The UWF Students Facebook page has recently turned into a battlefield over the sorority and fraternity benches on campus. Sorority and fraternity members believe that non-members should not be allowed to sit on the benches owned by sorority and fraternity members. Some people in the UWF community disagree, and others had no idea that this issue existed.
There are several councils for the several fraternities and sororities on campus, so they all have different rules, beliefs and traditions. National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) believes that the designated benches should be used only by the sorority or fraternity members. That council includes the Divine Nine, which are the nine African American fraternities and sororities.
“This mural and bench show how much love and pride we have,” Divine Nine’s Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity graduate member Kevonte Campbell said. “It shows the sentimental value and the history behind us. We’re not saying don’t sit on any benches. We’re saying don’t sit on ours.”
NPHC was created back in 1930 because African American students were not allowed to join the white sororities or fraternities.
“There is currently no university policy regarding the use of these benches,” Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Dr. Brandon Frye said. “However, I personally choose to not sit on any of the organization benches out of support and respect to those groups.”
The Associate Director for University Commons and Student Involvement Ben Stubbs said that the fraternity and sorority benches are old, so it is hard to determine who originally bought the benches.
“We believe that some benches were originally purchased by organizations and some by the University,” Stubbs said. “However, as the wood on the benches has deteriorated, the fraternities and sororities have refurbished them using their own funds – not University funds.”
“This bench is ours,” Campbell said. “We paid for the wood, the paint and the upkeep, not the university. If you sit on that, you are sitting on the letters I wear proudly on my chest.”
Another issue that came about on the page was that whenever people post about the benches, those posts get reported by so many students on the page that the post is then removed.
“I will report something if it were to get out of hand,” Divine Nine’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority member Keyovanni Purcell said. “For instance, on some of the posts, they were trying to compare us to Rosa Parks or MLK, so I feel like they were race batting me. They try to make it seem like we’re not letting them on the bench because they aren’t black. That’s not true.”
One student on the page said when she sat on a bench unaware of the tradition, she was approached aggressively by fraternity and/or sorority members (that post has since been deleted.) Campbell said that although his fraternity doesn’t tell its members how to approach this situation, they do correct members who behave disrespectfully when asking someone to get off the bench.
“We won’t come up in an aggressive way,” Campbell said. “I don’t want people to feel threatened or feel like I’m being disrespectful. I just want you to know that the bench has historical value, and it’s members don’t want you to sit on it.”
“This isn’t a commitment of four years,” Phi Beta Sigma graduate member Travis Mitchell said. “It’s for life. This is a continuous thing. It doesn’t stop once we’re off campus.”
The NPHC throws events like Unwritten Rules to help educate non-sorority and non-fraternity members on the history behind some of their traditions like the benches.
Individuals with concerns can contact the Fraternity and Sorority Life staff within the Student Involvement department at 850-474-3155.