Since 2009, there have been several lawsuits filed in regard to alleged financial
malfeasance on the part of Barbara McKinzie, Alpha Kappa Alpha’s former national head. In the Illinois Circuit Court, sorority members brought suit in Shackelford v. Alpha Kappa Alpha and Purnell v. Alpha Kappa Alpha. In the District of Columbia, sorority members brought suit in Daley v. Alpha Kappa Alpha. In Daley, plaintiffs brought claims of waste, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty and wrongful discipline. Prior to filing a lawsuit, the plaintiffs had voiced their concerns at chapter meetings and within the organization. They sought to receive answers from sorority leadership, and when their inquiries were rebuffed they asked to inspect the sorority’s records to assuage their concerns. When they exhausted more amicable options, they initiated a lawsuit against the sorority and its officers and directors. In response, they then had their membership privileges suspended. In late 2011, the D.C. Court of Appeals remanded this case to the D.C. Superior Court for further resolution of the matter (4).
Indeed, there are vast distinctions between brutalizing someone and stealing from one’s fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. There are, however, disturbing commonalities as well. First, they both emerge from a culture of secrecy, rule and law violation, and often persecution of whistle-blowers for “airing the organization’s dirty laundry.” Second, both involve the same set of excuses: “It’s some other member’s fault,” “If the victim(s) didn’t tell, the organization wouldn’t have this problem,” “I’m not the first to do this; it reflects a broader culture and not my own poor judgment,” or “the only reason we know about this incident is because there are people with personal agendas, being vindictive.” While hazing is undeniably far more prevalent than financial malfeasance within BGLOs, the cases brought by BGLO members against their organizations underscore the adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The reason that there are far-fewer than a handful of court cases against BGLOs or their leaders for financial malfeasance is only because non-members, those with less compunction to “air dirty laundry about the organizations” than members, are not being directly harmed. Moreover, members who are in-the-know often do not want to harm their organization by taking the matter public or are fearful of being suspended or expelled and ultimately having deep fraternal ties — often intertwined with familial and professional relationships — undermined.
The amazing asymmetry between how BGLOs deal with rule and law violation amongst their rank-and-file members, especially undergraduates, vis-à-vis national leaders, especially the national heads, is disconcerting. The organizations are not hesitant to aggressively go after Joe and Jane Member for hazing. For example, several BGLOs publish the names of suspended and expelled members — often for hazing — on their national websites. Others underscore the fact that they have and will look to the courts to address hazing within their ranks. Reverend Herman “Skip” Mason, the 33rd General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, noted in a December 2009 press release, “We will take every legal means at our disposal, both civil and criminal, to charge and bring to justice any person who commits a crime and tarnishes our good name in the process.” However, when it comes to the national boards of these organizations dealing with financial malfeasance among their national heads, little seems to be done — certainly not to the extent that organizational rules or the law might dictate. Or the organizations are simply slow to act.
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