As a freshman, Grant Fowler ’21 noticed something was missing from Stevens’ extracurricular landscape. Despite an extensive list of clubs promoting a litany of interests and activities, organizations devoted to advocacy, representation and social opportunities for African American students were limited. Conversations with his peers confirmed that he was not the only one who saw a gap.
In response to this collective feeling, Fowler took action along with Jerome Massicot ’21 to establish a social group, organizing opportunities for black students to come together beyond the professional and academic pursuits of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) or Black Student Union (BSU). Interest in the group grew, and soon, E’Nigel Ansah ’21, Antony Cruz ’21, Kobe Dawes ’21 and Joshua Hector ’22 joined the roster.
Having built a strong foundation, Fowler proposed an ambitious next step. “I came upon the idea of a fraternity because Greek life here at Stevens is everything,” he explains. “Greeks are involved all over campus. I wanted to create a more inclusive home for people who look like me.”
One of the first decisions the group had to make was which of the five national black fraternities they wanted to become affiliated with. Alpha Phi Alpha (also known simply as “Alpha”) was an easy choice. “It was Alpha or nothing,” remembers Dawes. “The sense of brotherhood, work ethic and the influential people that stem from this great organization, I couldn’t see myself being a part of anything else.”
“There has really been a paradigm shift in culture on campus. A lot of voices that were not heard are actually starting to be heard, and we are a part of that.”
Established in 1906 at Cornell University as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity for African American men, Alpha Phi Alpha boasts an incredible list of high-profile alumni – civil rights leaders, prominent legal and political figures, scientists, writers, entertainers, athletes and more. Members of the national brotherhood have had an impact on just about every facet of society.
Of particular inspiration to Dawes is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I grew up reciting his speeches,” he says. Cruz cites brother Jesse Owens’ heroic track and field performance at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, during which Owens won four gold medals and crushed Hitler’s Aryan supremacy propaganda. Fowler remembers watching Stuart Scott on ESPN every day before school as a kid, marveling at his unapologetic individuality.
Putting in the Work
With the example of their heroes in mind, the group embarked on a two-year journey to establish Alpha at Stevens. Countless meetings, piles of paperwork and months of campus campaigning earned them their charter in spring 2019.
As newly minted founders, the group remembers complex emotions. “It was definitely big for me, I cried that day,” admits Ansah. “It was a hard process – two years invested in college – that’s half the time you’re here … so to see it come to fruition, it’s special to you.”
But completion of the charter process also meant the start of a new one — following through on the promise of building a brotherhood at Stevens. “The work afterword, that overwhelmed me, because we had to make sure this charter wasn’t for nothing,” remembers Hector. “We have to bring people in with the same ideas, and they need to keep this chapter sustainable.”
The pressure goes even deeper than merely keeping the fraternity active. “As an underrepresented community in STEM, we’ve always felt pressure to represent our people, and if we feel like if we mess up, we’re letting our entire people down,” explains Cruz.
Though the expectations placed on them have been immense, Alpha is growing. The five founding members — Ansah, Cruz, Dawes, Fowler and Hector — welcomed Massicot and Jacques Clovis ’21 to the brotherhood as part of their first new line, or class, in fall 2019.
Service on Castle Point and in Local Communities
These seven brothers are involved in a seemingly endless slate of good works on campus and are working to extend their commitment to community service through Alpha Phi Alpha’s four national philanthropic causes.
“A Voteless People Is a Hopeless People” is an initiative centered around voter registration and education. With the 2020 presidential election approaching, Alpha is planning to help set up voter registration on campus with the goal of ensuring their fellow classmates have their voices heard.
The “Go-to-High-School, Go-to-College” program is a partnership with area public schools in which the brothers provide mentorship and support, emphasizing the importance of education for future success. “Project Alpha” is another outreach program in schools designed to facilitate discussions on responsibility, relationships, teen pregnancy prevention and safe sex.
For several of the Alphas who grew up in the Hudson County area, the opportunity to be a positive role model in their hometowns is particularly meaningful. “In my schools, I didn’t really see any Alphas,” recalls Dawes, a Jersey City native. “Whether it’s boosting [student] confidence or teaching about mental health, … I want to go back to the places we come from and build them up.”
The fourth initiative, “Brother’s Keeper,” encourages members to visit and help fraternity brothers who are elderly, disabled, ailing or vulnerable. Care and advocacy are also extended to the member’s family when needed. “Brother’s Keeper” exemplifies one of the most important tenets of Alpha membership: brotherhood is for life.
A Proud Alumni Connection
While Ansah, Cruz, Dawes, Fowler, Hector, Massicot and Clovis are the first members of the Stevens chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, they are not the first members of Alpha Phi Alpha to attend Stevens. In years past, a few alumni, including James “Jay” Lewis ’93, joined the fraternity’s Iota Rho metro chapter. Headquartered at NJIT, the chapter accepted members from colleges and universities in the surrounding area who did not have an Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at their home institution.
As a student, Lewis briefly considered the idea of forming a Stevens chapter, but decided not to pursue the chartering process due to a heavy academic course load and doubts about the chapter’s longevity without a larger core group of members at the time. But almost 30 years later, he is excited to see the rise of a new generation of Alphas at his alma mater. “It’s the start of something great,” he said. “The Greek system of support in fraternities and sororities can play a big part in the development of young men and women on campus.” Lewis believes that by diversifying options for affiliation, students have more of a choice when it comes to finding an organization that aligns with their interests and values.
The chartering of Alpha Phi Alpha at Stevens will have a positive effect not only on Greek life, but also on the university community as a whole, he says. “I think that [the addition of the fraternity at Stevens] helps expose students to different cultural identities, which is important, especially if we want to be more inclusive of different viewpoints,” noted Lewis.
Building Their Legacy
As the Alphas look forward, they hope to increase membership to ensure the survival of the chapter – but they don’t see recruitment as the most important part of building a legacy. Instead, they are focused on founding and partnering with other new student groups focused on advocacy and celebration of black culture, including the Cultural Greek Council, Black Affairs Council, African Student Association and a new step squad.
Malcolm McDaniel, who serves as campus advisor to Alpha as well as Stevens’ Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, has observed that increased interest from the Greek community in Alpha Phi Alpha has led to further inquiry about other cultural Greek letter organizations and historically black fraternities and sororities.
Nathalie Waite Brown, Alpha’s staff advisor and Stevens’ director of Graduate Student Affairs, commends the fraternity for how quickly and intentionally they have integrated their organization into the university community. “I’m excited to see how they will support and influence our narrative here at Stevens,” she says.
Though they are proud of their chapter’s successes so far, Alpha Phi Alpha finds the greatest fulfillment in service to others. “There has really been a paradigm shift in culture on campus,” says Hector. “A lot of voices that were not heard are actually starting to be heard, and we are a part of that.”
To learn more about Greek organizations at Stevens, visit Fraternity and Sorority Life at Stevens.