Discover the Divine
Forty years ago a group of young leaders at Southeast sought to bond over themes of service, scholarship, friendship and community and formed the campus’ first black Greek-letter organization, the Xi Gamma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
The founders faced issues that current members say are still relevant on campus today. While efforts have been made by the university to improve areas such as representation and inclusivity for these chapters, some feel there is still much more that can be done.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) — comprised of nine historically black Greek letter organizations — was formed at Southeast to help black Greek organizations impact, thrive and succeed on campus and in the community. The creation of NPHC on campus gave black students an organization that was centered around them since at the time they were not able to join any of the existing Greek organizations.
Those nine organizations are often referred to as the “Divine Nine,” which includes Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Southeast is currently home to six of the nine organizations in the Divine Nine.
The six organizations at Southeast are: the Xi Gamma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, chartered in 1979; Omicron Pi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, chartered in 1983; Xi Iota chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, chartered in 1986; Iota Delta Delta chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, chartered in 1988; Lambda Eta chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, chartered in 1989; and Tau Omicron chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, first chartered in 1994 and rechartered in 2014.
Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Kappa Alpha were both on campus previously, Kappa Alpha Psi was removed due to the death of Michael Davis in 1994 and Alpha Kappa Alpha was removed due to hazing violations. Iota Phi Theta currently has no active members at Southeast.
In August 2018 the NPHC Plaza was opened and dedicated the ribbon-cutting ceremony over the homecoming weekend that fall. The plaza highlights the presence of the African-American Greek organizations on campus and features the eight organizations in the Divine Nine that Southeast recognizes.
At the NPHC plaza dedication, James Brightman, Southeast chapter’s first Alpha Phi Alpha president, said there were few African American students on campus and no representation for them on campus. The local chapter’s beginnings mirror Alpha Phi Alpha’s founding chapter at Cornell University, another predominantly white university: when there was not an organization for them, they created their own.
Despite not being able to join The Interfraternity Council (IFC) or National Panhellenic Council (NPC) chapters, Brightman said the black and white fraternities and sororities still interacted very closely and did a lot of things together.
Brightman said the struggles his organization faced included a lack of university funding and a lack of members to cover expenses for projects.
When Brightman and the other founders returned to Southeast to attend the NPHC Plaza dedication, they rejoiced in seeing the strides the university has made. But while alumni and current students appreciate the plaza, some think it is not enough.
Brightman and the other founders did not know that even in 2019 the black Greek-letter organizations are still facing issues similar to those encountered by the founders some 40 years ago.
“A lot of other schools do a lot more for their NPHC organizations, and I get that we have only so few NPHC organizations on campus, but when you look at what the IFC and NPC Greeks have, the Greek hill and mansions, we just received the plaza and that’s because we had to fight for it,” Phi Beta Sigma president Xavier Payne said. “There’s definitely more things SEMO can do to show representation, and I know they’re trying, but it’s 2019 and it feels like you guys [Southeast] are just now trying to get a lot more for NPHC and that’s kind of late.”
Lopaicious (Lo) Simms of Zeta Phi Beta said the lack of funding from the university and not having the members to provide a large enough budget to do all the things they would like to do on campus keeps their presence from being known, as well as causing misconceptions about NPHC chapters. As an example, she said there is a perception that “all they do is drink and party” or they are “unapproachable,” as well as skepticism about how they spend any money they raise.
Simms also said there is a lack of understanding on Southeast’s campus about some of the events black Greeks do, such as their Hump Day activities. Every week, black Greeks invite the public to join them as they “stroll” outside of Kent Library. Strolling consists of traditional dances, unique to each organization, usually performed in a line or a circle that is meant to symbolize unity and strength, but to many, it looks as if they are dancing.
She said she feels like people almost look at them as “show monkeys” that are there for entertainment, and some even consider them a “disturbance.”
Omega Psi Phi chapter president Eleualio (Lilo) Abraham agreed.
|“People don’t realize it’s not just the “dancing” part, and that “dancing” goes back to 100 years’ worth of history in each organization, so there’s meaning behind what we do,” he said.|
Despite the problems with funding and misperceptions, some NPHC members acknowledged their organizations could do more to dispel the stereotypes and increase their reach on campus and within the community.
“There will be people interested in our orgs who we’ve never even seen, so in some kind of way they have access to us, we have to do a little bit better in getting access to them,” Alpha Phi Alpha president Shamar Turner said.
Each of these organizations holds a week and weekend of events throughout the spring and fall semester of the academic school year where students can come and learn more about the organization. There are also informational meetings held throughout the semester. For more information about NPHC or to inquire about an organization, visit the NPHC Recruitment tab on semogreeks.com or contact any of the executive officers listed on the website.