Bree Humphery, a senior majoring in East Asian Languages and Culture, along with a group of a few other women challenged herself to live off of 20 dollars for the week. Throughout that week, she troubleshooted and thought of ways to extend and switch up bland yet inexpensive meals to achieve her goal — one that was made by choice.
Humphery’s challenge was part of her sorority’s initiative to educate people about the food stamp program. Humphery said this challenge is just one of the many service-oriented activities her sorority — Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. — does each year.
Yet because of the small number of members in Humphery’s black sorority — there are only four current active members on campus — and in the National Pan-Hellenic Council compared to the larger number of members in USC’s Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils, Humphery feels like she is often making efforts to educate students on campus about her sorority and its aims.
At USC, NPHC takes on a different character than at historically black colleges and universities. Here, NPHC chapters focus on making a presence on campus with programming and events, yet they still have all of the demands and expectations of providing social and service-oriented events to the student body and surrounding community. With the relatively small number of active NPHC members on campus, the students in NPHC fraternities and sororities are looking to rebrand themselves and black Greek life on campus as they move forward in the coming years.
REDEFINING THE YARD
Skylar Dunn, a junior majoring in business administration, is president and had been one of four members in the Alpha Delta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Since the probate, or coming-out ceremony for new members of a fraternity or sorority, on March 28, the chapter has gained seven new members. The chapter membership now totals 11, which is the largest number of members since 2008.
Dunn said because of the smaller size of black Greek life on campus, fraternities and sororities must work in conjunction with one another, which is not necessarily the case at HBCUs. The NPHC fraternities share their chapters with nearby colleges, such as Loyola Marymount and Cal State Los Angeles, while the charters for historically black sororities are solely confined to USC’s campus.
“One thing I’ve been really adamant about here at USC is NPHC unity because we don’t have the strength in numbers to be divided,” Dunn said.
Despite the differences in personalities and histories of the nine NPHC sororities and fraternities, many members said that “The Yard” had to be redefined. The Yard is both the geographical and intangible community of black Greeks on campus.
At USC, there are six of the nine NPHC Greek letter organizations. According to Rayven Vinson, president of National Panhellenic Council at USC, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. has not chartered a chapter on the University Park Campus. Furthermore, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority are currently inactive.
“It’s not easy to see the black Greek letter organizations here on campus,” said De’Ron Marques, a senior majoring in public relations, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. “Yet because I knew I wanted to be Greek before I got into college, that’s why I decided to seek them out and ultimately become a member.”
SERVICE OVER STROLLING
The NPHC organizations are immersed in history and tradition. When they were originally founded in the early 1900s, they focused on creating unity and service among the black community on campus and in the surrounding area. Furthermore, at the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of black students were not allowed to join other fraternities or sororities within Panhellenic and IFC.
“To have these fraternity brothers behind you and be there to support you in times of need and happiness is powerful,” Marques said.
Off campus, service activities, which are largely rooted in reaching out to high school students and the elderly, help establish solidarity among the black Greek letter organizations.
“When you have 10 or less people in the chapter, it forces you to concentrate your skills and makes you more willing to work,” Marques said.
On top of the service component, a main tradition within the NPHC is stepping and strolling, particularly at parties and probates. Stepping is a series of movements that use hands and feet to create a rhythm. Strolling is a series of dance moves while in line, consisting of movements and dance moves that are done in unison among members of a particular fraternity or sorority. Students interviewed for this story said both methods are used as a channel for self-expression and an outlet to represent their organization’s values and character.
“There are countless amount of times where people want us to go to their events just to stroll and step,” Humphery said. “But we do so much with service and scholarship that we want to promote and let people know about.”
REBRANDING FOR VISIBILITY
Many NPHC members said that before arriving at USC, they were interested in joining a black Greek letter organization. Many, however, recognized there could be higher visibility of NPHC on campus.
Students involved in NPHC believe many misconceptions can arise when the majority of students on campus are not involved in black Greek life or do not see the other activities that NPHC members participate in outside of social events.
“We don’t have the funds like that to be able to throw all of those parties,” Dunn said. “So we’re more like a business, I would say, at least here at USC’s campus, because we’re trying to rebuild our brand right now.”
Despite the differences in black Greek life and the challenges that are associated with it, members of NPHC have a pride and dedication to their organization and fellow brothers and sisters, as well as a passion to improve the campus and the surrounding community.
“We’ve shown excellence and leadership and really roll up our sleeves and do hard work,” Humphery said when referring to her sorority and other NPHC organizations on The Yard. “It’s evident within the community because people respect us. I appreciate the presence we’ve had on this campus.”