After finishing up a week of midterms, Missouri State’s 2020 Homecoming week is something to look forward to. Because of COVID-19, some events have been modified to allow for social distancing, moved to a virtual format or were just canceled.
In the past, Yell Like Hell, a choreographed dance and chanting competition, was a traditional Homecoming week event.This is the first year it has been removed and replaced with a different event, MoState Live.
Yell Like Hell was a popular Homecoming competition, especially for Greek Life at MSU, but it remained a divisive issue within the community.
Walter Kayesse, former president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Missouri State alumnus said that the FSL community had been distanced from each other for a while.
“IFC, PHA and NPHC have always had sort of an estranged relationship in a way,” Kayesse said. “When I was NPHC president in 2017, it was the same.”
There had been controversy over how other FSL chapters were participating in Yell Like Hell.
“I know there was a time when there were NPHC organizations that performed with IFC and PHA, but more recently, they wouldn’t partner with us and yet, we would see them use our organization’s moves on video,” Kayesse said. “It was a pretty big issue because the other members felt a very exploitative energy from the whole ordeal. I don’t remember if we got a formal apology.”
Stepping and strolling are not just dance moves; they are cultural movements that can be traced back to African roots, specifically the gumboot dance, which originated in South Africa.
According to the World of Step organization, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, South African migrant workers were forced to endure grueling work conditions, suffering from severe health issues, standing in water for hours. Hundreds of people were killed every year.
Instead of fixing the drainage system, white bosses would hand out wellington boots - gumboots - for the workers to protect their feet. Since they weren’t allowed to talk, the miners would communicate with each other by slapping their hands on the boots. Thus, the gumboot dance was born.
In its modern use, stepping and strolling can be credited to the Black Greek letter organizations made up of the Divine Nine chapters: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
These nine organizations make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council that formed in 1930 at Howard University.
Stepping and strolling, when performed, represent strength and unity and are meaningful to NPHC.
Predominantly white fraternities and sororities at MSU have been criticized for stealing step and stroll routines without crediting NPHC or understanding what the dance moves symbolize.
“It’s not a fad. It’s not some cool Black dance. It is historical, cultural and most importantly, it’s about identity,” Kayesse said. “I encourage people to do their research and learn something new instead of just seeking to appropriate it.”
The Homecoming committee in years past have dealt with concerns of cultural appropriation. This year, the event was completely removed.
Katherine Morton, the 2020 Homecoming committee chair, said that the event had been canceled because there had been issues of cultural appropriation in the past.
“It has been in the works for many years to change Yell Like Hell,” Morton said. “Stepping and strolling is cultural appropriation, and that is something that is not tolerated on this campus. Stepping and strolling is a part of NPHC’s history and is not something that should be exploited by organizations not educated or dedicated to their history.”
Other members of FSL chapters also voiced their concern about Yell Like Hell and called for its removal.
Sydney Neal , Homecoming co-chair for Gamma Phi Beta, said she was not going to compete in Yell Like Hell this year, unless it was modified.
“I wasn’t going to have my chapter participate in Yell Like Hell if they didn’t change it,” Neal said.
With recent heightened racial tensions in America, Yell Like Hell had become a prominent issue for some members of the FSL community.
“Because of all the Black Lives Matter movements, I think people were putting a lot of pressure on the committee to change it. I think I had finally just taken the time to educate myself. Stepping and strolling is meaningful for historically Black sororities and fraternities, and it’s just not right for the rest of the Greek community to stick a silly name on it and give it less meaning,” Neal said.
For this year’s Homecoming, Yell Like Hell will be replaced with MoState Live, an event where organizations can make up a skit, dance or both in a way that is related to a Missouri State tradition.
Although Yell Like Hell will not take place at Homecoming this year, its controversy and ethical concerns still remain. Looking forward, taking into consideration how MSU handles cultural competence, one of the public affairs pillars, is something to think about when issues like this arise.