In an effort to highlight the young leaders who are leading undergraduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s Nu Zeta Chapter at Western Carolina University and did an interview with E’Quince Smith the president of the chapter.
The position of president of an undergraduate chapter of a Black fraternity is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. 20-year-old E’Quince Smith has used the position to gain new leadership experience, improve the lives of other students on campus and help the community around him.
We interviewed the Criminal Justice major and talked about his position, goals, future and what it means to hold a leadership position on campus in the digital age.
Read the full interview below.
What does it mean to be a chapter president to you?
The Nu Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. has been on the campus of Western Carolina University since May 7th, 1977. The vision of our 11 charter members continues to live on within the brothers in the chapter today. Being chapter president means that I am the face of my organization on my campus. Every move I make is automatically associated with my chapter. I strive to exemplify the legacy of hard work and service that has defined my chapter, every day, as I navigate social interactions with other organizations and administration.
What made you decide to attend Western Carolina University for undergrad?
I attended Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School in Raleigh North Carolina, which was about four minutes from my home. I attend Western Carolina University, which is about four hours and 30 minutes from Raleigh. I wanted a change from the fast-paced city and chose a college environment where I felt I could focus and thrive. I have wanted to major in Criminal Justice since my Sophomore year of high school, and Western has one of the best programs in the state. Western takes up the entire town of Cullowhee, and your experience here is what you make of it. Staying involved and active in the community is what makes your experience here what it is.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the campus/surrounding community?
The Nu Zeta Chapter hosts an annual Martin Luther King Jr. March to foster a conversation of racial diversity on a PWI campus. Since the last presidential election, our campus community has been charged with division, as people of color have not felt welcomed and comfortable on a campus meant to be their home. Our goal with the march is to help other students of color feel welcomed on campus by fostering a space for diversity and inclusion. To go along with the march, we also have an entire week of events planned out to go with our theme of “Unity in Community.” On the Tuesday following the march, we will be hosting a community service opportunity to make hygiene bags for homeless people in the surrounding areas, and packing backpacks with school supplies for disadvantaged kids that attend an after-school program at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center.
Additionally, our brother Dr. Tutt will be giving a lecture on the socio-economic factors that coincided with civil rights. Furthermore, we have partnered with the other Divine Nine organizations along with other underrepresented organizations for a unity pack and play. We will offer MLK trivia, while also allowing students to create dream boards for the semester. Our goal is to give students a space to feel open with one another, and possibly foster connections between student groups. On Wednesday, Dr. Aminata Cairo will be giving a presentation called “Re-Defining Us is All of Our Richness.” The presentation will focus on awareness of inequalities and the accompanying challenging interactions that grace our world on all levels and make their way into our educational environment. We want to begin by actively defining, embracing, and working on who we want to be. Dr. Aminata Cairo will take us on an explorative journey inspiring us to action.
On Thursday, Dr. Cairo will be hosting a workshop for faculty, staff and students to help us take steps in implementing the actions we want to make on campus. Additionally, our university advisor, as part of her grant, will be giving a poverty simulation to students, where they will actively participate in a situation that they may have never experienced in their lifetime. Finally, to end the week, we have partnered with the Kappa Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., to showcase a program on family dynamics and how the household helps or hinders your development. We want to give a week that not only talks about problems of race, but also wealth inequality.
What made you want to pledge Alpha Phi Alpha?
I am the first in my family to join a Greek organization, so my knowledge of what it meant to be Greek was highly limited. When I first arrived at Western, I joined was Project Care, which is an organization that aims to improve academic performance and the retention of underrepresented students at Western Carolina University. My mentor was a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., which piqued my interest in Greek life. From there I began to do my research into the different fraternities on campus, and how I would fit into one of these organizations. Eventually, I found myself admiring Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc the most. The brothers in the chapter were very welcoming to me. They were always open to answering any questions I had about Greek life.
Furthermore, they made me see a version of the person I could be. My brothers work towards being servants to the community every day. It is a brotherhood, and family that I am proud to have joined. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., inspires me to, not only push myself to obtain every ambition that I have but also, to strengthen the community around me.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
What makes my chapter unique is how we value each other’s individuality. We are each so different but are still able to find common ground with one another, extending to our alumni as well. Each era is different from the last, but we all share the same chapter. The goals that each of our brothers has set forth for themselves while in attendance of Western and within the chapter, has made Nu Zeta what it is today. Lawyers, dentists, school administrators, soldiers, teachers, doctors, engineers, and the list goes on. My chapter has been immensely successful because our brothers before us have paved the way for our success. The Nu Zeta Chapter has had different faces over the years but has always stayed true to the mission of our fraternity; developing leaders, promoting brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our community.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2018?
Divine Nine organizations are primarily underrepresented at PWI’s, and I believe that the campus-wide knowledge and appreciation of our chapter is due to our social media presence. Living in the digital age, social media has allowed our NPHC organizations to network and share their content easily with the campus community. Our chapters now have the tools to show how they are bettering the campus community. The campus can now see what community service we are holding, what our upcoming events are, what the chapter has achieved, and the list goes on. It also helps with connecting with other college chapters in our state or across the nation. It provides the opportunity not to be limited to your campus and chapter resources. It is important to remember that we have joined brotherhoods and sisterhoods that expand past the confines of our specific campus, and that we have a network of resources at our disposal.
What does leadership mean to you?
There has always been something I haven’t seen in myself, but others see in me. To me, being a leader is not something you have to think about, you do what you feel is best for the larger organization at hand. Growing up, my mother always stressed to me that I should consistently be aware of the larger picture at hand. In any organization I have been a part of, I have tried continuously to instill this same mindset into others. I’ve never seen myself as a leader, but I have always put my best foot forward in helping others to discover what they are capable of doing. Leadership means to me, encouraging others to not only be their best selves but also fostering a space for open creativity for the betterment of the organization.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Black greekdom has a negative stigma associated with them based off of a wide range of incidents. Watch The Yard has made it their mission to show all of the Divine Nine organizations in a positive light, and highlight their founding principles. With instances such as this, chapters can highlight their work to their community. Moreover, less well-known chapters at less acclaimed schools can get their name out into the world and express how they are making a difference on their campus. Watch The Yard is a uniting force for Black greekdom, and give us a space to thrive.
What does brotherhood mean to you?
Brotherhood to me means an extensive support network that I can always fall back on in any situation. I am not limited to just brothers that I know either. There is evermore knowledge that another brother can impart to me from past experiences that they have had. No matter the background or culture, we can always find something to relate to, and all share a love for the same fraternity. Anytime that I need to talk, one of my brothers is always there to listen and give advice. With every accomplishment that we make, we are repeatedly cheering for each other. The bond that we all share is something time nor distance can take away. When we get together, it is as if no time has passed. I am so fortunate to have such great brothers.
What do you plan on doing after graduation?
Graduation for me seems far off, but I know that I only have three semesters left. My sophomore year in high school, I developed a significant interest in the legal field. I have changed my focus on which type of law several times; however, I believe I have come to my conclusion. Currently, I plan on going to George Washington Law School and enrolling in their National Security and Foreign Relations program. Immigration is a “hot button” issue today, and I don’t feel many people know how much goes into the citizenship process. Therefore, I want to help make the immigration system more efficient. Our great nation would not be what it is today without the diversity it was founded to perpetuate.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend E’Quince Smith for his work as the president of Nu Zeta Chapter which has a long legacy that spans back to 1977.