Black fraternities and sororities have become part of the African-American college life experience. And as Delta Sigma Theta Society celebrates its centennial, are fraternities and sororities still relevant in the business world?
The oldest Black fraternity is Alpha Phi Alpha, established in 1906 on the campus of Cornell University. The newest fraternity is Iota Phi Theta, which was founded at Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) in 1963. There are four major African-American sororities--Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. All were started in the early twentieth century, the first being Alpha Kappa Alpha that was launched at Howard University.
Fraternities and sororities have proven to be key in making good business connections. And many have foundations that do various works in the community.
“I think the fraternities and sororities definitely provide connections in almost any industry. It doesn't mean that you can be unqualified and take advantage, but if you are qualified, there's nothing like being in a chapter or at a convention, and network. Often times, the networking is less about exchanging business cards, but more about being able to establish a relationship faster than if you weren't both members of a fraternity or sorority. And that also includes inter-fraternal relationship,” says Lawrence Ross, author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities.
Maliyka A. Muhammad, board member at the Coxhall Health Information Center, Inc., has found many other professional reached out to her based on her connection to Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. “Almost four years ago, I was honored with the privilege to be a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. I also had a LinkedIn page,” she says. “Since my induction into the organization, my Linkedin page has grown tremendously. Being a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. has opened up doors for me professionally in a way that may not have been available had I not been a member.” But having leads is just the start. “The thing is, these connections did not just come to me because I was a member. Being a member does not mean that you do not have to go out there and network. You still have to network. What it does mean is that you have a whole new world of networking opportunities available if you choose to take advantage.”
“Fraternities and sororities have a long history of providing meaningful networks for its members. Today that networking has begun to use the Internet. The downturn of the economy led many to create list serves that sent Black professionals emails of current job openings,” says Zellie Thomas, who is a brother of the historical black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a member of Jersey City Alumni. “Yet, personal networking has remained strong as ever. The key value of fraternities is brotherhood and to always help a brother in need.”
Thomas discovered the success of fraternity networking firsthand. When he graduated college, he was looking for an opening in education. “A member of my fraternity that was a principal was able to pass my resume to one of his colleagues. As a result I was able to get a much-needed interview. The opportunity allowed me to showcase my abilities and drive and thus was awarded the job,” he recalls.
While the experience is mostly positive Ross does feel there are some problems fraternities need to address. “The biggest negative is that we as members and as organizations have proven to be impotent when it comes to eradicating the culture of hazing in our organizations. For the national bodies, the emphasis is on being reactionary and punitive, while there's a pervasive laissez-faire attitude about illegal or underground pledging, that in my opinion, warps the morals of our organizations,” Ross points out. “As long as we tacitly or overtly support the culture of hazing, we're always going to be flawed organizations. We can do better.”
The benefits outweigh any downsides to joining a fraternity or sorority. According to Ross, “The benefits of joining a fraternity or sorority is the brotherhood and sisterhood. For a lot of our members, they mistakenly think that occurs during the application process, or during pledging, when in fact, it's the long-term work with other like-minded and community-oriented members. That is the reward. Black fraternal organizations are experiments, and they're only as good as the material they have to work with. For me, the benefit is that by using the group to help you improve, you're becoming a better man or woman.”