Hop, Skip and Stomp: Black Student Organization’s annual Stompfest creates cultural unity through step competition

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COURTESY IMAGE / BLACK STUDENT ORGANIZATION

Saturday, Oct. 19, the Black Student Organization at the College of William and Mary hosted its annual Stompfest, an event held during each year’s homecoming in which different groups representing the historically African-American fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council come together to compete in a collegiate step show experience.

This year’s Stompfest was held in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium, featuring four of the member organizations of the NPHC: the College’s own chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sororities, as well as the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter of James Madison University and Iota Phi Theta chapter of Hampton University, with a $1,000 total prize promised to both one of the competing fraternities and one of the competing sororities ($750 of which would go to their chapter, while the other $250 would go to a charity of the group’s choice).

The winners of this year’s Stompfest were DST and ΑΦΑ, who will be donating their $250 to UNICEF and the March of Dimes Foundation, respectively.

BSO President Jeremy Simmons ’20 elaborated on the role of Stompfest in uniting the local black community.

“StompFest is important to me because it brings our community (African Americans) together to celebrate our identity that we have solidified through our Divine Nine Greek organizations as well as the cultural aspect of being surrounded by people that want to celebrate you,” Simmons wrote in an email.

The event started right off the bat with a roll call of all the NPHC chapters in attendance, followed by the main event of the night, featuring a variety of step performances. AKA’s performance demonstrated the power of teamwork, while the Iotas showed that even a shovel could be used to kick off a beat.

“The energy in the room as the show progresses is indescribable,” AKA sister Jasmine Garnes ’20 wrote in an email. “It is an experience that is overwhelming and incredibly rewarding.”

Those expecting silence during and in between amazing performances would have been in for quite a shock at Stompfest. The event’s audience was so eager, in fact, that singing and stepping along to the lively groups onstage was basic routine, and exuberant cheers and standing ovations were not at all out of the ordinary to demonstrate approval.

However, despite the competitive structure of the event, the atmosphere is not one of tense rivalries but rather, in the words of BSO Secretary Asia Prentiss ’21, one of “thanksgiving.”

“It’s not really a competitive event,” Prentiss said. “It’s more just like, these people are amazing, and they all did great at the end of the day.”

The supportive and collaborative environment created by Stompfest can be attributed to the cultural aspect of the event. Stompfest was born alongside the College’s BSO in the early 1970s, and according to Simmons, has evolved over time.

“StompFest has changed to reflect our growing culture here at William & Mary,” Simmons said. “Every year we get more new faces and more old faces that come out and the excitement and anticipation behind the event grows every year.”

For members of the College’s African-American community, Stompfest is one of the largest and most important events of the year.

“Stompfest is important to me because it gives NPHC on and off campus a chance to showcase a tradition, stepping, which is a part of the culture and history of black Greek letter organizations,” DST Financial Secretary Shi Randolph ’21 said in an email.

Garnes emphasized Stompfest’s ability to create a productive and celebratory space for people of color on campus.

“As a person of color attending a predominantly white institution, it is important for POCs to have safe spaces on campus and spaces where they feel included and valued as individuals,” Garnes said. “I believe Stompfest does just that. It creates a space for community and love. It creates a space for mindless fun, friendship, and a good time.”

The sense of community was evident among predominantly African-American attendees at Stompfest, attesting to a shared experience as students of color in a higher education system which continues to be predominantly white.

“When you think about Homecoming, you have all these different classes that are centered mostly around the white community,” Prentiss said. “With Stompfest, this is an event where minorities, particularly African American and Latinx, can gather together.”

Despite the primary significance of the event to the College’s African American community, the BSO hosts emphasize the openness of Stompfest to the entire College community as a whole.

“Everyone is welcome here,” Prentiss said.

This year’s Stompfest showcased complex and moving stories told not through speech or pens, but through fluid choreography, synchronization and rhythm. These components allow the event to hold a special place in the hearts of the College’s African American community.

“Stompfest is an event I look forward to every year and it is a big reason that I will come back for homecoming in the years to come,” Garnes said.