I have been following with great interest, and ultimately great sadness, the recent developments of Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Fraternity that have made it to the media.
According to articles published in The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Hoya [9/7; 8/29], DPE, the nation’s first and apparently only professional fraternity for students interested in foreign service, is plagued with stagnant, problematic leadership and dissatisfied members. Its general secretary has been accused of sexism and xenophobia, and members from various chapters have essentially held recruitment boycotts.
I am not a member of DPE. I remember well the pledge pins of the young men who each semester would make their commitment to the organization. My own Alpha Phi Omega members used to hear rumors that DPE pledges would get “bonus points” for stealing one of our pledge books. I even had a little brother in APO who dropped from our process and joined DPE the following year. And every year, I looked forward to seeing the “staircase photo” of the new members of DPE in their tuxedos and sashes.
As I got more interested in fraternalism, I learned that DPE had trailblazing members outside of your regular old white men in foreign service. One of their brothers was one of my brothers: African American documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne had pledged DPE as well as Alpha Phi Omega. He was later arrested for participating in a sit in at a Northern Virginia lunch counter along with other DPE brothers. Many do not know that he was also a member of Omega Psi Phi, having pledged at the Kappa Psi Chapter while at Georgetown.
I am also a member of three fraternities, so St. Clair has a special place in my heart.
The general secretary of DPE has also been helpful when I’ve reached out to him to learn more about fraternalism at Georgetown in general. I do not know him personally and I do not know his attitudes towards women, people of color, or the direction of his fraternity.
Listen, nobody wants their fraternity to be dragged through the media for public dissection. Everyone wants the freedom to handle their internal issues internally. I’d still like to weigh with my perspective, which includes active members in three organizations and national leadership experience in all three.
Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Service Fraternity is approaching its centennial and it might not make it to that point as a national organization.
Perhaps it shouldn’t.
Maybe the best way forward for DPE is as a century old Georgetown institution that once had affiliates at other campuses but decided instead to focus its resources inwardly.
Georgetown is a quirky place for joiners. The university does not recognize Greek life–many people reading these articles might not have ever known that. It takes a solid stance that it will not ever provide access to benefits for fraternities and sororities, whether they have generous philanthropies like NPC sororities or strong commitments to justice like NALFO and NPHC organizations.
And that’s okay.
In turn, unlike Harvard, Georgetown offers no penalties to those men and women who do decide to participate in Greek life. To paraphrase a retired administrator from Georgetown “If they want to stop speaking to the public and wear all black for a semester, that’s their decision as adults.”
I think it’s a fair compromise. [Now I must say here that Georgetown in the late 90s was very much the ‘Hamsterdam’ of pledging. Some NPHC organizations on campus got away with pledging “aboveground” long after it had been banned everywhere else. It was a sight to see.]
Needless to say, what works at Georgetown doesn’t necessarily work anyplace else. Not for APO. Not for black and Latino Greek life. And clearly not for DPE.
I think Delta Phi Epsilon should go local and figure out who they want to be at Georgetown.
I think the other DPE entities should break away and form another professional service fraternity that is national in scope, coed from the start, and committed to social justice in diplomacy. It seems as though this is what the other chapters want.
Yes, they should use the means at their disposal to change DPE from within, but it seems like it’s a losing proposition at this point.
I know it’s hard to part ways, but folks…. the sun doesn’t rise and set on Delta Phi Epsilon, regardless which faction of the organization you’re in. It’s a nice organization with a long history and amazing members. But to the outside world, all people see is a a war between old fogeys and entitled snowflakes.
That’s not what I think. But that’s what reasonable people see.
Splits are not unheard of in fraternalism. In 1913, a significant division led to the greatest rivalry between black women in organizations. This friendly competition has led to millions of hours of community service from hundreds of thousands of engaged women across the globe. One of those organizations is headquartered right here in DC, just about two miles from the birthplace of DPE, and the other is located in Chicago, just across the street from the future site of the Obama Presidential Library.
Competition is good. This acrimonious situation could lead to a split that only makes both parties stronger in a generation or two. And perhaps one day all parties can laugh about all this.
I sincerely wish the best for DPE and its members, no matter where this rocky journey leads them.
Rashid Darden is an alumnus of Georgetown University and a fraternal enthusiast. He is a member of Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and is immediate past national president of Gamma Xi Phi, the professional fraternity for artists. He is available for fraternal consulting, workshops, and lectures.