The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity house stands out amid a sea of houses circling Elon University’s Loy Center.
While similar in size and structure to its neighbors, the house is the sole residential building in the village that is also part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), the organization regulating historically black fraternities and sororities. Elon currently has 25 Greek affiliations on campus, and only six of them are NPHC.
While they are outnumbered on a predominantly white campus, Alpha Phi Alpha president and Elon senior Kennedy Ojimadu said he believes the NPHC community is vibrant and influential to Elon. He said their culture is distinct and offers a unique point of view than those of Interfraternity Council (IFC) fraternities and Panhellenic Association (PHA) sororities offer the campus.
Because NPHC organizations attract such a minute sect of students, they have to find alternative methods to promote awarenessto their presence as well as recruit potential members for their intake process. Last week, all six of the organizations held collaborative events—which they called “NPHC Week”— which ranged from game nights to forum discussions to engage with the community.
“We offer a great amount of cultural and historic values to campus that people aren’t going to be exposed to without our culture,” Ojimadu said. “[NPHC organizations] are really impactful not only to black history, but to American history. We’ve put out some legendary people into society, and we continue to do that and uphold our morals as well as build upon those strong values.”
Graphic by Stephanie Hays
Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan and Maya Angelou are a few of the many influential figures in history who were members of one of the “Divine Nine” NPHC organizations. There would typically be nine organizations at a larger college, but Elon only has charters for three sororities — Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, — and four fraternities — Alpha Phi Alpha;, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Kappa Alpha Psi.
Kappa Alpha Psi is no longer on campus as all of its members graduated in 2012 without securing potential students to replace them. The strain of being unable to compile a fresh class of members may seem foreign to Elon students, as IFC and PHA organizations constantly admit a fresh crop of new initiates every year eager for the opportunity to become a brother or sister. In total, there are only 29 members across the six NPHC organizations.
In contrast, Sigma Phi Epsilon, an IFC organization, has 71 members alone, according to their chapter’s website.
Omega Psi Phi member Dre Howell said that, while NPHC organizations are open to all races, they normally appeal to African Americans because of their heritage. At Elon, that group of students only encompasses about six percent of the population.
“Obviously we are outnumbered because we have a different way of going about getting members,” Howell said. “We knew it was going to be hard because we are fishing in a small pond.”
Ojimadu said NPHC Week was a large investment of time and effort, but he hopes the events served as a venue to stimulate more growth. Even though they may not categorize themselves with the majority of other Greek organizations at Elon, Ojimadu said that NPHC organizations would not forfeit their identity — such as their hand signals or dance “stroll” or “step” routines — to appease people who may not understand them. When people stereotype NPHC organizations because of their traditions, he said it’s counterproductive because they will brush them aside instead of trying to learn more about them.
“When people don’t know what’s going on and when people see something they don’t understand, they get scared,” Ojimadu said. “We’re not a afraid and we’re not going to lose what makes us special because people don’t want to take the time to understand us. Being a part of an NPHC community is unlike any other experience because we are such a tight-knit family.”
Elon's Alpha Phi Alpha chapter's video promo for their Fall 2015 new member initiation .
Aside from NPHC’s inward bond, all of the organizations expressed interest in working together with Elon’s IFC and PHA chapters. Ojimadu said he would love to “embrace organizations from different councils.” Howell echoed Ojimadu’s sentiments said whether in their community service, philanthropy or on campus, NPHC organizations simply want to build a rapport with other fraternities and sororities.
“We are not just NPHC members, we’re also Elon students,” Howell said. “We want to branch out and interact with every fraternity and organization on this campus. We’re out here seeking friends and trying to make great relationships, not just in the community, but in the school as well.”