NPHC organizations small but strong
For a small organization, it sure can make a lot of noise.
Members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity meet outside of Kent Library at Southeast Missouri State University on most Wednesdays. Some days they will grill, some days they will play loud music and some days they will perform step routines.
But every day they will enjoy laughing and socializing with their brothers and friends, and everyone is invited.
Omega is one of nine Greek organizations in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body for traditionally African-American fraternities and sororities. Four of these chapters are active at Southeast. The fraternities include Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma, as well as Omega. Delta Sigma Theta is the active sorority. There are several members of the Sigma Gamma Ro sorority and the Iota Phi Theta fraternity on campus who are trying to reactivate their chapters.
NPHC chapters at Southeast tend to have a much lower number of members than chapters of the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, which govern all other fraternities and sororities on campus.
"The size of the population that they take their members from is smaller," said Teena Reasoner, assistant director for fraternities and sororities at Southeast. "We have a smaller African-American student population than we do general Caucasian student population."
Along with a limited population, membership requirements also reduce the number of eligible members.
Each group requires a certain GPA and most call for a number of credit hours and community service hours to be logged before joining.
This fact does not stop the members from putting on events and participating in community outreach as much as members of larger organizations.
Homecoming is a major participatory event for Greek organizations at Southeast. While most of the IFC and Panhellenic groups build floats for the annual parade, NPHC groups enter as walking or driving groups.
The night of homecoming, NPHC hosts a step contest, where the African-American Greek organizations come together, along with its alumni and visiting chapters from other schools, to perform choreographed step dances for a monetary prize.
Each of the NPHC chapters at Southeast also host events for a full week each semester. When possible, this week revolves around its Founder's Day, the anniversary of its organization's founding.
According to Delta Sigma Theta president Deja Martin, her sorority uses its week to focus on education, physical and mental health, international awareness, political awareness and involvement and economic development. Such activities are typical of what many NPHC groups do during its specified week. They often mix in fun events, such as sports tournaments and game nights.
The events do not end with the week. NPHC groups participate in a number of community service projects throughout the year. Chapters have worked with the Boys & Girls Club, Franklin Elementary School and several other organizations in the area that host walks, runs and awareness events.
According to Omega Psi Phi president Dominique Bailey, his national organization has 10 specific programs that guide its community service. This year members will be helping people in the Cape Girardeau area sign up to vote. They will also host a talent hunt that offers recognition and scholarships to local talent.
"They really do a good job of embracing working in the community," Reasoner said. "And they stick with an organization for several years. It's really neat to see that they get connected with some of the organizations here in the community and stay connected for quite a few years."
Reasoner said IFC and Panhellenic chapters do similar community service events, but due to its higher numbers of members it tends to take on more projects at once and stick with one cause for less time.
NPHC groups nationwide take pride in its alumni involvement. After graduating they often join alumni chapters and continue to host events and service projects as well as support their undergraduate chapter.
"The NPHC groups overall, nationally, are really, really, really good at keeping their alumni involved," Reasoner said. "They build very strong alumni chapters. I've always been impressed with how well they have kept their alumni involved. NPHC members truly see it as lifetime membership, and they are active until the day they die."
The importance of recognizing one's past is likely to come up in any conversation about NPHC groups. Many have traditions that have been passed down since the organization's founding.
Trent Ball, the associate dean in charge of Educational Access Programs at Southeast, said there are programs for students who plan to join NPHC chapters that teach them its rules, history and traditions before they even enter college.
Being a part of an NPHC chapter instills a sense of belonging in its members and a commitment to the betterment of self and community.
"Often, especially in urban areas, the only people who were very successful in college were connected to those organizations previously," Ball said. "My father was a Kappa, and I remember the first time I went to an activity beyond church where there was a huge number of men that were all professional was when I went to an activity with him. And that's pretty consistent."
Members of the NPHC chapters at Southeast have a strong incentive to remain as active as they do on a campus dominated by IFC and Panhellenic groups -- because once upon a time, they did not have this opportunity.
"Earlier, when the organizations began on different campuses across the country, everything was pretty quiet and pretty silent because it wasn't really fully accepted," Ball said. "So you celebrated with that joyful noise."