How to Pledge Black Sororities and Fraternities

"The Divine Nine" | Eunique Jones Photography | BecauseofThemWeCan.com

It’s pledging season. All across the nation, there are excited collegians preparing their applications for membership to a black sorority or fraternity. Many of them are students on Historically Black College and University (HBCU) campuses. Dubbed the “Divine Nine,” the National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations—Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta—are some of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished black service organizations. Historically, their membership rolls have included some of the American nation’s most powerful and productive black citizens.

"The Divine Nine" | Eunique Jones Photography | BecauseofThemWeCan.com
“The Divine Nine” | Eunique Jones Photography | BecauseofThemWeCan.com

It’s not surprising that you want to be a part of this legacy. But all too often, aspirants pursue their interest in entirely the wrong ways.

So, here’s some free (and good) advice about how to increase your chances of being accepted.

Check yourself. Are your grades together? If you’re barely maintaining a C+ average, your priority should be raising your GPA not joining a NPHC organization. Do you have the financial resources?  If you can’t afford to join, you can’t afford to be a member.

Image matters. Don’t let a bad reputation precede you. This includes cleaning up your social media platforms. Maybe your Twitter and Instagram names are unbecoming; change them. Bathroom selfies, throwing up middle fingers and checking-in at the club are not good looks. Good branding also includes observing good personal hygiene and daily grooming.

Serve others. Demonstrate a genuine commitment to service. This means your service record should be more than three months long, especially if the three months you serve are right before you anticipate intake. Fraternity and sorority members immediately assume that you only served to be eligible for membership. And deep down in your heart, you know they’re right.

Good recommendation letters. Ask the person if they can give you a strong, positive recommendation letter. This should not be assumed. Recommendations can be negative, make sure theirs isn’t by giving them something good to report. Seriously, give them a detailed list of what you’ve done, where you’ve done it and for how long too. It is not appropriate for you to ask a member of an organization to which you seek membership if he or she is active (and/or financial). Your relationship with the member and his or her relationship to the organization means that he or she knows what he or she can and cannot do for you as a prospective applicant.

Building relationships (the forgotten piece of the puzzle). It’s all about relationships! The first time you express interest in an organization to a member should not be when you want/need a letter. Ideally, because you express an interest in a service organization, a member should, by example, be serving. If the member isn’t serving, it’s unlikely that he or she is “financial.” And even if he or she is why would you want someone like that to write a letter for you? Even if all else fails, if the member thinks you are a good candidate, he or she will tell you what she can and cannot do for you—this includes writing your letter.

Don’t be thirsty. “I will do anything to get in.” Worst. Words. Ever. Spoken. Who wants an applicant with no standards? Not me. Have standards, and keep ‘um high.

“But I didn’t make line.” If you’ve done all the right things and you weren’t accepted, don’t start bad-mouthing the organization. No one wants a “Negative Nelly.” Continue to work hard, study hard and serve others. Things will work out in your favor. Pledging a graduate chapter also has its benefits.

Crystal deGregory Headshot 2012

A 2003 graduate of Fisk University, Crystal A. deGregory, Ph.D. is the founder and executive editor of HBCUSTORY, Inc. an advocacy center presenting inspiring stories of the HBCUs past and present, for our future. She teaches in Tennessee State University’s department of history, political science, geography and Africana studies. Follow her on twitter at @HBCUstorian.

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A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Crystal A. deGregory, Ph.D. is a graduate of the historic Fisk University ’03. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Vanderbilt University. She also holds a master of education degree in curriculum and instruction from Tennessee State University, ’14, where she formerly taught in the department of history, geography and political science. A professional historian and passionate HBCU advocate, she is editor-in-chief of the forthcoming The Journal of HBCU Research + Culture. She is also a regular contributor to HBCU Digest, is a co-host of Black Docs radio show, and offers a wide-range of expertise on multiple topics including history, culture, education, black fraternity and sorority life and of course HBCUs. Follow her on twitter at @HBCUstorian, visit her website at www.CrystaldeGregory.com, or contact her via email at cadegregory@HBCUstory.com.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I assume Dr. deGregory is a member of the Divine 9. However, one must wonder whether she’s still active with her organization as a graduate member. Every member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council has backed away from the use of terms like “line” “pledging” etc. What may seem trivial to some has been deemed an important aim for our organizations to overcome past failures and invest in continuing our legacy. Let’s set a good example for our undergraduate members and potential members

    • Dear So Unique,
      I see you coming for me. Who are you and what do you offer your organization–should you be a member of one? Lets set a good example by not entering into an epic battle of back and forth on matters neither of us know anything about. On a substantive note, the word “line” was employed within quotation marks and there is nothing wrong with the word pledge. It is the meaning we give to words that makes all the difference. Have you pledged your allegiance to the flag lately or sung your school’s Alma Mater? Case closed. The word pledge isn’t implicitly detrimental, but you trying to come for me is. I’m about my Founders’ business everyday. Trust.

  2. Good stuff. Too bad the part about getting your ass beat and self worth lowered is missing. This is a huge issue on many HBCU campuses. My own Alma Mater constantly has Divine 9 suspensions due to people being rushed to the hospital frequently during pledging season. Try being realistic in your representation so that young people get an honest overview. Oh but I’m sure you are not supposed to tell unsuspecting youth.

    • Dear Sunshine,
      Thank you for the compliment (…I think there was something flattering in there early on). No one can beat you or lower your self worth unless you let them. No one ever laid a finger on me or said an unkind word during my intake process or since. And my self-esteem is higher than ever! The problem your comment suggests, is with the organizations. Organizations, like businesses, churches and families are made up of people. The people make all the difference. Black Greek-Lettered Organizations on HBCU campuses have had problems with violence, as they have had on Traditional White Institution campuses and as White Greek-Lettered Organizations have as well. Violence is an unfortunate outcome of poor uses of power and poor utilization of the many, many other options available to us. I think the more than 10-year war in Iraq has illustrated that point better than I ever could. So, what I will say to “unsuspecting” youth is that you are responsible for the choices you make. Have standards and keep them high. Going along to get along can be the cause of your downfall on the street corner, on the HBCU campus, in a BGLO and in a Fortune 500 company.

    • Say that sunshine! On my college campus they were the bottom of the barrel when it came to class, humility, maturity, promoting free-thinking, and maintaining peace on campus.

      They were constantly fighting (I’ve seen fist fights), branding each other like cattle, harassing each other and their fellow classmates (freshman yr this one frat attempted to harass me only b/c I unknowingly wore “their” colors as if they invented them), loud obnoxious acts doing various campus activities, sending students to the hospital, financially extorting weak minded students, I mean I can go on and on. They are hands down the most childish and problematic organizations on every campus and a major distraction to the learning environment.

      And this isn’t new, it’s being going on for decades, these organizations are an embarrassment. That’s why when I was recruited to join I said absolutely not, this legacy pitch they gave me is a joke and I’m not falling for it. Famous/Rich people have went to jail, but that will never make it cool enough for me to wanna go too so it’s like move on with that bull. And you can tell a tree by it’s fruit so says the Good Book and the fruits of these greek organizations are rotten.

      • Dear DFWGuy,
        It’s obvious that your experiences were bad ones; this is unfortunate in each and every way. Many of your criticisms are not without merit. We have to do a better job. Period. At the same time, if the achievements of every BGLO member were erased from history, you’d find many of the rights enjoy erased. I’m familiar with the “good book” and I am no rotten fruit. You’re in fact, eating the fruits of many of our good works, and UNENO it.
        – HBCUstorian

        • Hi Crystal,

          If you know the Good Book so well as you claimed, you should know that I’m enjoying the fruits of my LORD AND SAVIOR and owe HIM ALL THE GLORY b/c WITHOUT HIM IT WOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE! I owe nothing to some inane college club, pleaseeeeee …..

          You “greeks” suffer from delusions of grandeur and all I can do is pray that ya’ll wake up and flee this dangerous deception by speaking truth when an opportunity presents itself. The NHPC is no good and it will never change, no amount of bragging on community service or “successful” members will overshadow that truth and the evidence of it. I even know “greeks” and ex-“greeks” who agree with me, not that it’s needed but it just further validates the obvious truth.

          For example, on my campus 7 of the 9 NHPC orgs were suspended at some point over the last 3 years. They really should’ve been expelled according to school guidelines but since some of the administrators are greek they’re constantly showing them clemency. No other organization on campus was suspended doing that same time frame. Look, every fully logical/sane person can see this mess is a joke and to avoid them like the black plague.

  3. Bravo! I agree Dr. deGregory. Teach our children & the youth that it is not okay to be hazed. It is okay to not be apart of something that thinks it is…

    • Dear Regina,
      I truly believe that we have a responsibility to “model” the behaviors we want our children to emulate. This demands that adults stand up for what is right. As my grandmother used to say: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

  4. I’m sorry, but the words “pledged” and “line” do matter. My organization (of which I have a current financial card, participate in her programs, serve in leadership roles, and have done so for over 20 years) does not condone use of the words “pledged” or “line”. It’s something as an advisor to undergraduate chapters that I try to stress. It’s not the easiest thing to do at times. But semantics is semantics – we ALL use the words even though we shouldn’t -and I agree with your well written post. It’s good and real advice for those who are interested in becoming a member of a BGLO. Kudos to you.

    • Dear Chocolate_Girl,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I never said that words don’t matter. In fact, I’ve said the exact opposite. Words, via the meaning we give them, matter very much.

      Your financial commitment and involvement in your sorority is exactly what sorority life is about. Out-lawing the words hazing and line has not, and will not, eradicate hazing–which is what promoted the change in language on the national level, but changed little to nothing on the chapter level. Further, it has changed nothing in the public sphere. We need to be committed to eradicating bad behavior, rather than merely avoiding use of so-called “bad” words. Maybe this is a step in the right direction–I think there are many more important steps. But this is only my opinion.

      This post is designed to guide Black Greek-lettered sorority and fraternity aspirants; it can only do that if it is accessible to them. When they google “how to pledge,” hopefully they will find this post–as opposed to the foolishness so pervasive on the internet.

      Best,
      – @HBCUstorian

  5. My daughter recently transfered from aHBCU right after pledging. She is currently the one AKA on campus. She has graduates on campus assisting her but now she’s the president by default and has to start a line. We live in the Noth and these young ladies are anxious to pledge☆ how does she do her job as the only AKA and handle school.. mind you she lost her Dean’s List and awesome GPA status due to transfering. “( Thank you.

    • Dear Ms. Woods,
      I would advise your daughter on concentrating on establishing herself academically, before she does anything as socially time-consuming as being responsible for an intake process. As a student, her first duty is to her academic success. After she’s succeeded in adjusting both personally and academically to the new campus, I would advise her to seek out older AKA members (like in there 40s, 50s and 60s) who are active and financial members of a local alumnae chapter for guidance. While it would be wonderful to be a part of bringing the chapter back to the campus, she does have bigger responsibilities, which I would advise her to meet first.

      I hope this is helpful to you both!

  6. Great article and great suggestions. Especially as we talk about the use of language to describe our organizations. For instance the word hazing is overdone..what most people are usually referring to is assault and battery–most legal statutes defining hazing can account for any mental, physical, emotional, or verbal trauma, including sitting in a chair for an “extended” period of time…This is a great start.. I would love to see how we can press this dialogue even further..

  7. My concern with this article is it reads as a guide of “how to get over to get in”. If an aspirant doesn’t come to the table with this knowledge it tells me they didn’t do their due diligence / research prior to declaring they aspire towards membership in one of our organizations.

    If they are ill prepared they are not membership material. They should spend time, as you indicated observing the organizations and getting to know the members in turn they will learn / know the requirements of membership.

    We have more than enough members that slip through the cracks that we don’t need to provide a “how to” guide to allow others to slip through cracks.

    Life Member, plus 17 uninterrupted years of active, financial, service to my sorority.

    • Dear Ms. Clark,
      Thank you reading and for your feedback. First, I realize that you don’t know me from the man on the moon, but I assure you that I’ve never gotten over to secure anything in my life–including my BGLO membership and the notion of giving it away is preposterous to me. I take my BGLO membership seriously; so seriously in fact, that I am committed to growing the ranks of BGLOs with good members, not just with well-connected aspirants who get in because of who they know.

      I didn’t know a single BGLO member growing up. When I got to college I read Lawrence Ross’ The Divine Nine before making my choice–along with Paula Giddings’ In Search of Sisterhood 🙂 …I was a first-generation college student and knew nothing about BGLOs.

      Maybe that is why I don’t think that seeking knowledge is indicative of untoward motivations–but if someone was looking to a golden ticket, this post is hardly it.

      What makes a good candidate good should not be a guarded secret, mostly inaccessible…or accessible only to those “in the know”–especially when there are potential aspirants without natural connections and when many collegiate chapters are suspended…or need to be.

      And, finally, the principles of this post can (and should) easily be applied to other aspirantions–including how to get a job. Like any other how-do guide, any one who reads this post, still has to do the work! For the fate and future of BGLOs, I pray they do.

      Best,
      – @HBCUstorian

  8. Hello…. after going to an information…. is it apprpriate to send out a thank you card to the person who invited you or a member that you connected to…..
    I’m on a campus where is no black greek sorority that is active but will be soon returning…..
    Even though I’m so excited and interested in joining, I don’t feel I made the connection that I wanted…
    Do you have any sugestions????

    • Lydia,
      While it’s a nice gesture in most situations, I wouldn’t recommend it in this one. If you don’t feel like you made a connection, you should try participating in the chapter’s community service activities. Do not however, feel like you have to be a doormat to anyone. Good sorority members respect, look for and celebrate high achieving students, who are actively serving others. Concentrate on those things first.

      Best,
      Dr. d.

    • Michelle,
      I’m going to tell you the honest truth. At the end of the day, groups like BGLOs are inherently social in nature. This means that the people in them have the final say about who they let in and who they keep out. Also, undergraduate chapters often factor in one’s classification. I can’t build a chapter with graduating seniors as initiates. I hope this helps.

      Best,
      Dr. de

  9. I have come across your post and am thankful that it is here, although I wish it had been written when I was in college. I did not try to join a sorority in my early years of school. I was like you and did not understand what a BGLO was or what the differences were between the four sororities. When I did my research and was ready to get to know the people in the organizations, they had been suspended from campus and I graduated never joining one. Now that I have community service and other experiences under my belt, I am, again, interested in joining, but have no idea how to go about the alumnae chapters, but I will continue to search and learn.

    I am thankful you made this post so that girls now who are like me in my college days, have an idea of what to do and how to go about joining the best sorority for them. It is so crucial for these young adults their first year.

    • Thanks so much for reading. First, be active in your community. Serve first. Seek out the sorority chapter second. I’d suggest looking for alumnae chapters of the sorority (of your interest) and it would be helpful if you knew someone who is a member of the chapter. But beyond anything else, remember that sorority life is about demonstrated service.

      Best,
      Dr. de

  10. Crystal, I just think you are beautiful. Yes, I am “greek” though crossed many moons ago and just soley focus on my career climb so I’m not really into it anymore; just wanted to say I liked your profile picture and keep up the good work.

    -Matthew

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