Sanda was starting his third year of school when he promised Reuzegom, an unauthorized club for young men from Antwerp. “They represent a type of social class,” said Kenny Van Minsel, 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 attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade Reuzegom to sign a hazing code of conduct. Reuzegom only had one other black member, which was given the nickname Rafiki, the monkey’s name in the movie “The Lion King,” he said.
But Sanda Dia saw Reuzegom as an opportunity. “It has advantages, being in a club like that”, he had said, remembers his brother. “If you know them, it’s good for your network. And when you leave school, they’ll trust you much faster.
While it seems odd for a black college student to engage in an almost all-white fraternity in the name of networking, students say it made sense. “It may sound strange, but for many black people it is very understandable,” said Nozizwe Dube, a KU Leuven student who immigrated to Belgium from Zimbabwe as a teenager.
One of Flanders’ mantras is that anyone can be successful by learning the language, working hard and graduating, she said. In fact, research has shown that Belgians of African origin are much more likely to be unemployed or to work in low-skilled jobs, despite having a high level of education. Fraternities, she says, can seem like a path to a better career.
Reuzegom was known for his hazing rituals, known as “baptisms”. In October 2018, Reuzegom organized an alcoholic evening in a building of a student association. The fraternity ransacked the place, causing thousands of dollars in damage, Van Minsel said. Members of the Fraternity ordered Mr Dia to clean up, calling it a racist insult, 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 whites,” Van Minsel said. “They treated him like an object. Two months later, Mr. Dia was dead.