Viral recruitment videos of blonde girls chanting in matching T-shirts might be the first images of sororities that pop into your mind, but that’s only a stereotype of one side. There are nine historically black Greek letter organizations across the country that present an entirely different image of Greek life, and they’re just starting to take root at NYU.
Commonly known as the Divine Nine, these nine sororities and fraternities — Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta — have been largely absent at NYU until recent years. In 2013, a group of five African-American women initiated the two-year process of chartering a chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho at NYU. For Gallatin junior Wendy Koranteng, who was part of the second line at NYU and now serves as the chapter’s president, the sorority made all the difference in her NYU experience.
“Coming to NYU my freshman year, I hated it,” Koranteng said. “It was such a culture shock since I went to school in an underserved community. When I came to NYU, it was like, ‘Where is everyone that looks like me? Where is everyone that acts like me?’ I felt so different, an uncomfortable type of different, not a special kind of different. But once I joined [SGRho], I felt a special kind of different. Membership has offered me a safe space.”
Last semester, a second Historically Black Greek Letter Organization, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., was chartered on campus, offering a similar experience to male students. Chapter president Chevaun Samuels was inspired to start the chartering process after meeting Alphas at an informational panel on the Divine Nine hosted by the fraternity.
“We just want to advocate for our community,” Samuels said. “Being a predominantly black organization at a predominantly white institution is hard to navigate, but we want to be able to come on campus and work with administrators, especially the admissions committee, to make sure that people know that we are on campus and that there is a space for black and brown folks to be able to come together. If I knew that this organization was on campus as a freshman or as a senior in high school, that would definitely make my decision to come to NYU.”
Though NYU has taken steps in the past year to promote diversity initiatives, many students feel that pushing for equality in the classroom among current students is not enough, stating that diversity needs to be found in student life activities as well. SPS sophomore Shannon Morgan grew up watching the Divine Nine at nearby Howard University and always dreamed of joining a chapter when she went to college.
“Searching for a Delta Sigma Theta chapter at each university I looked at was part of my college process,” Morgan said. “Coming to NYU and seeing that there are only now officially two Divine Nine organizations on campus was beyond disappointing. Why are there so many white sororities and frats, but the black students only get these two?”
Morgan is not the only student who believes NYU’s relationships with Divine Nine leaves something to desired. A group of nearly a dozen women led by Wagner senior Rahani Green has been working with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life to allow students to join a city wide chapter of a Divine Nine sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, although little progress has been made.
“This isn’t just a student affairs issue, it’s a diversity and inclusion issue,” Green said. “The greater NYU community needs to know that this is something that’s very important to black students and that it’s something that goes beyond college.”
Last week, university administrators agreed to a meeting to explore the possibility of NYU students joining the New York City chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. after being contacted by members of the local Delta Sigma Theta organization. This brings the possibility of NYU women being a part of the chapter closer to reality, but Green still believes that the administration could do more.
“There are so many students that are interested, and if I’m writing a check to NYU for $70,000, they should be more mindful of what students like me want,” Green said. “It’s the same with the free menstrual hygiene products. Those were women that said, ‘We want this on our campus, so give it to us.’ There are black women that are saying the same thing.”
CORRECTION: Language in this article has been updated to accurately reflect that Alpha Phi Alpha hosted an informational panel on the Divine Nine.
Email Taylor Nicole Rogers at [email protected]