Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of Membership in Black Greek-Letter Organizations on Black Students' Involvement in Collegiate Activities and Their Development of Leadership Skills

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of Membership in Black Greek-Letter Organizations on Black Students' Involvement in Collegiate Activities and Their Development of Leadership Skills

Article excerpt

Despite numerous recent events that have cast collegiate Black Greek-letter organizations (BGOs) in a negative light, many view these and other Greek organizations as important leadership development vehicles. This article reports on a study that examined the impact of BGO membership on Black students' involvement in campus-related activities and their leadership development. BGO members and students unaffiliated with BGOs attending historically Black and predominantly White institutions of higher education were compared. The results indicate that BGO members, regardless of campus type, evidenced greater student involvement and had more confidence in their leadership skills. They further suggest that BGO membership provides an important means by which to enhance student involvement and leadership development for Blacks in college and beyond.

Early leadership experiences provide individuals with the tools they need to succeed academically, in the workforce, and in other social arenas. Leadership development during the collegiate years has been widely studied to determine the best methods of enhancing students' leadership skills, and the differential processes by which those skills are developed or impeded within various types of student groups (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Despite this broad scrutiny, student leaders remain an understudied component of the collegiate population. Research studies variously identify them as student government officers, fraternity and sorority presidents, or residence hall advisors (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Schuh & Laverty, 1983); but conclusive evidence does not exist with regard to how or if these organizations produce leaders. Nor it is clear the extent to which collegiate experiences advance students' leadership capabilities, for, as Pascarella and Terenzini argue, without an understanding of students' experiences prior to college, understanding what they have learned in college is difficult if not impossible.

What is clear from the literature, however, is that the concept of student involvement is key to understanding student leadership. Astin (1984, 1985, 1993), who has authored much of the literature on this concept and its importance in higher education, defines student involvement as "the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience" (Astin, 1984 p. 297). He further notes that "a highly involved student is one who, for example, devotes considerable energy to studying, spends a lot of time on campus, participates actively in student organizations, and interacts frequently with faculty members and other students" (p. 297). Some of the results of this involvement, Astin concludes, are greater academic success, lower dropout rates, and the development and enhancement of leadership skills.

Though much-maligned on many contemporary campuses in the United States, Greek-- letter organizations traditionally have been identified as key players in the development of leadership skills among college students. As Horowitz (1987) points out, fraternities and sororities have produced some of academe's most visible college leaders. Other researchers have argued that these organizations facilitate a perpetual cycle that creates leadership opportunities for their own members while excluding others from similar opportunities (Horowitz, 1987; Shaffer, 1983). Still others insist that through the "Greek experience," students learn how to lead by following the excellent role models found within their chapters, and gain additional leadership experiences and skills within their individual chapters and the larger Greek community (Hughes & Winston, 1987). Among African Americans, two student collegiate groups-Black student organizations and historically Black Greek-letter organizations (BGOs)-have been found to be the benefactors of leadership experiences unique to their cultures and to create unique leadership opportunities for their members (Sedlacek, 1987). …

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