A Black Belgian Student Saw a White Fraternity as His Ticket. It Was His Death.


Sanda was beginning his third year of school when he pledged Reuzegom, an unsanctioned club for young men from Antwerp. “They represent a type of social class,” said Kenny Van Minsel, a former president of the campus student association. “Predominantly white — that’s a given — and predominantly upper-class.”

Mr. Van Minsel frequently interacted with fraternities and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Reuzegom to sign a hazing code of conduct. Reuzegom had only one other Black member, who was given the nickname Rafiki, the name of the monkey in the movie “The Lion King,” he said.

But Sanda Dia saw Reuzegom as an opportunity. “It has benefits, being in a club like that,” he had said, his brother recalled. “If you know them, it’s good for your network. And when you leave school, they will trust you a lot faster.”

If it sounds peculiar for a Black student to pledge a nearly all-white fraternity in the name of networking, students say it made sense. “It might seem like something outlandish, but for a lot of Black people it’s very understandable,” said Nozizwe Dube, a K.U. Leuven student who immigrated to Belgium from Zimbabwe as a teenager.

One of the mantras of Flanders is that anyone can succeed by learning the language, working hard and getting a degree, she said. In reality, research has shown that Belgians of African descent are far more likely to be unemployed or work in low-skilled jobs, despite having high levels of education. Fraternities, she said, can seem like an avenue toward a better career.

Reuzegom was notorious for its hazing rituals, known as “baptisms.” In October 2018, Reuzegom held a boozy party in a student association building. The fraternity trashed the venue, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, Mr. Van Minsel said. Fraternity members ordered Mr. Dia to clean up, calling him a racial slur, said Mr. Van Minsel, whose student association colleague was present and reported the incident to him.

“Their argument was that Black people should work for white people,” Mr. Van Minsel said. “They treated him like an object.” Two months later, Mr. Dia was dead.



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