Fraternities and sororities have been a part of the fabric of student life on campuses for more than two centuries. The primary role for fraternity/sorority groups is to assist members in positioning themselves as valued stakeholders in the community and as relevant stakeholders to campus life. With this charge in mind, fraternity/sorority membership and activities should be befitting of stewardship and professionalism that enriches the civil society where they operate (CAS, 2010).
WHAT IS A FRATERNITY/SORORITY?
A fraternity or sorority is an association of men (fraternity) or women (sorority), selected in the college by democratic processes, because of the adherence to common ideals and aspirations. Out of their association arises a personal relation which makes them unselfishly seek to advance one another in the arts of life and to add, to the formal instruction of the college curriculum, the culture and character which men acquire by contact with great personalities, or when admitted to partnership in great traditions.” (Newton Baker, The Purple Pilgrim, Manual of Phi Gamma Delta).
The first Greek letter organization, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded at the college of William and Mary in 1776. The fraternity was founded as a society with the purpose of openly discussing the ideas and views of the time without the supervision of the faculty. According to Baird’s Manual, the preeminent historical account and “encyclopedia” of Greek life, “Inevitably, what had begun as shared yearning for a livelier life of the mind grew into a broader fellowship? Intellectual pastimes persisted at the center of fraternity life until nearly the end of the nineteenth century: orations, debates, the reading of original poems as well as scientific and scholarly papers” (Baird’s Manual, p. 1-11).
Greek organizations members ideally espouse to be model citizens of the campus. Universities long have supported the Greek movement given the direct relationship between mission of higher education and the purpose and espoused values of the college and fraternity. The shared or common mission of higher education institutions and fraternal organizations is to prepare students for responsible citizenship. International Greek organizations have recognized that to be effective and valued members of the community, they must work in partnership with the institution. Both entities prosper when the values and principles for which Greek groups were established are realized.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, Incorporated (NPHC) is currently composed of nine (9) historically Black Greek letter organizations:
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. - Founded 1906, Cornell University
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. - Founded 1908, Howard University
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. - Founded 1911, Indiana University
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. - Founded 1911, Howard University
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. - Founded 1913, Howard University
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. - Founded 1914, Howard University
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. - Founded 1920, Howard University
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. - Founded 1922, Butler University
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. - Founded 1963, Morgan State University
On May 10, 1930, on the campus of Howard University, in Washington DC, the National Pan-Hellenic Council was formed as a permanent organization with the following charter members: Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternities, and Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta and Zeta Phi Beta Sororities. In 1931, Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternities joined the Council. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority joined in 1937 and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity completed the list of member organizations in 1997. The stated purpose and mission of the organization in 1930 was “Unanimity of thought and action as far as possible in the conduct of Greek letter collegiate fraternities and sororities, and to consider problems of mutual interest to its member organizations.” Early in 1937, the organization was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois and became known as “The National Pan-Hellenic Council, Incorporated.”
Today, NPHC promotes interaction through forums, meetings and other mediums for the exchange of information and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions. To understand the need for and concept of the NPHC, one must first consider, understand and familiarize oneself with the historical accounts and significance of predominantly Black Greek-letter organizations. While having their own distinct heritages, the nine (9) member organizations of NPHC offer insight and a unique perspective into this understanding and the development of Black socioeconomic and cultural life.
Each of the nine (9) NPHC organizations evolved during a period when African Americans were being denied essential rights and privileges afforded others. Racial isolation on predominantly white campuses and social barriers of class on all campuses created a need for African Americans to align themselves with other individuals sharing common goals and ideals. With the realization of such a need, the African American (Black) Greek-lettered organization movement took on the personae of a haven and outlet, which could foster brotherhood and sisterhood in the pursuit to bring about social change through the development of social programs that would create positive change for Blacks and the country. Today the need remains the same.
While NPHC affiliate organizations recognize the social aspect of Greek college life, the primary purpose and focus of member organizations remains community awareness and action through educational, economic, and cultural service activities. NPHC affiliates and their respective members have pledged to devote their resources to service in their respective communities, realizing that the membership experience of NPHC organizations goes beyond organizational membership during an individual’s college career. A lifetime commitment to the goals and ideals of each respective organization is stressed. The individual member is also expected to align himself with a graduate/alumni chapter, following graduation from college, with the expectation that he/she will attend regular chapter meetings, regional conferences and national conventions, and take an active part in matters concerning and affecting the community in which he or she lives.