Can Fraternities Help Black Athletes Navigate Cultural Challenges?

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Black Greek Life Organizations (BGLO) have continued to provide opportunities for Black students but are they submitting to white social norms in today’s society?

Emerald Green is the Assistant Director for the Black/African American Cultural Center at Colorado State University and served as an advisor to the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). In recent years, Green has given a presentation at the Diversity Symposium at CSU regarding her research on Black Greek life and how it creates advantages for Black male student athletes’ experiences on college campuses.

Green’s Research

Black and white side profile of W.E.B. Du Bois wearing a suit and tie.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Addison Scurlock courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As Green began her research, Critical Race Theory became a significant part in her interpretation of how racism began; specifically, how race is a socially constructed concept that behaves as a way to preserve the interests of the white population. She also began analyzing double consciousness, a term coined by W.E.B. Du Bois.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

W.E.B. Du Bois in his Atlantic Monthly article published in August of 1897.

Hidden diversity supports W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. Hidden diversity is a conflict that Third Culture Kids (TCKs), Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) and people of color face on a day to day basis. It’s the idea that people who experience different cultures throughout their adolescence have a diversity that is not shown through their outward appearance.

We see ourselves through the eyes of others, so if my black life is not worthy, if I am seen as an agitator to all spaces that I walk into, I may see myself as such and operate in a world with that narrative.

Green in her Diversity Symposium presentation.

Green took these concepts and created a foundation for her research. Eventually, she discovered that Greek life helps Black male athletes create lifelong bonds, engage in social action, explore leadership opportunities, validate their experiences and develop non-athlete identities. Green believes these experiences allow Black male athletes to navigate white society with the ability to form their own identities, rather than conforming to a white societies social norms.

Black Greek Life Organizations

Between 1903 and 1905, several universities attempted to establish Black fraternal organizations but failed soon after. Although these organizations folded quickly, they paved the way for The Divine Nine and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

In 1906, the first Black intercollegiate fraternity was established at Cornell University. Within the next 16 years, seven more BGLOs were established creating the Great Eight BGLOs. It was not until 1963 that the ninth BGLO, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, was founded at Morgan State University.

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.

National Pan-Hellenic Council on their webpage.
Red brick Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house. Cloudy skies, white window frames, white door, blue window shutters. Green yard with red flowers at the front walkway.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Killivalavan Solai courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The NPHC quickly prioritized community awareness through educational, economic and cultural service activities. These goals helped integrate Black students into a white society and gave relatively easy access to education.

Switching Perspectives

Although BGLOs’ original purpose was to provide Black students an opportunity at an education and acceptance into U.S. society, some people argue the initial purpose of BGLOs has conformed to Western values and social norms.

Taken together, these can be encapsulated as the ‘be like us’ theory of equality — that Blacks would be equal to Whites when they become like Whites. Another approach was an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater group — assimilation into White culture and society.

Ali Chambers in an article published on the United States American Politics and Policy.

This begs the question whether BGLOs are still a safe place for Black thought or if they have begun to symbolize the views of a racist society and continue to interfere with the furtherance of Black communities.


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