Abstract: In 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, integrated (AKA) was developed for the educational and also social uplift of black color women. End a century later, currently with more than 300,000 members, AKA persists together the largest and also most global Black women’s organization in the world. Some research has been performed by scholars favor Deborah Whaley, Paula Giddings, Gregory Parks, and Clarenda Phillips on historically black Greek-letter sororities (BGLS). However, your work focuses on the sociopolitical and historical legacies of this organizations. Distinctly, this job privileges the daily embodiments the members in ~ AKA as distinct sites of knowledge production for study on black sisterhood and also Black womanhood. Specifically, ns utilize mixed ethnographic techniques of participant observation, semi-structured interviewing, and oral background to investigate just how the Ivy Leaf, heeled footwear, and also walking are an essential aspects to arising the Alpha Kappa Alpha identity. Ns argue that the Ivy Leaf—importantly, its relations to mobility and stature—is important to one AKA rite that passage the transforms candidates into both members of AKA and also Black women with the physical and also mental resilience to face a racialized and also gendered world.

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Ladies, you all need to walk ~ above one accord! I have to only hear one foot hitting the ground ~ another. One line! One sound! <1> Ceaselessly, the membership Intake Chairman repeats this mantra come the brand-new co-initiates <2> the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, incorporated (AKA). Co-initiates start the membership Intake process (MIP) <3> as individuals, yet over time these eager young women find out to run together together an impenetrable unit. The first step that this unifying procedure is your walk. Together they exercise this rhythmic cadence, lock don classic organization pumps the are simply shy of stilettos. The hoe is simply high enough to create a mild level that discomfort because that the co-initiate unaccustomed to arching she feet in that fashion. Work by day, co-initiates learn to make this walk feel natural. By the time final Sunday arrives, when they gain full rights and also privileges together members the AKA, lock no much longer must ruminate over which foot to ar down where and also when. By the finish of your MIP, co-initiates have learned just how to walk choose an AKA.

In this article, I discuss some of the most overlooked, yet illuminating elements of identity, solidarity, and also sisterhood in ~ AKA—our feet. Ns am beginning from the ground-up to place emphasis on the foundation for i beg your pardon Alpha Kappa Alpha women are built. While our Ivies <4> remain steadfast and strong throughout life’s invariable challenges, this resilience is cultivated only through sturdy root in fertile soil. This short article focuses ~ above these sturdy roots, specifically just how foot placement, heeled footwear, and mobility are key aspects to emerging the Alpha Kappa Alpha identity. Ns argue the the Ivy Leaf—importantly, its relations to mobility and stature—is vital to one AKA rite of passage. Specifically, this rite of passage transforms candidates right into both members that AKA and Black women through the physical and mental resilience to face a racialized and also gendered world. This significant emphasis on able-bodied-ness—during historical and modern-day pledge processes—forces women through disabilities to forge alternate modes of perfect the ritual process and, in turn, negotiating their identities in ~ AKA.

To accordingly tackle every my study questions, I carried out an ethnography—an anthropological research technique that emphasizes the use of qualitative measures to collect rich data top top a selected population of individuals. This ethnography was educated by feminist principles that pay considerable attention to strength dynamics in between researcher and contributors, interpretations the data collected, and unique sites of info (Buch & Staller 2007). Guided through feminist principles, ns used blended ethnographic techniques that encompass participant-observation and also semi-structured interviews. In employing these various methods to identify and also collect data, and in using a feminist epistemological framework, I acquire insight into “the contexts the women’s lives, the means in which females experience and resist gender norms and also the means in which difference is organized throughout lines of gender, race, class, and also sexuality” (Buch & Staller 2007, 194).

Initially, many of my research concerns were guided by a desire to recognize the literal meaning phenomena that occur in historically black Greek-letter sororities. Why are specific behaviors and also mannerisms regulated in details ways in ~ the larger organization, and also how do these actions embody an understood group identity? The finest ethnographic technique to tackle these questions on individual and group identity performance is participant-observation—"intensive involvement through a group of human being over an extended duration of time” (Davis & Craven 2016, 85). As a indigenous ethnographer, someone who is a member the a historically black color Greek-letter sorority and, thus, “conduct their study in acquainted settings,” ns observed AKA’s publicly programming, e.g., new member presentations, come collect comprehensive ethnographic fieldnotes for my job (Buch & Staller 2007, 189). I supplied these observations not only to aid locate more points to probe in in-depth personal interviews and oral histories, but also to provide greater context for knowledge the influence of BGLSs on their members.

While participant-observation is advantageous for setting the stage of historically black Greek-letter sororities, semi-structured interviews are more appropriate to handle members’ certain experiences in ~ AKA as well as how this experiences build their identity. Particularly, these ethnographic interviews noted the proper room to communicate with research questions on just how Black women of marginal identities factor into a mainly uniform sisterhood framework. In what type of spaces in ~ the company do this members feel the their identities are many salient? these ethnographic interviews to be “open-ended … in the feeling that they typically departed from predetermined concerns to get an ext information utilizing probes” (Davis & Craven 2016, 86). In addition, these interviews were “semi-structured” such that these interaction were conducted with a “specific interview guide—a perform of written questions that i need to cover in ~ a specific interview” (Hesse-Biber 2007, 115). Many of this semi-structured interviews started with the adhering to questions:

In what spaces perform you feel most pride gift an AKA?How would certainly you specify Black sisterhood? In what ways does AKA maintain this?How would certainly you specify Black womanhood? was this definition influenced by becoming an AKA?

As data arsenal progressed, however, I adapted my concerns to address interesting themes that continued to arise from mine contributors’ responses. By preserving a set of questions that i asked all contributors—questions the were each open-ended sufficient to enable for “spontaneity top top the component of the researcher and interviewee”—my ethnographic interviews had anchoring points so the I can effectively to compare the diverse sets of experience (Hesse-Biber 2007, 115). However, in adapting mine questions throughout individuals, time, and also space, mine conversations homed in top top phenomena that were both fascinating and particularly relevant to my contributors.

Moreover, i employed man L. Jackson’s an approach of “calculated dimness,” which entails withholding information about one’s knowledge regarding an worry or topic so regarding “avoid conjecture, get thorough information from topics and address their circumstances, even at the danger of being considered an idiot” (Munem 2013). As a knowledgeable insider of this organizations, i did not want my own expectations or biases regarding details questions to persuade my contributors from offering an otherwise uninhibited and noncoercive an individual narrative. I more utilized various other feminist ethnographic interviewing techniques that enabled me not only to catch the words mine contributors provided to explain their experiences, “but also the spaces in between the words, the meanings, the process of meaning-making, the emotion, and also even the silence” (Leavy 2007, 158). I paid substantial attention come this silence as it noted “insight right into her struggles and also conflicts” as well as “indicate the the categories and concepts us have easily accessible to interpret and also explain our life experiences perform not in fact reflect the full selection of experiences the end there” (Leavy 2007, 159).

My standing as an insider in ~ Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated more broadly grants me accessibility to sites of historically black Greek life; however, relations to members of various other chapters throughout the nation grant me both entrance and acceptance into neighborhoods of which i am not instantly a part. Together a feminist use ethnographic methods, i “blend with the people and the social context of the research … access the depth of interpretations required because that adequate and also trustworthy qualitative research” (Leavy 2007, 150). While that is essential to have actually an entry suggest into the field, mine deep enmeshment within Alpha Kappa Alpha can have potentially produced issues. Ns did not desire to tarnish the close-knit relationships I have with other members, and I did not desire to damage the brand <5> of the company in any way. I paid considerable attention to how I gathered data, ensuring that the lines between myself as a member and as a researcher go not come to be blurred throughout this process. Further, i ensured the my interpretations that the data were true come the contributors’ original intentions and also experiences by allowing my contributors to carry out feedback on this interpretations transparent the process. Together a member the AKA, ns did not desire my own biases to influence the ways in i m sorry I taken the data. By engaging in a procedure which continuously associated my contributors, i hoped come eliminate any influence of mine own beliefs on the data and the final product.

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Strong, resilient Ivies

“The difficulty for Hedgeman’s committee has been to come up v a prize that projects strength and endurance. ‘Those couple of girls felt that they had actually something born in ~ them that they wished to nurture and also have grow.’ Hedgeman supplies a eco-friendly enameled ivy leaf, v the Greek symbols AKA engraved in yellow in each leaf. The to the right is undeniable, and also the poll is unanimous.” —McNealey 2006, 22

AKA is defined by the Ivy Leaf. This tenacious, evergreen plant maintains a youthful quality despite acerbic weather conditions and also decaying surroundings. The is the prize of eternal life. Founders choose Ethel Hedgeman <6> sought ~ an emblem that might exemplify a steadfast resiliency versus sociopolitical oppression facing Black ladies of the early twentieth century. The Ivy Leaf could propel them towards a life that they had often imagined however was just out of your reach. The Ivy Leaf could instill strength and fortitude in members come come. Later generations the AKA invoked the id of the Ivy because that a selection of purposes. In the early years, prospective people were required to sign up with an Ivy sheet Pledge Club as a prerequisite for admission into the sorority. Black attorney Lawrence Otis Graham relays his aunt’s endure in the Ivy leaf Pledge Club: 

 We had to find out a lot more about the historic starts of the AKAs, and we did the by writing long letters of applications to the Ivy leaf Pledge Club—the an elderly wing that the sorority the regulated the admissions process—and then attending monthly meetings wherein the enlarge students tutored united state on the background (Graham 1999, 96). 

These Ivy leaf Pledge Clubs to be a way of lengthening the process of membership because that interested people while concurrently instilling determination and also resolve because that young women around to embark ~ above a rigorous endeavor. With early on introductions come the Ivy Leaf, candidates easily learned what it supposed to become trendsetters and also visionaries. Castle learned that it intended to end up being an AKA.