Sisterhood beyond the ivory tower: An exploration of black sorority alumnae membership

Sisterhood beyond the ivory tower: An exploration of black sorority alumnae membership


Marcia D. Hernandez: 0000-0001-9556-7699


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Black Greek Letter Organizations in the Twenty First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun


G. S. Parks, Jr.


Alumnae members are the backbone of black sororities. The sheer number of alumnae members and their collective resources make these women a significant force for change in their communities. This research demonstrates that community service, philanthropy, sisterhood, and professional development are motivating factors for women to maintain an active status in their college organizations or to join sororities after graduation. Given the wide variety of philanthropic, professional, and social organizations that black women can join today, the fact that alumnae membership continues to grow highlights the importance of these groups in contemporary society. Moreover, the disproportionately high percentage of graduate members in black sororities speaks to members' individual commitment to maintain the vitality of the groups through different stages of their lives and across generations. However, research on Greek organizations continues to neglect the relevance of these organizations for members after college, while social movement literature ignores the complexity and multipurpose goals of sororities. My research indicates that membership in alumnae chapters involves a variety of negotiations, including when to seek membership, the nature of relationships with peers, and decisions to opt out. Most of my respondents believe that the opportunity to join later in life or to rejoin a sorority is beneficial for themselves as well as for the organizations. Membership in an alumnae chapter can be a complicated process to navigate, however. Continuous members hold complex and often contradictory views of their graduate-only peers. There was almost uniform agreement among the continuous members that pledging not only makes them better informed but also facilitates the creation of bonds among women. My findings indicate that graduate-only members may experience a social disadvantage due to their more limited membership intake process. All alumnae members have to negotiate how much of their personal resources they are willing to share with a sorority. Generosity with one's time, expertise, energy, and money is a sign of one's devotion to the group and is part of being a good sister. However, if the expectations of sisterhood are unrealistic or become too much, women may elect to opt out, at least for a limited time. My research indicates that further investigation is essential to better understand the dynamics of alumnae membership in black sororities. Research into intragroup class-based inequalities would provide more information on the diversity of membership as well as motivations for joining a sorority.49 Each sorority has nationally mandated community service goals, but each chapter can perform these goals according to the needs of the local community. Understanding the decision-making process alumnae members go through in terms of acting on these goals might uncover structural changes that could alleviate the pressure of sororities acting as greedy institutions. Also, longitudinal research on opting out and reentry would be useful in understanding at what point in life women are most likely to do either. Scholars studying community service, social movements, and Greek-letter organizations should explore these issues to expand the understanding of membership in black sorority alumnae chapters and their continued relevance in contemporary society. Copyright © 2008 by The University Press of Kentucky.

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The University of Kentucky Press


Lexington, KY

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Sisterhood beyond the ivory tower: An exploration of black sorority alumnae membership