Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Self-Assessment, Participation, and Value of Leadership Skills, Activities, and Experiences for Black Students Relative to Their Membership in Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Self-Assessment, Participation, and Value of Leadership Skills, Activities, and Experiences for Black Students Relative to Their Membership in Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The fate of the nation's collegiate Greek-letter organizations promises to be a major concern for student affairs professionals as the 20th century comes to a close. Many of the issues raised during the 1980s remain unresolved. Among these are questions about the legitimacy of "Greek life" as it relates to the academic mission of higher education. On one hand, researchers such as Horowitz (1987), Maisel (1990), and a host of others claim that fraternities and sororities have no redeeming value and are detrimental to the development of college students. On the other hand, Wilder, Hoyt, Doren, Hauck, and Zettle (1978) conclude that there is no reason to believe that Greek-letter organizations have an adverse effect on the campus community. They and others (i.e., Miller, 1973) assert that "Greeks" are more conservative and more family- and peer-oriented--certainly not traits that any campus administrator would consider disruptive to daily collegiate activities.

An even stronger argument favoring the viability of Greek-letter organizations emphasizes one of the positive qualities associated with or attributed to membership in a fraternity or sorority: leadership. Erwin and Marcus-Mendoza (1988), noting that students who are involved in campus organizations are more action-oriented, suggest that such participation relates directly to higher levels of both cognitive and leadership development. Their conclusions concur with the findings of Hughes and Winston (1987), who claim that the fraternity recruits ("pledges") participating in their study came to value leadership more highly in their interpersonal relationships than did those students who did not join a fraternity or sorority ("independents"). It must be noted, however, that the majority of the students participating in all of the above-cited research were White. As yet, little consideration has been given to Black student members of traditionally Black fraternities and sororities.

Fleming (1983) points out several factors that affect the achievement and retention of Black students, particularly those attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs). She notes that many of these students, especially Black males, exist in social isolation on predominantly White campuses. She also contends that they often lack the kinds of meaningful interpersonal relationships that foster academic and career achievement. Black students at PWIs, Fleming concludes, must therefore "find constructive means of encouraging helpful peer contact rather than mutual avoidance" (p. 156). Her findings seem to mesh with those of the studies that support the role and importance of Greek-letter organizations in collegiate life.

If Black college students need to develop meaningful interpersonal relationships and if membership in a fraternity or sorority leads these students to develop stronger bonds with their peers and families, then it seems likely that these organizations would play a crucial role in facilitating and improving Black students' perceptions of the college environment, especially at PWIs. If being a Greek is a viable means for increasing students' motivation and performance as well as enhancing their cognitive and leadership development, then assessment of Black students' involvement in these organizations on predominantly White campuses seems particularly warranted. Thus, the purpose of the present study is to investigate the views held by two sets of college students, Black Greeks (hereafter referred to as "members") and Black non-Greeks (hereafter referred to as "nonmembers"), on the role of Greek-letter organizations in leadership development.

Four hypotheses accompany this study. The first is that similarities will exist across groups in their self-assessments of their leadership skills. The second is that members will hold more leadership positions than nonmembers. Third, similarities will be found across groups with regard to the self-reported value of leadership. …

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