Discussing issues of race on campus discussion

Stephanie M. McClure
Georgia College
When discussing issues of race on campus, students often correctly
recognize that racial segregation in residence halls, dining halls, and
student organizations on campus indicates the amount of work that
needs to be done around race in society as a whole (Saenz, Ngai, &
Hurtado, 2007). Such segregation is the result of a range of social forces
connected to many of the topics discussed in this book. However, in a
search for easy scapegoats for this segregation, students often turn their
attention to campus sororities and fraternitiesGreek-letter
organizations, or GLOs (Collison, 1987; Crain & Ford, 2013; Dziadosz,
2006; Vendituoli & Grant, 2013). On most campuses throughout the
United States, the composition of GLOs is noticeably racially
homogenous. While this is true across the color line, many students
single out and question those groups that are historically Black. These
questions regularly come up on college campuses and in introductory
courses on race, including in the comments of my own students, as is
referenced in the quote in the title of this essay. Yet the history of Black
Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) on campuses and their impact on
their members is rarely familiar to college administrators, much less to
college students themselves (Hughey, 2007). It is worth considering this
history and impact in more depth to understand common misperceptions.
We will consider the reasons White students often call attention to these
specific organizations, even as racial segregation occurs in many other
on-campus settings.
College is potentially a time of great intellectual and personal growth.
Students spend their days on campus not only engaging in the process of
attaining a degree but also learning about who they are as individuals
and figuring out who they want to become (Astin, 1993; Pascarella &
Terenzini, 2005). Research shows that this process is most successful
where students are able to develop meaningful friendships and get
involved in clubs and organizations they enjoy (Braxton, 2000). That is, to
gain the full value of a college experience, all students must be able to
locate a group of people with whom they feel safe and valued, and
through whom they feel connected to the wider campus community. This
process is known as social integration and not only is necessary for
identity development but is in fact fundamental to successful college
completion (Braxton, 2000; Tinto, 1993, 2006). This is true for all
students, but research has clearly demonstrated that successful social
integration can be particularly challenging for students of color on
predominantly White campuses (Black, Belknap, & Ginsberg, 2005;
Feagin, Vera, & Imani, 1996; Patton, Bridges, & Flowers, 2011). Social
integration has recently been related to a concept called sense of
belonging, which several studies have demonstrated is an important
predictor of student retention through graduation (Museus & Maramba,
2011). Self-reported sense of belonging is often lower for Black, Latino,
and Asian American students on predominantly White campuses
(Johnson et al., 2007).
As any college student can tell you, campuses are made up of a variety
of subcultures or communities that welcome different types of students
into the life of the college. The greater the variety of campus communities
available, the more likely it is that a greater range of students will be
able, if they so desire, to become integrated and establish competent
intellectual and social membership in the institution (Tinto, 1993, p. 124).
The integrative effectiveness of these various communities is largely
dependent on having a critical mass of diverse students on campus,
including students with different social class backgrounds, geographic
origins, unique interests, and racial or ethnic group membership (Tinto,
1993; Willie, 2003). But involvement in extracurricular organizations is
unequivocally linked to higher levels of student satisfaction and college
graduation (Fischer, 2007; Jackson & Swan, 1991).
For example, Samuel D. Museus (2008) conducted an interview study
with 24 Black and Asian American undergraduate students at a large
public university that was 85% White. His data revealed that for students
in both groups, their membership in ethnic student organizations gave
them connections, emotional support, and space for identity exploration,
which increased their sense of comfort on campus. Museus did not find
that this membership also facilitated increased contact with faculty,
another important factor for student success, although this has been a
finding in other research (e.g., Guiffrida, 2003).
For students of all racial backgrounds, Greek membership is one way to
achieve this kind of beneficial social integration. All GLOs are
characterized by restricted membership, as a specific type of voluntary
association (Knoke, 1986). The student organizations that evolved to
become the GLOs we know today were literary and study groups that
attempted to provide avenues for discussion, academic development,
and social outlets within a pretty restrictive, almost monastic, higher
education environment (Jones, 2004; Rudolph, 1962/1990). These
organizations also provided students with housing, built-in study groups,
and social support, as well as the benefit of helping students find others
who shared common interests and goals. Beginning in the late 19th
century, sororities were organized along the same lines, with the first
collective organization being formally founded in 1902. These Greek
organizations were also always race and class selective at a time when
American higher education itself was primarily, although not exclusively,
available to a select proportion of the U.S. population, namely upperclass Whites (Handler, 1995). Early GLOs particularly remained closed to
the small numbers of African Americans on predominantly White
campuses at the turn of the 20th century (Kimbrough, 2003; Washington
& Nuez, 2005).
While most fraternities or sororities moved to rid themselves of overtly
racially restrictive clauses around the middle of the past century, this was
a complex and controversial process. It most often took the form of
conflict between current members who were in favor of removing official
clauses, but without changing racially marked pledging practices, and
national offices that were run by alumni who resisted any policy change
whatsoever, particularly when it was demanded by campus
administrators (Hughey, 2007). This was the case for the University of
Minnesota and the University of Michigan, and for the Theta Chi fraternity
at Dartmouth during this time (Lee, 1955). It was in 1963 that all social
organizations were mandated to remove any remaining racially restrictive
membership clauses (Whipple, Baier, & Grady, 1991). It is important to
keep in mind that, under whatever circumstances, the removal of specific
clauses was rarely associated with change in new member recruitment
practices or the overall racially marked character of these organizations
(Crain & Ford, 2013; Hughey, 2010; Lee, 1955). For example, Deborah
Williams, an African American student at the University of Georgia,
participated in sorority rush in 1968 at a time when organizations were
completely White. Williams described the shock of the White members
who greeted her at the various sorority houses. Although she was invited
back to three sororities, she did not receive an invitation to join any of
them (Baugh, 1968).
Presently, while none of the national governing organizations collect
official data on the racial composition of their chapters, single institution
data from a range of studies confirms racial homogeneity observed by
students on campus (Hughey, 2010; Stains, 1994; Vendituoli & Grant,
2013). Black GLOs were founded, starting at the turn of the 20th century,
in part to offer a Greek option for Black students who were banned from
joining those existing White organizations. However, they differ
significantly from their historically White counterparts not only in their
history of racial restrictions but also in mission. There are currently nine
national Black Greek organizations under the National Pan-Hellenic
Council. Black students on the campuses of both historically Black
colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly White institutions
founded fraternal organizations to enhance their college experiences and
to deal with political and social issues facing the Black community
(Rodriguez, 1995). While the major breeding ground for BGLOs was
Howard University, an HBCU where five of the nine organizations were
founded, three of the nine were founded on predominantly White
campuses. These are Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (Cornell University in
1906), Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity (Indiana University in 1911), and Sigma
Gamma Rho sorority (Butler University in 1922).
BGLOs have from the start been more focused on sociopolitical goals,
including racial equality and community service. This activism can be
clearly seen in many of the initial major service programs that were
established as the organizations grew to be national and international in
scope. These include Phi Beta Sigmas Bigger and Better Business
Program, which was established in the 1920s and worked to empower
Black business owners; the Guide Right program established by Kappa
Alpha Psi in 1922, which works to encourage academic achievement
among high school seniors; the Voting Rights Program developed by
Alpha Phi Alpha, which worked to register African Americans to vote at a
time of widespread disenfranchisement; the National Library Project
created in 1937 by Delta Sigma Theta, which helped develop local
libraries for African Americans; and the Zeta Phi Beta housing project of
1943, where the sorority worked with the National Housing Association to
locate housing vacancies for WWII war workers (Berkowitz & Padavic,
1999; Ross, 2000). Moreover, it is important to note that there are many
cases where White students who shared these goals have joined these
groups (Hughey, 2007).
For many Black students on predominantly White campuses, even those
who are not Greek members, BGLOs are a primary source of social
activities, in a setting where few such resources are available (Kimbrough
& Hutcheson, 1998). White students often respond to this information by
suggesting that social clubs and events that are predominantly White are
in fact open to students of all races and that students of color are
welcome at these events. While this is nominally the case, research
suggests that at many such events, particularly those where alcohol is
involved, the risk of racist comments and behavior can be quite high,
creating an unwelcoming, even hostile environment in a nominally raceneutral setting (Black et al., 2005). Research on the impact of campus
racial climate, defined as a combination of the racial history of an
institution, its racial demography, and the average attitudes and
behaviors of current students, confirms what my own students report
(Hurtado, Enberg, Ponjuan, & Landremann, 2002). As a White student of
mine wrote of his adjustment to the college party scene [and why he left
it], I used to hear so much racist language from other people at the
parties. I remember being shocked. The experience of social integration
may be virtually impossible for a Black student who has multiple
experiences with discrimination on campus. It is difficult to come to share
the norms and values of a community when those seem to include a lack
of value for someone from your racial background (see Mendoza-Denton,
Downey, Purdy, Davis, & Pietrzak, 2002). This kind of discrimination
often takes organizational form in White GLOs, particularly in the form of
racially insensitive party themes, including ghetto parties and tacos and
tequila (Hughey, 2010; Stains, 1994; Whaley, 2009).
In addition, as discussed above, several studies found that participation
in same-race organizations did not increase isolation for Black and other
minority students, as commonly believed, but actually made them feel
more a part of the campus community (McClure, 2006; Moran, Yengo, &
Algier, 1994; Murguia, Padilla, & Pavel, 1991; Taylor & Howard-Hamilton,
1995). Students use these enclaves to scale down a large campus and
deal with it more effectively, particularly as that relates to issues of
discrimination on campus. It is in this function that the Black Greek
organization can most clearly be seen as unique from White Greek
organizations. Based on the overall campus environment and the needs
and experiences of students of color, same-race organizations create a
unique integrating niche for these students.
As these organizations often function as a kind of supportive enclave for
minority students, they can actually facilitate increased cross-race
interaction for their members. Because they generate a sense of
meaningful membership in the larger campus community, members are
encouraged to participate in other, non-Black student organizations that
promote equal-status contact (McClure, 2006; Murguia et al., 1991).
Equal-status contact is one of the most effective prejudice-reduction
mechanisms and among individuals of equal
social status who voluntarily work toward a cooperative goal under the
supervision of a legitimate authority (Wittig & Grant-Thompson, 1998).
For White students who believe race does not play a role in campus life
and who believe they are open to being friends with students of all races,
several questions should be considered. First, while you may not say
negative things about students of other races, do you ever hear them in
all-White social settings, particularly where alcohol is involved? If yes,
when you hear these things, are they immediately followed by negative
social sanctions (glares, verbal recrimination, stony silence), which
indicate they are not approved of by other White students? Or do you and
your peers often do as the student quoted above admitted: Most of the
time I took the path of least resistance and ignored it?
It is also worth reflecting on why the question of self-segregation
repeatedly comes up in campus discussions of race. Often, the question
itself is a distancing mechanism. For those of us who were and are
members of predominantly White Greek organizations (including this
author), arguing that people of color simply dont want to be integrated
into these organizations justifies their racial homogeneity and lets us off
the hook for taking action to change that reality. For non-Greek White
students, the question may be related to a wider strategy of denial and
resistance, which seeks to define a problem as the result of someone
elses choices. The issue then becomes unrelated to any action or
inaction we may take in our own . This is in
spite of the fact that on many campuses, students of color regularly
spend time in environments where they are the minority, while this
happens only rarely for White students.
Given the apparent openness of most campus events, it is possible for
White students with a sincere interest in moving past highly segregated
social spaces to take the initiative to attend alone, or with a few friends,
events that are sponsored or organized by minority student groups on
campus, including BGLOs. This decision is a powerful individual act that
moves past verbal and written accusation into the realm of action.
Instead of using the existence of minority-marked events as a justification
and rationalization for our own racially homogeneous social networks,
White people have the opportunity to put into action the very same
integration that they indicate they desire in people of color.
Stephanie M. McClure is a professor of sociology at Georgia
College. She teaches classes on racial stratification, social theory,
and the sociology of education. Her research interests are in the
area of higher education, with a focus on college student
persistence and retention across race, class, and gender, and a
special emphasis on post-college student experiences that
increase student social and academic integration. She has
published in the Journal of Higher Education, Symbolic Interaction,
and the Journal of African American Studies.
Suggested Additional Resources
On the History of Greek Organizations
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Ross, L. C., Jr. (2000). The divine nine: The history of African
American fraternities and sororities. New York, NY: Kensington.
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On the Experiences of Students of Color
on Predominantly White Campuses
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North-American Interfraternity Conference: http://www.nicindy.org
National Panhellenic Conference:
National Pan-Hellenic Council: http://www.nphchq.org
1. Have you ever thought about the concept of self-segregation
as it relates to your campus? What information in the essay
do you believe best challenges the assumption that minority
student organizations self-segregate? What other information
do you think might be useful?
2. If BGLOs do not exist (or do not exist in great numbers) on
your campus, consider organizations like the Black Student
Union or the Latino Alliance. How are they different from the
Greek organizations discussed here or from other student
organizations on campus? How and why might this vary with
campus racial composition?
3. What (if any) student organizations are you involved with?
What is the overall racial composition of these groups? Does
it reflect the racial composition or social dynamics described
in this essay? How or why?
Reaching Beyond the Color Line
1. For White students, following this discussion, locate and
attend an on-campus event where you believe you will be one
of the few White people in attendance. For students of color, if
you are involved in a student organization like those
described above (where there may be relatively few White
people in attendance), ask a White friend or classmate to
attend an organizational event or meeting with you. For all
students, take some time to reflect on how you felt about this
experience and whether or not you would likely do the same
thing again. Why or why not?
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We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

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Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

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Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

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Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

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