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Black Fraternities Focus on Community Service

By Jeremy Hylton
and Sarah Y. Keightley
Staff Reporters

When you think of Greek organizations on campus, you might first think of the residential fraternities of the Interfraternity Council and the sororities of the Panhellenic Association, but MIT is also home to two non-residential, historically black fraternities, Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi.

The two fraternities focus on activities that promote leadership and community service. The groups "are a valuable organization for students of color," said Margaret A. Jablonski, associate dean for residence and campus activities.

The two fraternities are recognized student organizations through the Association of Student Activities. The Dean's Office interacts with the group in an advising capacity, but Jablonski would like to see this strengthened.

"The way we operate is outside the parameters of an IFC-fraternity. For that reason, we don't have the benefit of things like advisers at the school" and other resources available to residential fraternities, said Berdell Knowles Jr. '94, a member of KAPsi.

"There's really a big difference: We don't have a frat house on campus, [but] we are recognized by MIT as an official fraternity on campus," said Craig Robinson '97, vice president of APA and president of the Class of 1997.

Knowles also noted that these fraternities do not have the financial resources that other fraternities do. "The historically black fraternities don't have any type of support or any type of endowment that I'm aware of," he said. "All the funding for our community service comes from our fund-raisers."

The two fraternities have stronger ties to other Boston-area chapters than most residential fraternities. The MIT chapters of APA and KAPsi include students from MIT, Harvard University, and Tufts University.

Before APA was chartered at MIT in 1975, black students interested in joining historically black fraternities joined chapters at other Boston schools.

APA is the first historically black fraternity, founded in 1906. "It's goals include uplifting the black community as well as serving all mankind," Robinson said. "Even though it's predominately a community service community, the brotherhood aspect is a very strong part of the fraternity."

The Rho Nu chapter, started at MIT in 1989, tutors young men in the Cambridge community, gives seminars on teen sexuality, and is involved with the Boy Scouts, among other activities Robinson said.

KAPsi "was founded to assist in promoting the aims and ideals of colleges and universities, while inspiring community service," Knowles said.

"A lot of people come to school basically unfamiliar with community service and we try to introduce them to that and get them interested in it," Knowles continued.

KAPsi is the oldest black fraternity in Cambridge. It was founded in 1975.

Ramy A. Arnaout contributed to the reporting of this story.