On April 1, 2007 , Noel Niles, Troy senior, was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the first sorority founded by and for women of African descent. Following the Centennial National Conference in July 2008, Niles applied for a national office position within the sorority. Slated later that month, Niles became the first Caucasian to serve on the board of directors for any African American Greek letter organization, of which there are nine. Niles’ term ends July 2010. The Pleiad sat down with Niles to ask her a few questions.
What national position do you hold within the sorority?
There are 18 members of the board and there are three that are held by undergraduates – specifically, the second vice president and two undergraduate at large positions – so I serve as the second undergraduate member at large.
What made you want to join Alpha Kappa Alpha as a Caucasian?
When I arrived at Albion College, the women that I was closest with happened to be the women of the Sigma Zeta chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. The women I look up to in the community are also A.K.A.’s, Professor Mae Ola Dunklin, who has done phenomenal things in the community with education and being involved in Albion’s health disparities (is) an A.K.A., and there is a number of those women in this community. Being able to work with them as a freshman and looking up to them, I found out they were A.K.A.’s and said, “Well if I look up to them and want to be like them one day, I better go through the training.” It’s about service to all mankind, but it is specifically about serving the underprivileged, which continues to be the African American and minority populations.
Has your race brought any challenges being the first Caucasion to hold a national position?
It has. There are always going to be people resistant to change, and my race has certainly brought a few challenges. When speaking to undergraduates or graduates, it can become an issue of “does she really know what we are about; does she really understand our community?” The reality is that I can never understand what racism is day to day, but I have experienced racism, being white in a predominately African American organization. There are people who will corner me and question me as to what my motives are: do I just want diversity on my resume or is this something that’s really intrinsically important to me? Then I go back to these are the women I look up to and this is why I joined. It’s strictly about the fact that I believe service is important and I recognize that Alpha Kappa Alpha has done a phenomenal job serving the community in the last century and I want to be part of that for the second century.
What are benefits and drawbacks?
I think it balances out. One of the drawbacks is it’s a lot of time. I spend a minimum of ten hours a week outside of travel writing letters, speaking with regional directors, on the phone developing programs, so that I can fulfill the position. I travel a minimum of five weekends a semester; I have traveled as many as 12. As a positive, it forced me to look at what I really care about and choose to devote my time there. I’ve received hundreds of hours of leadership training; I’ve given keynote speeches. Upholding the position as undergraduate at large certainly fits what I want to do with my life in the future, which is business consulting. A.K.A. deals with revenues of over 25 million dollars a year and I serve on the finance committee so getting that experience has been life changing for me.