Alpha Phi Alpha
Alpha Phi Alpha
Washington and Lee's social culture both past and presently has been centered around Greek Life. To some extent, this way of functioning seems reasonable. Nestled in the small town of Lexington and tucked between mountains, unless students make an organized effort of driving out to party, their only other options are staying in with friends or attending the (sometimes) themed parties during the semester. Many white male students applied with some understanding of the southern culture and a guarantee that they would be able to align themselves with one of the social groups. However, once W&L introduced black male students to their student body population, fraternities faced decisions that would ostracize black men who hoped to feel welcome to the university as they were promised. Established black-balling systems during the fraternity recruitment prevented black members from joining en masse, with some fraternity members admitting that they weren't ready for black students yet. Although black students eventually joined membership, with even some students such as William Thornton '88 becoming fraternity president of his chapter in his academic career, the sparse numbers still brings to attention the lack of accessabilty black students felt among the majority white system.
In 1990, black male students on campus attempted to reignite a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha that would join JMU's chapter. However, the black men who desired to see their new chapter through faced obstacles from their peers. Though they thought that establishing Alpha Phi Alpha would make sense in order to forge new relationships and bonds amongst not only black men, but qualified men interested in uplifting black communities, some peers discouraged this arrangement, arguing that a black organization could only be a temporary fix and that "In the long-term, the fraternity will serve only to draw a clear line between black and white."
Though most of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) stayed indifferent to the formation of the chapter, SAC would only approve Alpha Phi Alpha if they could conform to the IFC's rules and would be accepted by a three-fourths vote. Because Alpha Phi Alpha abided by the rules of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), the operations of the organization proved to be drastically different than the IFC, then president Greg Hicks quoting, "They're into a lot of service and high academic standards, not what we're used to."
During review of the petition for Alpha Phi Alpha's colonization, one thing remained clear: the organization's establishment on W&L's campus was meant to fill a social and cultural need for black men that hadn't directly been addressed during their time here. All agreed on one distinct fact--fraternities then weren't fulfilling the expectations of black students, however, disagreement arose in how to address those expectations. Some IFC presidents remarked that because the system wasn't ideal, changes made to it in gradual time would transform the present Greek culture. This responsibility would be taken over by the current greek students. Black students, however, made it clear that Alpha Phi Alpha in both its social culture and commitment to service stood for something distinct in a way that the IFC did not. The initial vote to establish Alpha Phi Alpha was split, but after time to reconsider, the IFC presidents voted 11-4 with Alpha Phi Alpha being OK'd to colonize.