W&L hosts step show competition to increase visibility, honor Black culture

Historically African-American sororities and fraternities from across the state traveled to compete in the inaugural event


Lily Mott

The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity performs their winning routine at the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s step show competition.

Lily Mott, Staff Writer

For Naija Barakat, the president of Washington and Lee’s Student Association for Black Unity (SABU), the Feb. 11 National Pan-Hellenic Council Step Show Competition was a right of passage.
Barakat’s father was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity chapter at the University of Buffalo, which is now SUNY Buffalo. Barakat said her father’s fraternity hosted parties, step shows and stroll shows.
“It’s nice to be able to say I had a little bit of that,” said Barakat. “Even though I’m not going to some huge state school, a super diverse state school, I’m still getting a little piece of that.”
Stepping is a type of dance that is rooted in African-American culture and involves singing and chanting. Step show competitions are common ways for National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations, comprised of historically African American sororities and fraternities, to celebrate, party and showcase their hard work in a competitive and prideful way.
Barakat is a member of Washington and Lee’s Tau Zeta Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA), which is part of the Divine Nine (D9), a term that refers to the nine sororities and fraternities that are members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Barakat said that one purpose of the step show was to bring Black and D9 culture to campus.
“But there’s also like a big piece of it that’s for us, for our own experience and D9 Greeks on campus,” Barakat said.
AKA President Tiwaniya Tyler said the show was also about getting the university community more active in NPHC organizations.
“We want to make sure that the people here on campus have options and that they’re able to find an organization that they love and are ready to work and serve for,” Tyler said.
AKA is the only active NPHC organization at Washington and Lee, but four organizations are chartered on campus. The other three organizations, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, are inactive or don’t have current members.
Assistant Director of Inclusion and Engagement Heidi Bustos planned the step show competition to create visibility about these NPHC organizations.
Bustos contacted fraternities and sororities across Virginia and North Carolina to participate in the competition. She requested the event be held in February to commemorate Black History Month and highlight the Black history and culture that NPHC organizations represent.
The majority of NPHC organizations were founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Bustos said the organizations were created with the foundations of service, sisterhood and brotherhood.
The tradition of stepping dates back to when NPHC organizations were first founded over a century ago.
“Being one generation removed from slavery, I can see how a lot of those historical and cultural components have moved into more of a celebration,” Bustos said. “At the time, they were trying to survive. They were trying to make it.”
Three NPHC organizations from nearby Virginia universities competed in the event. A team of four Washington and Lee deans and professors judged the competition. The Zeta Phi Beta Chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University placed first for sororities. The Alpha Phi Alpha Chapter at James Madison University took home first for fraternities.
Bustos said the Office of Inclusion and Engagement has more plans in store to increase NPHC visibility. Chapters usually have statues or plates with their name, history and other information on campus.
“Right now, none of that exists on our campus,” Bustos said. “And I do think that that is important.”