The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Historically Black fraternities return for the first time in two years

Students join historically black fraternities at Washington and Lee after years-long hiatus
Phi Beta Sigma celebrates its new member presentation. Photo courtesy of Phi Beta Sigma

For the past two years, Washington and Lee University didn’t have any students who were members of a historically black fraternity. That changed in 2023.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., a historically black Greek Letter organization founded at Howard University in 1914, unmasked its 12 newest members during its April 2 new member presentation in Stackhouse Theater. Malik Hardy, ’26, vice president of Washington and Lee’s Beta Beta Nu Chapter, said the organization can provide black men an alternative to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) groups on campus.

“Our biggest goal is to [foster] unity for young Black men,” Hardy said. “It was more so just creating a path for the younger Black gentlemen that are coming behind [us] so they don’t feel forced to join IFCs. It’s bigger than us.”

Washington and Lee’s Beta Beta Nu Chapter was chartered on April 1, 2005. But the chapter had been inactive for over 10 years due to a lack of membership. Hardy and Beta Beta Nu president, Alan Haigler, ’26, reached out to members of local Phi Beta Sigma graduate chapters last winter to begin the reactivation process.

“The process to get people on board was probably the hardest part since people don’t know what to expect here,” Hardy said. “But outside of that, I think it was a pretty good process and it coming about was a smooth ride.”

The Beta Beta Nu Chapter held an information session in February for students who might be interested in joining the fraternity. Sam Bennett, ’26, attended the meeting and ultimately pledged Phi Beta Sigma. Bennett is white but wants to serve as a reminder to non-Black students that they can also join Divine Nine (D9) organizations, a term that refers to the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that are members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC).

“I do think that it’s important that other students, who are not Black that might not seem like they have a place in an IFC fraternity, can have other avenues to go through,” he said.

Heidi Bustos, assistant director of Inclusion and Engagement at the university, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a D9 organization. She said NPHC organizations place a greater emphasis on community service compared to IFC and Panhellenic groups.

“They are very service-oriented compared to IFC and I think that’s what gravitates a lot of different students because they’re not just social,” Bustos said. “It’s very much about the service, about the work and about the impact that they make on their communities.”

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity’s motto is  “culture for service and service for humanity,” according to its website. Hardy said he wants to get more involved with other service projects like Campus Kitchen, while also helping raise greater awareness of local Black-owned businesses.

Alpha Phi Alpha reignites presence at W&L

Phi Beta Sigma isn’t the only active black fraternity on campus. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., which was founded at Cornell University in 1906, had its first member from Washington and Lee in 2020.

Jalen Todd, ’25, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his godfather, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

“He would take me to different Alpha events my whole life and it was something that I always wanted to be a part of,” Todd said. “When I got to W&L, I wanted to become an Alpha but I didn’t really know how to go about it since there were no Alphas present.”

The Xi Delta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was chartered March 2, 1979 on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. In 1992, Xi Delta became a joint chapter between Washington and Lee and James Madison University. Washington and Lee had no active members since Garrett Clinton, ’20, graduated from the university.

Todd’s membership revived Alpha’s presence at Washington and Lee when he became a member of the fraternity March 24. Todd credits his co-initiates, current brothers of the chapter and Washington and Lee Alpha alumni, such as Courtney Penn,’92, and William Toles, ’92, for helping him navigate the process.

“It was really challenging, but I had a collective group of people in the community that supported me throughout my journey, which I’m very grateful for,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

Todd said it’s difficult being the only Alpha on campus. But he hopes his initiation will inspire other men to join him in the Old Gold and Black.

“I hope and pray that more people will be interested [in joining Alpha Phi Alpha] now because I took a lot of the pressure off of people,” he said. “Doing it by yourself with nobody here to guide you and the only people that can guide you [being] an hour away is very hard.”

Creating a larger NPHC influence on campus

Heidi Bustos became the National Pan-Hellenic Council advisor for Washington and Lee at the start of this academic year. She hopes initiatives like last week’s NPHC step show as well as the school’s NPHC Instagram page, which spotlights W&L’s D9 members, will help bring more attention to Black Greek life at W&L.

“Not a lot of people were aware that we even had fraternities let alone that they could have joined one, so I’m trying to build the visibility aspect [of D9 organizations on campus].”

The Tau Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha is the only active D9 sorority on campus. Washington and Lee’s Tau Omega Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. currently has no members. Bustos said she hopes to see W&L’s Tau Omega Chapter reactive soon.

Still, Bustos said she remains optimistic that historically black fraternities will remain active on campus for years to come.

“The majority of [the Sigmas] are sophomores, so they’ll have years to really talk to incoming freshmen as the years progress and potentially get more members,” Bustos said. “I think the same thing with Alpha right now. Jalen still has a few years to get that energy flowing for interest from either his current friends or future students.

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