Welcome to the Underground Pledging Season!

In the coming months, thousands of black Greeks on college campuses are going to break their oath and bylaws in the coming months, and think nothing of it.

Sphinxman Lawrence Ross, 1985
Sphinxman Lawrence Ross, 1985

Editor’s note: This blog posting about pledging is from our archives. Keep checking The Root for continuing coverage of the lawsuit against SAE.

Ah, it’s time to go back to school, and boy, have you had a great summer as a black Greek! You’ve chilled with your frat or sorors, attended umpteen Divine Nine picnics, and fallen in and out of love with that guy or girl you met on Facebook. But now it’s time to box everything up, kiss Mom and Dad goodbye, and get back to your dorm or apartment.

But what folks don’t know, or like to talk about, is that the beginning of the school year is also the beginning of the most important task on the unofficial black Greek fraternal calendar. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the start of the Underground Pledge Period!

Wait, we’re not supposed to talk about that, right? Whenever I lecture on college campuses, the black Greeks are adamant about maintaining the public stance that hazing has no place in their organization, and that their chapter doesn’t participate in such barbaric activities.

Uh-huh. Yeah, right.

But before we start talking about underground pledging, let’s go back a bit. For those who aren’t familiar with black Greek pledging, it officially ended more than 20 years ago, when the Divine Nine stopped all aboveground pledging. That meant that no longer could you walk around campus in uniform, cut pledges’ hair, walk in line and do a lot of unsavory things that we black Greeks had been noted for, like beating men and women to the point of permanent injury and death. The assumption would be that if you killed pledging, then you would hopefully stop pledges from getting killed. Except it didn’t work.

See that picture over there? That’s me in 1985, Sphinxman #3, pledging Alpha Epsilon Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, on the University of California at Berkeley campus. That expression on my face should tell you, I wasn’t in a situation where smiling was encouraged. But for the past 20 years, my aboveground experience is the experience that black Greeks have desperately been trying to emulate via the underground pledge process.

Unfortunately, what people have experienced as “pledging” via the underground is about as similar to aboveground pledging as a horse is to the space shuttle. Both are modes of transportation but completely different animals.
There is no comparison.
It’s as if current members are trying to create a “process” based on the game of telephone, and what they’ve created is a disaster.

The underground pledge process is an absurd scenario where “old-school” brothers or sorors who crossed in 1994 tell wives’ tales about what they did “on line” to folks who crossed in ‘03. And those wives’ tales are then enhanced up the ladder until the pledging stories become more and more fanciful to those black Greeks on campus today. And these current black Greeks will use those stories to convince some poor unsuspecting college student that the only way they’ll get respect is by pledging underground. Hundreds of aspirants will do it, hoping that the “pledging” they’re doing will give them the respect they crave.