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									The impact of membership in Black Greek-letter organizations on black students' involvement in collegiate
activities and their development of leadership skills.

Kimbrough, Walter M

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). Despite these plaudits, fraternities and sororities have received increasing amounts of negative
publicity in recent years, causing many in society, and in higher education specifically, to question the right of these
organizations to exist (Childs, 1993; Milloy, 1993).

Black Greek-letter organizations have found themselves in a particularly precarious position due to recent serious and
widely publicized pledging (or hazing) cases (Ruffins, 1997; Shea, 1994). In response to previous negative portrayals
emanating from bad publicity, several Black fraternities and sororities abolished their pledging procedures in 1990
(Collison, 1990). Evidence nonetheless suggests, however, that Greek-letter organizations offer Black students special
opportunities for involvement and leadership during their collegiate years. Surveys of Black leaders indicate that a large
percentage hold membership in BGOs (Freeman & Witcher, 1988). Moreover, Blacks' membership in these organizations
tends to be lifelong, suggesting a depth of commitment not evident among Greeks of other ethnicities.
If leadership experiences provide college students with the tools they need to succeed in school and life, then those
organizations with the ability to harness leadership should not be summarily dismissed. This is particularly the case for
African American students who, on average, have lower grade point averages and higher dropout rates than do their
White counterparts ("Graduation Rates," 1995). It is also true for Black students on predominantly White college
campuses, who have been shown to demonstrate lower student involvement than White students (Allen, 1992). Thus,
while continued discourse on issues such as hazing is necessary, higher education needs a broader understanding of the
role and impact of Black Greek-letter organizations beyond the problem areas. The study described in this article
attempts to shine some much-needed research "light" on these organizations in both the historically Black and
predominantly White campus setting. Its purpose is to empirically determine the impact of membership in Black
fraternities and sororities on Black students' involvement in collegiate activities and leadership development.



A target sample of 1,400 Black students-50 Greek and 50 unaffiliated or non-Greek students from one public
predominantly White institution (PWI) and one public historically Black institution (HBCU) in each of 7 southeastern
states-was sought for the present study.' The author's previous research had indicated that a target sample of this size
would provide a large enough body of data from which meaningful results could be obtained (Stevens, 1990). However, 2
HBCUs refused to participate, and several institutions returned unopened survey instruments. A total of 989 respondents
returned their surveys. Of that number, 405 (41%) were complete; and of those, over 96% were usable. Thus, the actual
sample was comprised of 387 Black students from 12 institutions (7 PWIs and 5 HBCUs) (see Table I).

Students attending HBCUs represented over 62% (n = 241) of the total. Greek students made up 47% (n = 183) of the
total sample, with most (60%, or 110) attending PWIs. Female students (n = 261) made up 67% of the total sample, a
figure consistent with the proportion of Black female students involved in U.S. higher education ("Trends Affecting,"
1995). Several nontraditional (over 25 years of age) students participated in the study, but the vast majority were
traditional students (between 18 and 24 years of age). The average age of the respondents was about 21 years old; no
significant age differences between Greeks and non-Greeks were found (F[1, 365]= .08; p = .78) (see Table I). Overall,
Greeks had a significantly higher grade average than did unaffiliated students, regardless of campus type (F[1, 365] =
12.85; p


Given Erwin's (1991) claim that surveys are useful "when educators want to collect information about the student's
involvement in campus activities" (p. 91), several instruments were developed and/or used in the present study.

The Student Involvement and Leadership Scale (SILS). The SILS was created by the researchers especially for this study.
Constructed along the lines of Borg and Gall's (1989) suggestions, particularly those regarding survey length and the
manner in which questions should be posed, it is a modified Likert-type scale that assesses respondents' levels of
involvement in student, community, and civic organizations at three points: high school, freshman year, and their present
year of college. It also assesses students' perceptions of their leadership ability relative to their peers, their present and
past degree of participation in campus groups, and the number of elected and appointed leadership positions they have
held. Specifically, it asks them to indicate the extent of their participation in campus groups during three distinct time
periods (high school, freshman year of college, and present year of college), and to indicate their range of involvement
from "no participation" to "active participation" in several groups while holding office. This information was used to
establish a baseline against which to assess changes in the extent of students' involvement. The reliability of this scale,
based on Cronbach's alpha, is .77 (Kimbrough, 1995).

The Competing Values Managerial Skills Instrument (CVMSI) (Quinn, 1988). The CVMSI measures respondents' self-
reported scores on 32 tasks used to assess leadership potential. Quinn defines eight leadership roles that are considered
indicative of managerial competencies: mentor, producer, director, innovator, broker, monitor, facilitator, and
coordinator. Each of these roles is comprised of four related skills that can be assessed via performance on specific tasks.
The scale was modified for use in the present study to ask students to evaluate their ability (or skill) to complete these
tasks. Cronbach's alpha scores reported for the eight roles range from .76 to .88 (Quinn, 1988).
The Leadership Assessment Scale (LAS). The LAS was also created especially for this study. It measures students
perceptions of the ability of different student organizations and student leadership positions to offer opportunities for the
development of leadership skills. The organizations and positions that make up the scale are a compilation of the six
major student life opportunities extant on most college campuses:

(1) student government;

(2) academic clubs/honor societies;

(3) residence hall assistants' groups;

(4) residence hall government;

(5) Black student groups; and

(6) Student ambassador/orientation groups.

No specific reliability data exists for this scale.

Procedures and Data Analysis

Staff members in the target colleges' offices of student affairs responsible for advising Greek organizations were
contacted to ask their assistance in disseminating the study instruments. Those who agreed to help were each provided
with 50 survey packets to distribute to Black Greeks and 50 to distribute to Black non-Greeks on their campuses. The
administrators distributed the instruments randomly and at their convenience. The students completed the instruments
and returned them to the staff person, who returned them to the researcher.

The data collected from the survey instruments were analyzed using the SAS statistical program. Demographic data were
reported in the form of frequencies and percentages. A significance level of .01 was used for all scales.

The chi-square test provided evidence of significant differences in responses to the data that do not meet assumptions for
parametric statistics. Additional chi-square tests compared the nonparametric data from the SILS based on the
respondents' class standing (i.e., freshman, sophomore, etc.). These tests aided in controlling for precollege
characteristics by comparing similar students during similar academic periods. Student responses on the CVMSI and LAS
were analyzed using a two-way factorial multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) on the main effects of Greek
membership and campus environment (PWI or HBCU). The MANOVA was used primarily because of the related nature of
the four skills assessed in the CVMSI and of the two main effects. The use of MANOVA was also deemed appropriate to
control the overall Type I error rate-that is, the probability that one might fail to recognize differences between groups-as
well as to determine correlations among the dependent variables (Stevens, 1990). RESULTS

The LAS was used to rate students' perceptions of the potential of seven types of campus organizations and positions to
build leadership skills (see Table IV). Responses to this scale reveal that Greeks differed significantly from non-Greeks
only in terms of their perceptions of fraternities' and sororities' ability to develop such skills among students (F[1, 379] =
17.40; p

Several interesting themes emerge from this study. First, BGO members were found to be more involved in campus
activities and organizations than were Black non-Greeks.

This involvement included the holding of one or more leadership positions over a range of activities. These findings
support Astin's (1993) claim that membership in Greek-letter organizations positively affects student involvement in
general. The findings also indicate that, after controlling for high school involvement, fraternity or sorority membership is
apparently a factor in increasing Black college students' level of involvement and leadership in campus activities and
organizations. Whereas the present study's Black Greeks and non-Greeks exhibited no significant differences in terms of
their high school or freshman-year leadership experiences, significant differences emerged in terms of their current-year
experiences. Therefore, it is plausible to conclude that membership in a Greek-letter organization contributes positively to
collegiate student involvement, be it in other student organizations or in the holding of formal leadership positions

The data also suggest that Black Greeks were involved in other activities and organizations outside of their fraternities or
sororities, and that students who joined Greek-letter organizations increased their overall involvement to a significant
degree. Moreover, the Greeks evidenced a generally higher level of confidence in their abilities to perform several
leadership-related skills than did non-Greeks. Given their higher levels of involvement, it is logical to expect that Greek-
letter organizations provide their members with greater opportunities to practice these skills and subsequently to develop
a higher level of leadership ability. Although most of the students sampled indicated that they were leaders to a similar
extent, non-Greeks were decidedly less involved and held fewer positions in campus activities and organizations, and
scored themselves lower on the leadership skills identified by this study.

One surprising result to come out of this study was the disparity in leadership skills and level of invovlement found
between Black Greeks and non-Greeks attending HBCUs. Given that the literature indicates that students attending
HBCUs do not feel the environmental presses that their peers at PWIs face (see, for example, Fleming, 1984), one would
expect equal motivation and opportunities for involvement among Greeks and non-Greeks at HBCUs. In the present
study, however, the Greeks at HBCUs almost always scored significantly higher on measures of student involvement,
perceptions of their leadership ability, and leadership skill development than did their non-Greek counterparts at these
predominantly Black institutions. There appears to be even greater differentiation among these two groups of Black
students. This finding contrasts with earlier literature, which highlights the supportive environment of HBCUs, presumably
for Greeks and non-Greeks alike ("The Blacker the College," 1994).

Finally, Black Greeks and non-Greeks in the study sample shared similar views on the ability of various student
organizations and positions to develop leadership skills in Black students. As expected, Greek members believed that
their fraternities and sororities contributed to students' leadership skill development much more so than did non-Greeks,
a finding that is consistent with an earlier study conducted by Kimbrough (1995). On predominantly White campuses,
Black Greeks and non-Greeks did not significantly differ in their assessment of BGOs in this regard. However, for students
at HBCUs, perceptions of Black fraternities' and sororities' ability to develop leadership potential differed greatly. Non-
Greeks rated BGOs fifth out of seven student groups; yet, these students also lagged behind their Greek counterparts in
terms of their assessments of personal leadership skills and levels of involvement in campus organizations and positions.
By and large, both Black Greek and non-Greek students attending HBCUs placed greater value on student government
experience as a means of developing leadership skills than did Black students at PWIs.


Three limitations of this study are worth noting. First, the most challenging aspect of the study was its data collection.
Two sampling methods, probability and convenience, merited consideration in the conduct of this research (Light, Singer,
& Willett, 1990). Although a probability sample would have yielded a stratified random sample, low response rates using
this method have been documented for Black student samples (Allen, 1992). On the other hand, convenience sampling,
while it typically yields sufficient response rates, does not yield results that are readily generalizable to the target
population. Further, samples derived via this latter method are generally not typical, thus introducing bias to a study
(Erwin, 1991). The findings of the present study must therefore be viewed with discretion given its use of a convenience

The study's reliance on respondents' self-reported data may also be problematic. Inherent biases may result from a
"Hawthorne effect" of some kind-that is, the answers provided by the students may have portrayed their involvement
and/or abilities in a more favorable light than is actually the case (Borg & Gall,1989). Third, there were almost certainly
inconsistencies in the manner with which the instruments were disseminated. As Erwin (1991) indicates, a lack of
uniformity in the conditions under which data are collected may cause a variation of scores due to test administration
rather than to students' abilities; for the most part, however, this variation is considered insignificant.

This research has several implications for collegiate student affairs professionals, BGOs, and the higher education
community generally. First, it indicates that further examination of the impact that BGOs have on student involvement
and leadership skill development is necessary. Although the present study identifies some of the positive aspects of Black
Greek life, it only scratches the surface of what is known about these organizations. A follow-up study yielding qualitative
data would provide a richer understanding of the nature of Black student involvement and leadership development
relative to membership in BGOs. Whereas this study did not analyze the data in terms of student gender, additional
research should explore the difference in leadership development and involvement between Black fraternity and sorority
members. It is conceivable that differences related to this variable exist. Second, although the popular media continue to
focus on the negative attributes of Black Greek life, the results of this study strongly suggest that there are positive
outcomes of membership in BGOs. For example, the Black Greeks in the sample showed significantly more involvement in
campus life than did the non-Greeks, and appeared to benefit from their involvement in terms of leadership skill
development. Most important, this increase in involvement occurred after the students joined their fraternities or
sororities, as both Greeks and non-Greeks reported similar levels of student involvement during high school. Thus,
membership in a Black Greek-letter organization is at least one factor in increased student involvement and leadership
skill development.

The findings of this study should be critically reviewed by student affairs administrators who respond to the numerous
complaints and concerns about historically Black fraternities and sororities. The scarcity of research on BGOs handicaps
administrators who are unfamiliar with the Greek system, but who must contend with the serious problems by which
these organizations are beset. Even though issues such as illegal pledging require continued attention and analysis
(Kimbrough, 1997), these findings suggest that collegiate administrators must also continue to focus resources on the
leadership development opportunities that the Greek system presents. They further suggest that national historically
Black fraternities and sororities should continue to support and monitor their undergraduate chapters to better refine the
chapters' leadership development potential.

1For the purposes of this study, "Greeks" refers to those members of historically Black fraternities and sororities, while
"unaffiliated" or "non-Greek" refers to those Black students who were not members of such organizations.


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Walter M. Kimbrough, Old Dominion University; and Philo A. Hutcheson, Georgia State University

Copyright Howard University Spring 1998
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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