Here but Hidden: Black Greek Life at UGA
Just a few months ago these ladies were only familiar faces on campus. Together they now stand in sisterhood serving as Eta Xi’s 2019–2020 executive board.
By Kassidy Thomas
The courtyard audience sits in silence with anticipation. The University of Georgia’s infamous Divine 9 Stroll Off was coming to a close as the last act slowly made their way onto the stage, masked in pink and green. The stroll off presents members of the Divine 9 with an opportunity to show off chants about their history and to showcase their wide range of creativity. A dozen of the UGA Eta Xi ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. graced the stage with their presence giving the crowd everything they desired and paid for. With their every step came absolute precision and clarity. It was only right for the women to walk away with first place sorority along with first place overall.
Greek life has always been a multifaceted staple of southern culture. At our PWI — predominately white institution — it’s common for thousands of white freshmen women to partake in the rush process for Panhellenic Conference sororities such as Kappa Delta, Tri Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma and more. The million-dollar mansions on Milledge Ave. fill every August in hopes of recruiting for new member intake. In conversation, typically you’ll hear of the most recent social and the level of “white girl wasted” they were able to achieve in the bars of downtown Athens due to their sorority paying off everyone’s tab along with their date.
Here but quite hidden on campus are a few of the sororities within the Divine 9 such as: Zeta Phi Beta, Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha. NPHC Director Montrez Greene describes the Divine 9 as — “an image of black excellence. Black students and alum that are trying to move forward and come together to make an impact in their community. They have all the impact to truly change communities and impact the youth.”
There is a large contrast between NPHC and PHC sororities. While speaking to a variety of demographics on campus many students at UGA have no idea the sororities in the Divine 9 even exist. Camryn Williams, a junior Public Relations major and Eta Xi member says, “it’s really aggravating when I’m on a packed bus or just walking through campus and people are constantly staring at my Greek gear, essentially trying to fit me into a box based off my attire but not once actually asking me a question to fulfill their abundant curiosity.” There is an extreme disconnect in Greek life that has never been actively addressed.
The ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., along with their Divine 9 constituents, cater to African American students but welcome all with open arms. On November 18th the Keepers of the K.R.O.W.N. mark their one-year anniversary of sisterhood, scholarship and service. Within a year these women have proven despite not having the same large numbers as other PHC sororities on campus they were able to make an impressive impact.
Listen in on a snippet of audio interviewing Eta Xi president chapter Morgan Palmer as she speaks to her own personal experiences and how she as a president works to bridge the gap within NPHC and PHC sororities.
During the fall semester the AKAs have put on a multitude of programs for the public on the basis of: sex education, appreciation for the arts and “Cooking with the K’s” which provides a fun electric way to cook American classics in a healthier fashion.
The Mr. Esquire Pageant is the first male pageant to ever come to UGA presented by the innovative ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. The first thoughts behind having a male pageant were in attempt to eliminate the ugly stigma behind pageantry. First place winner Wilkray Biboum performed a choreographed Michael Jackson reenactment along with an emotional monologue that left many in the crowd in tears. The award and $1,000 scholarship were well deserved as Biboum is also the 2019 Homecoming King at the University of Georgia marking him as the fourth African American male to win the prestigious courtship. Wilkray describes his Mr. Esquire experience as, “impactful for the BUGA (Black UGA) community. The university has never seen a male pageant and I’m so proud and honored to have been a part of such a groundbreaking program hosted by the exquisite (& expensive) ladies of Eta Xi.”
Essentially, all contestants were given a well-known platform to sharpen their “on your feet” public speaking, to showcase a special talent and of course it wouldn’t be an Eta Xi event without giving back to the Athens Clarke County community. The ten contestants had the pleasure of serving and fellowshipping with local veterans in the Foreign Wars Building on Veterans Day 2019. Service is near and dear to any lady of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. President of Eta Xi Chapter Morgan Palmer says, “it will be near impossible to out work us as a chapter. We work tremendously hard as a unit to put on for the people, not just UGA students.”
Is there a sole way to bridge the gap and divide between white and black sororities here at UGA? Despite the struggles that multicultural Greek organizations face at PWI’s, things were far worse in the early 1900s when many of these organizations did not exist. African American college students searched high and low for something to be a part of in order to give them a sense of belonging at their universities. While black sororities and fraternities at UGA have done an impressive job reaching African American students, visibility and acceptance from the majority group lack at our Southern, very much conservative institution we sometimes love, and other times hate.
According to a 2015 article published by The Atlantic, top-tier universities in America on average have a 6 percent population of black undergraduate students. This is a statistic that has remained stagnant over the course of 20+ years. To be more accurate, The Atlantic explicitly tells what “top-tier universities” are defining them as: Ivy League schools, a few private institutions along with the top twenty larger public universities such as UCLA, Florida State and the University of Michigan. This statistic is spot on at the University of Georgia as well, as the university has 7% of African American undergrad students (about 2,000 total) going into the year of 2020. With admissions and their technicalities there isn’t a direct way to ensure more diverse groups are granted admission despite being qualified or not. In order for the Divine 9 to gain a larger impact here at the University of Georgia along with other “top-tier” universities around the nation, it is essential to reach a broader scope by diversifying membership. Not just simply focusing on the color of someone’s skin but rather focusing on whether or not the individual holds the sorority or fraternity ideological views.
If gaps are going to be closed another essential tool is to educate incoming freshmen of all Greek opportunities the university has to offer. The rushing process is quite obvious to incoming freshmen but NPHC interest meetings are usually quietly advertised and less likely to be presented in arrival packets. University administrators at PWIs can assist in bridging this gap by bringing awareness and having readily information to give away to students. Lauren Davis, a fourth year MIST major at UGA and Eta Xi member explains, “simply showing your support for organizations you aren’t a part of is a way to bridge the gap in itself. Them seeing what we do and us seeing what they do is only going to get people talking and add a positive lasting impact.”
Ultimately finding community wherever it may be, is an important aspect of the college experience. Eta Xi is only a preface to the thousands of D9 organizations who work diligently to make an impact at their presuming PWIs. It takes resilience, confidence and an undisputed amount of organization to pull off so many successful original events at an institute that doesn’t glorify or acknowledge black Greek life. With the appropriate tools and support those who have been hidden in the shadows can arise.
Take a look at this 3 minute visual taking a deeper inside look at black greek life at The University of Georgia.