Xavier’s Black Greek Organizations Strive to Step into the Light
Nov 18, 2021
Xavier is made up of several different communities that each have their own unique identity and impact. Collectively, they coexist and work together under the mantle of being Musketeers, which is the very mentality that makes Xavier “All For One.”
Yet, a particular genre of Musketeers has gradually drifted under the radar over the years, despite soaring accomplishments and meaningful influence within the Xavier community. But now, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) at Xavier University, is more than ready to reestablish its presence on campus.
NPHC is the governing body of the historically Black Greek organizations known as the Divine Nine (D9). The NPHC at Xavier is comprised of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. (Xavier.edu)
Emily Coleman (‘22), NPHC president at Xavier and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., has been a force in the push to bring visibility to the hidden gem on campus that is Black Greek life.
“Originally, Black Greek organizations were founded because Black students were not permitted to join white fraternities or sororities,” Coleman said. “The founders wanted to create a space for Black excellence to thrive.”
Each of the nine NPHC organizations were born during an era when Black people were being denied basic rights and privileges. Racial discrimination and isolation on predominantly white campuses created a need for Black people to stand together in solidarity. The Black Greek-lettered organization movement embodied a spirit of sanctuary and built a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood through the pursuit of social justice. It became an avenue for change as members paved the way with educational, economic and cultural service activities intended to have a positive impact on Black people and the country as a whole.
“A major reason Black Greek life at Xavier is so important is representation,” Coleman said. “We miss the mark for Black students when we continue to communicate that Greek life is not on campus at all.”
In 1997, a Greek Life Task Force was formed to assess the feasibility of establishing Greek-lettered organizations. Based on recommendations of the task force, the Student Life Committee of the Xavier University Board of Trustees ultimately decided against establishing a formal system of fraternities and sororities at Xavier. In addition to several factors on the end of the task force, an overwhelming majority of students simply favored attending a small university that didn’t consist of stigmas associated with Greek life culture.
Meanwhile, historically Black fraternities and sororities were permitted to function at Xavier, as they had in years prior to the formal review, due to meeting particular cultural and service needs of Xavier’s Black community. However, this outcome was somewhat bittersweet for NPHC. While their organizations would continue to be active, the understandable decision to officially be a non-Greek campus acted as a sort of two-way mirror between Black Greek life and the rest of the Xavier community. NPHC had the ability to see and experience the Xavier community from its side, but it felt like it couldn't be seen in return. It was as if now, the Xavier community was only able to see its own reflection looking back at it. After years of staring at a "non-Greek campus" in the mirror, it became harder to recall that there was something entirely different behind the glass all along.
“Unfortunately, most incoming students don’t even know we exist at Xavier,” Coleman said. “I believe one of the causes for our lack of visibility is that we don’t have our own space on campus. We’re kind of lumped in with CDI.”
The NPHC at Xavier operates out of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), but it doesn’t have an official space that can be associated with its identity, mission or most importantly, its existence.
“Currently we don’t have a physical presence on campus and that’s one of my biggest goals as president,” Coleman said. “Typically, fraternities and sororities have plots or benches on the campus of their university with their organization’s history and mission to let visitors know they exist, who they are and what they stand for.”
Part of the reason a formal system of Greek-lettered organizations at Xavier was declined was to preserve the intimate, more fluid community-based and service-oriented atmosphere Xavier prides itself on. Considering how NPHC’s mission and vision align so closely with Xavier’s core values, thus why it was permitted to continue operating on campus, it’s a major misconception that its organizations uphold the stereotypical mentality of traditional Greek life.
“We’re so much more than strolling and chants,” Coleman said. “We’re based on community service and academic excellence. Everything else is just extra.”
In her organization alone, Coleman and her sorority sisters are tasked with only developing programs that emphasize, what Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. calls, The Five-point Programmatic Thrust: economic development, educational development, physical and mental health, international awareness and involvement and political awareness and involvement.
“Most people don’t even know that NPHC operates internationally," Coleman said. "There are schools across different countries that have our organizations and we have so much philanthropy taking place at the national and international level.”
As NPHC president, Coleman’s main initiative is Service Saturday. It’s a day that takes place once a month, in which the fraternities and sororities of NPHC come together to do some type of community service. On occasion, they’ve even joined forces with the NPHC organizations at the University of Cincinnati to double the impact of service in the community at large.
Just in Coleman’s brief term since Fall semester began, Xavier’s NPHC has already conducted a community cleanup, held a fundraising event to donate money to Rosemary’s Babies Co., made care packages for the unhoused population and collaborated with Last Mile Food Rescue to donate food to local minority communities.
“It’s a lot of work that we do. I mean it’s rewarding, but it’s not just having fun,” Coleman said. “It goes way beyond wearing letters.”
Aside from the personal cultivation and growth that comes with being a part of such community-based and service-focused organizations, Black students who aren’t aware of NPHC on campus also miss out on the option to benefit from life-long networking opportunities and connections.
“At the end of the day, we are all D9,” Coleman said. “After graduation, when Black students enter these predominantly white corporate spaces as professionals, it doesn’t matter who’s a Delta or an AKA, we all support each other.”
It’s no secret that the students of NPHC at Xavier are proud Musketeers. What does at times feel like a secret, having gotten lost in the shadow of being a Musketeer, is the fact that they are also proudly D9. Perhaps, it’s simply time for Black Greek fraternities and sororities on Xavier’s campus to step into the light.
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Xavier University Office of Marketing and Communications