Tradition or Trash? Successful Support for CBFOs, Part II

Rasheed Ali Cromwell, Esq.

Context Clues: Cultural Competency in Asian + Latinx Hazing Prevention/Intervention

Summer 2020 wasn’t long ago but for some of us it’s not long enough.

A global pandemic with Covid-19. Social injustice with the murder of George Floyd. Unpredictability and unrest were continuing to burden humans across the world as we struggled to make sense of new realities for us all.

Amidst this uncertainty and angst was when we received the first phone call, then another, and yet another building into what seemed like a never-ending string of worried communications regarding a plethora of issues from Asian interest fraternities and sororities. As we worked to navigate this constantly shifting landscape, we also began to receive calls from Latina/o/ex fraternities and sororities around similar issues.

While the issues were similar, the approach had to be different.

It was at that moment I realized there are things campus-based professionals, chapter advisors, staff, regional/national leadership, undergraduate leadership, researchers, trainers, speakers, and consultants can do to better support culturally based fraternal organizations (CBFOs)[1]. No longer can we pass things on as “tradition” without challenging their efficacy, efficiency, and impact. As someone who, over the last ten years, has spoken at over 300 different colleges and universities; at 100 conferences on CBFO experiences and concerns; and currently serves CBFOs by practicing fraternal law as an attorney, here are things I see that are currently working — and things that are not.

I focused the first part of this two-article series on Black Greek Letter Organizations and trends that are effective to increase engagement through programming like Meet The Greeks. This second part focuses on trends to successfully support Latinx and Asian Greek Letter organizations in hazing prevention and intervention strategies.[2]

As attorneys, we may not share confidential client information, and I am diligent about ensuring this article does not disclose anything about any of our clients.

Who Are You? All CBFOs Are Not Monolithic 

While the acronym CBFO is still relatively new, it has been picking up traction and is beginning to be utilized more and more in higher education. Part of the allure is it leads with “Culture,” an accurate depiction of the diversity that embodies the universe of culturally based organizations. While the term is gaining momentum, I have noticed in our practice there is still a lack of understanding as to just how important culture is to culturally based organizations. There are over 100 different fraternal organizations founded around some element of racial or cultural identity alone (Cromwell and Pualwan, 2022). While most are affiliated with an umbrella organization such as NPHC, NALFO, NAPA, or NMGC, some of the largest culturally based organizations like Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Inc. (SLB) and Lambda Theta Alpha (LTA) are not affiliated with a national council (Simeon and Cromwell, 2021). Even within a council, member organizations can be very diverse in terms of racial and cultural identity as well as size, history, and traditions.

For example, when our law firm first started getting calls regarding Asian-interest organizations, we learned that identifying an organization as part of NAPA only gave us a limited amount of information. Even though NAPA has over 20 organizations that make up the council, we quickly realized our first step had to be developing an understanding of the identity of the individual organization. All NAPA organizations are considered Asian interest organizations, but that does not mean all NAPA organizations are the same or even like each other. That information affected how we approached the problems we were facing.

Let’s say an organization may have been founded by individuals from South Asian backgrounds and may have based their new member processes and traditions on NPHC groups. How does that group’s South Asian identity and history influence their relationships with other NAPA organizations? When that organization is faced with a campus-based investigation, do investigators understand the connection between the organization’s processes and the unique nuisances that show up in the culture and tradition of Black Greek organizations? Do they understand the ways in which South Asian culture impacts the way members interact with one another?

Organizational identity is part of the equation, but we also must account for individual identity as well. In diversity, equity, and inclusion work (DEI), one of the foundational steps to education is establishing identity. What complicates DEI work in CBFOs is there are often multiple layers of identities we are dealing with.

When a person of non-Asian descent joins a NAPA organization, how does that person’s racial and cultural identity impact how they are perceived within their organization and council? Individually, a person may identify as a particular race. In some cases, members of color are members of other races/ethnicities but still a part of a CBFO. Stevie Tran, partner at the Fraternity/ Sorority Law Group (FSLG), states “this is an often-overlooked factor where a lot of assumptions are automatically made. Recognizing both organizational and individual identity, and how that affects the dynamics of the case, is instrumental in cluing you into what the underlying issues are. Especially in CBFO cases it’s not what necessarily is said, it’s what is not being said.  Organizational and individual identity awareness helps us read between the lines.”

Don’t Judge a Book by its Covers… but we still need you to read between the lines

Campus-based professionals are not practicing attorneys. I get that. But utilizing frameworks like Stophazing.org’s “Hazing Prevention Framework (HPF),” one of which of the eight core components is cultural competency, can help you bridge the gaps.  Adapting this framework, like our legal team often does, for our clients, empowers us with a better understanding of our clients’ challenges. In addition to focusing on organizational and individual culture, we also utilize cultural competency from a historical lens to share background and context of the historical challenges that the specific demographic may be facing.

For example, in the Asian community, “There is a long history of misogyny and violence directed specifically at Asian women by men of all races — including Asian men” (Dewan, 2021). Understanding this history, and not generalizing or assuming, helps us reveal layers and connections that may not necessarily be obvious on the surface. It also leads to not so obvious connections, like in this instance, acknowledging and understanding the discrimination Asian women often experience, especially as it relates to the expectation that they are submissive, “expected to be agreeable, not speak up or stand up for themselves.”

Considering history and context along with organizational and individual identity, in this instance, may reveal connections with other “brother” organizations. This connection is key because it helps us better understand instances where members from “related” organizations may expect them to perform or implement practices that would otherwise be considered deplorable or inappropriate. History and context help us understand relationships, but it also helps us understand expectations. We saw this first hand working with Latinx organizations where family is such a strong component of the fraternal experience that it influences culture, decision making, and tradition (Landale, Oropesa, and Bradatan, 2006). This family tradition resonates even stronger with Latinx orgs who have founding mothers and fathers who are not only still alive but, in some instances, actively involved in the organizations and instrumental in fostering a sense of commitment in the orgs they helped start (Fajardo, 2015). Whether in a formal capacity or in an informal capacity, their social capital still matters. Including them in our outreach, along with other influential alumni members not only increased our understanding but helped us connect with other “old-heads” that are influencing attitudes, behavior, and expectations of their members. In some instances that influence may impact actual activities as well.

What’s Next?

In cases, especially those related to hazing, we utilize these factors to determine everyone potentially liable for the actions we are investigating. As a campus-based professional, or either as a regional or National CBFO officer, these factors are instrumental in how you educate your community or organization effectively. If you are only providing hazing education primarily to one group, you are missing potential opportunities to make a community wide impact with the other potential “co-contributors” of the behavior and actions. Utilizing a more holistic perspective of how the various dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender identity, and age intersect will better empower you to support your CBFOs.

As a legal practitioner, the summer of 2020 forced me to learn how to approach issues in a very nuanced and strategic way. To accomplish this our legal team expanded frameworks and adapted concepts to empower our clients to navigate what we would later understand to be a very complex problem. We hope, as campus-based professionals and CBFO local, regional, and national leadership, you can translate some of these best practices to better support the CBFOs on your campus.

 

References

Cromwell , R. A., & Pualwan, E. N. (2022). The Harbor Institute Guide to Culturally Based Fraternal Organizations, 2nd Edition.

Dewan, S. (2021, March 18). How racism and sexism intertwine to torment Asian-American women. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/us/racism-sexism-atlanta-spa-shooting.html

Fajardo, O. (2015, April). History of Latino fraternal movement and why it matters on campus today. Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Essentials. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.afa1976.org/resource/collection/ABDB5914-1754-4B8A-A477-DD4130EA781E/Farjardo_April_2015_-_Researcher.pdf

Landale, N. S., Oropesa, R. S., & Bradatan, C. (2006). Hispanic Families in the United States: Family Structure and Process in an Era of Family Change. In: National Research Council (US) Panel on Hispanics in the United States; Tienda M, Mitchell F, editors. Hispanics and the Future of America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19902/

Simeon, E. J. & Cromwell, R. A. (December 2021). Growing Pains: Latinx and Multicultural Greeks at HBCUs. AFA Perspectives, Issue 2, Volume 1.

About the author

Rasheed Ali Cromwell, Esq. utilizes his unique experiences as a practicing attorney, former federal law clerk, educational consultant, national fraternity member, and speaker/trainer to address culturally-based fraternal organizations in a multi-disciplinary and holistic way.

He has presented at over 300 colleges/universities and organizations, in 45 states and has presented and represented over 25 different fraternal organizations belonging to IFC, NAPA, NMGC, NPC and NPHC at a national level regarding issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), risk prevention, leadership development, and fraternal law. Currently, he serves as the President of the Harbor Institute and serves as of counsel for the Fraternity Sorority Legal Group (FSLG). He is a financially active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and volunteers as legal counsel for the Washington, DC. Alumni chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council (NPHC).

Follow him at IG @theharborinstitute or Twitter @harborinstitute.


[1] CBFOs are fraternities or sororities that were founded for the primary purpose of advancing a marginalized community. In the fraternal world, these marginalized communities are often associated with supporting underrepresented populations who formed organizations to address the many challenges that their embers faced on a college or university campus (Cromwell and Pualwan, 2022).

[2] While I dedicate each section by primarily focusing on each demographic many of the concepts are transferrable throughout several different CBFOs. I encourage the reader to think about what is adaptable in their communities, councils, and chapters.

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