It's all about tradition. The step dancing of the historically African-American Greek organizations on campus pounds out a rhythm that echoes through generations of Appalachian's minority student population. The steps and chants symbolize unison, a unique sisterhood and brotherhood.
And at Appalachian, the annual Step Show during homecoming weekend is a hit among all students and alumni regardless of race – something not found on most college campuses. It's a high-energy event that brings Appalachian's sense of diversity to a stronger pitch.
“It's a celebratory event,” said Kinyata Adams, Appalachian's assistant director of multicultural engagement. “At Appalachian, the crowd is very diverse. It's not just an African-American event. We're stepping out and becoming one.”
Stepping and chanting has its roots in African tribal dances. It became a Greek activity when black students formed their own fraternities and sororities in the early 20th century as support systems and service/social networks – for both during college and after graduation.
The immense pride black students take in their Greek organizations stems from the original exclusion they experienced in America's white-dominated academia. The first historically black Greek organization in the nation was Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority followed in 1908 at Howard University.
The nation's nine historically black fraternities and sororities incorporated stepping, chanting and reciting into the special ceremony they held following each induction period to present their newest members to the campus community. This tradition, which continues today, eventually spilled over into stepping as entertainment.
Six of the “Divine Nine,” as the nation's historically black Greeks are known, have chapters at Appalachian:
These service/social organizations present the sell-out Step Show each fall, each with their signature moves which may include canes and other props. “It's a workout, just as hard as running track or any other sport. It's a lot of fun,” says Shanoya Conner, a junior from Gastonia majoring in child development.
“Before I was Greek, I looked up to the people on stage because I knew it was about more than the stepping. It gives insight into what Greek life can be like: a true sense of pride and support,” says Conner, who is president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council at Appalachian, the governing body of the historically African-American fraternities and sororities.
The connection shared among the Appalachian Family during the annual Step Show helps strengthen the university's broader emphasis on multicultural understanding, says Jamar Banks, Appalachian's new director of the Lee H. McCaskey Center for Student Involvement and Leadership.
“Having the opportunity to have students come see stepping who haven't been around people of color is special. They can learn so much about the camaraderie that's presented,” he said.