, Assistant Director of the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center and also a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi, explains the reasons minorities choose historically black Greek letter organizations: ?The brotherhood and sisterhood of the organization and a chance to have a family away from home. It creates a new support system.?

Omar Parris-Dione, a senior economics major, said, ?I grew up in Harlem, New York. There were role models in my community, but my father wasn?t in my life. I found comfort reading books by black males [who] influenced society. I read books by Martin Luther King, Adam Clayton Powell, and Frederick Douglass. All those men were Alpha men.?

Most black Greek organizations in the area are based at the University of Pittsburgh. ?Black Greek presence brings the two schools together,? said Nathaniel Green, a third-year architecture major and a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha. ?It?s opening Pitt to us, getting Pitt students to come down to CMU and interact with CMU students.?

These organizations were founded originally for African-Americans; however, now they are all equal opportunity organizations and are open to all backgrounds on the CMU campus. ?I did a lot of research. I knew from experience that Kappa Alpha Psi was not discriminatory. One of the most prominent members, Arthur Schomburg, was Puerto Rican,? said Alvarado. ?A group of people with common culture need to get together, share that culture, and motivate each other in a positive way.?

?The goal is to uplift the community as a whole, not just black people,? said David Latimore, a senior information systems major and a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi. ?All the black Greek organizations were created to bring together people of color, not against people not of color.?

Academic excellence is an integral part of most NPHC groups. ?Kappas I saw my freshman year were focused on school work and that came before the fraternity,? Latimore said. ?We are trying to make sure that young black men are taught to achieve. We have study sessions on Mondays to Fridays, 5 pm to 9 pm. We want to make sure we can uplift the black males at CMU.... We haven?t had a brother at CMU with less than a 3.0 [GPA].?

Some members see more than just academic challenges. ?A lot of people stereotype these organizations to be one thing when it is another,? said Alvarado. ?Some people don?t want to join because it?s a stigma.?

Another issue for black Greeks is bridging the gap between the original Greek community here at CMU and the black Greek community. ?I would love to bridge the gaps between IFCs [Inter-Fraternity Councils] and NPHC, but the question is, where do you connect?? Green said.

Igino Caifero, a electrical and computer engineering senior, Greek Community Advisor, and a brother of Phi Kappa Theta, stated, ?We are coordinating efforts to come together because we have a lot to learn from NPHC groups. They are all extremely well organized and dedicated to furthering their organization. I hold them with very high regard. They have a lot of issues IFCs face already resolved.?

?The biggest challenge is the low numbers of black people on campus, and the idea that all the work that you put into bringing a black Greek presence on campus might not be carried on when you are gone,? said Green. In the 1980s, for example, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., was the
only recognized black Greek organization at Carnegie Mellon. However, the chapter ? which included members from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Chatham College, and Slippery Rock University ? went inactive in the late 1980s.

Many believe, however, that the advantages of black Greek organizations will keep them going. ?Black Greek organizations contribute to the University and provide common connections between students of different races. It creates an opportunity for cultural exchange and a vehicle for multicultural interaction,? said Gloria Hill, Vice-Provost for Education at CMU?s Qatar campus, and a sister of Delta SigmaTheta.

About two percent of the Carnegie Mellon minority population are members of black Greek organizations. Famous members of black Greek organizations are Johnnie Cochran, Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Bill Cosby, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nikki Giovanni.

To learn more about National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations at Carnegie Mellon, go to their website at