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A Deep Dive into Historically Black Sororities: Struts, Strolls and Unbroken Lines
Episode 421st February 2022 • Real Talk: A Diversity in Higher Ed Podcast • Southern Connecticut State University
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KC and Jamil discuss the Divine Nine, particularly highlighting the legacy of historically Black sororities and their importance on predominantly white campuses. They are joined by Dr. Audrey Kerr, professor of African American literature, and Tishana Williams, president of the Sigma Gamma chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc.  

Transcripts

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Hello. Welcome back, everyone. KC, I have been waiting for this day since

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you and I have started on this podcast. Yup, early days,

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you... This was one of the first podcast episodes

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on the Divine Nine on Black Greek letter organizations. You said,

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"We have got to do an episode about this," and it has been

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on our long list, but recently, we bumped it right up to the

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front. So there was something that happened on our campus, and we said,

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"You know what, we need to have this conversation

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right now." Yes. I'm sure, as many of our listeners know, and even

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if they do not, SCSU has received a lot of social media

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pressure about an incident that occurred on our campus. There was a video

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that was widely shared and spread of other organizations that are predominantly

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white mocking our D9 on campus. And so I won't go into too

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much detail about the incident itself, as it has been widely covered in

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other areas of our campus and there has been statements put out by

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our university. However, I do think, instead, this is a beautiful moment

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for us to uplift black women, to uplift our Divine Nine organizations on

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our campus and throughout universities across our nation, and also for us

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to discuss the legacy and the importance and the history and the culture

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of these organizations. Absolutely, and it's Black History Month.

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It is Black History Month. And it's very clear.

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Myself included, I feel very... I've been kinda clueless about

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Greek organizations in general, and certainly these, and I've learned a

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lot, just preparing for this episode today, and it's humbling. And I think

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there's a whole lot that people don't know.

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And we're not gonna answer every question in this episode,

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but we are gonna go into the history, legacy, significance, richness of

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these organizations today in a way that I think will honor their members

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and the impact that they've had. Yeah, especially as a predominantly white

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institution, this is the perfect time for us to reflect about how do

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we provide Divine Nine organizations with the dignity they deserve? How

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do we ensure that the spaces in which Divine Nine organizations exist are

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safe? How are we ensuring that they're safe? How are we protecting black

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students? How are we making sure that black students are feeling that sense

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of belonging on their campus? And we could talk about, historically,

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what does that look like, but I think, especially for us here at

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SCSU, this is a good moment for us to think critically about our

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involvement as we evolve as a social justice institution, what does Divine

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Nine look like as a part of that process? And so I'm glad

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this conversation's happening. And, KC, we have two fantastic guests to

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help us talk about this topic. Because I am not

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a Greek... I'm not part of a Greek organization, I'm not part of

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any Divine organization, so we had to bring in some other people to

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help us have this conversation. Yeah, so we have two guests from Southern

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Connecticut State University with us today, and we also have some folks

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who do... Who are gonna join us via audio clip.

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Our first guest is a professor, Dr. Audrey Kerr. She's a professor of

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African American literature, author of a couple books. She's done a lot

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of historical ethnographic work around Greek letter organizations. And we

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have Tishana Williams who's a senior student. She's an RA, she's a campus

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leader, she's a social work major, and the president of Sigma Gamma Rho

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here at Southern Connecticut State University. So to both of you, welcome

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so... We thank you so much for being here on Real Talk. 0:04:03.4Dr. Audery

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Thanks for having me. Thank you. Yes.

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This is a special moment for me. Tishana and I have been great

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friends for quite some times, ever since she started as an RA in

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my building. And Audrey was my first and only black professor at Southern,

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so I will give her that credit because that's true. Wow,

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I'm surprised to hear that. Yes. And I picked her class specifically before

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I left because I wanted to ensure I had a black faculty member.

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Oh, the pressure. Yes. Oh, no, no! Listen, it was a great class

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and it was a great time, it was a great time.

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I'm glad to hear that. But. Yeah. Four years of education,

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and you had to really try to have one class with a black

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professor. Yes, and it was not in my

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requirements. I believe it was elective, so... Wow. We tried hard and we

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got it. Well. We tried hard and we got it. Black women are

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still hovering somewhere around 4% of PhD's, so

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the odds were not good starting out for you

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to find one of us, but we're... We're a needle in a hay

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stack, but we're here. So, Audrey, I'm wondering if you could talk a

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little bit about where these organizations started, what was the impetus,

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what was happening in the world that led to the founding of some

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of these earliest organizations? Yeah, sure. So before the Divine Nine,

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there was actually... There's one black Greek lettered organization that

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predates those, and it was founded in 1904,

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and it's actually Sigma Pi Phi, also known as Boule. And this was

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a very, and still is, perhaps the most elite, prestigious, closed membership

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organization of black men in the country. It was founded in 1904,

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which is two years before the first member of the... What became the

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Pan Hellenic Council, which is Alpha Phi Alpha, evolved. I know Tishana

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knows this history as well. Founded in 1906. And Boule was peopled by

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the most distinguished black men in America of the time. So Dr.

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Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Vernon Jordan now, Charlie Rangel.

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If you are a renowned black senator, very well respected black doctor,

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judge, philosopher, these are the men who still gather in this organization.

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It is not an organization you can seek out; they seek you out,

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kinda like Skull and Bones. Okay. And... But they are a separate entity.

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And then the AKAs kind of had a... One might call it a

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fissure where there were some members who were...

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Who wanted to have more than a social grouping, and it was a

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primarily social organization at that time. Keep in mind how... Where it

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would have been in 1908 for Black women to actually be getting

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a college education, and they're at Howard University, and these are quite

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distinguished women. But then a group of women were looking for a different

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type of experience, and a few members and then some other women joined

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a second Black sorority that they called Delta Sigma Theta, and they were

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the first incorporated sorority, that was in 1913.

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So then moving forward with just the women, that was followed by Zeta in

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1920, and then Sigma Gamma Rho in 1922.

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And Tishana, do you wanna say a little bit about your organization?

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We wanna hear about your Sorority. Of course I would love to. So

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Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated was founded November 12th, 1922 at

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Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. We are the only Divine Nine

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sorority that was founded at APWI. A little bit more about our organization.

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We were founded by seven young Black educators,

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and originally our organization's first few members that we were bringing

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in were all also educators. Another big part of our history is the

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fact that it was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana. And during the time,

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Black women specifically were facing a lot of sexism and a lot of

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racism, so something that a lot of the members of our organization take

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a lot of pride in is the fact that these incredible young Black

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women were able to create an organization to benefit the community during

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the time where they were facing a lot of challenges. Yeah. And I

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think... And to Misha, and I think... I'm sorry to Tishana, I think

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this is related, that each of the four women's organizations were actually...

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They envisioned themselves as building a different type of tradition or

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adding to the tradition, right? So we think of Black community when we

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use the term Black community as monolithic, but this is really about Black

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women having different interest, having different desires, it's about the

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AKAs really looking for a kind of social network of women,

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and then the Deltas saying, "No, we really wanna have a community service

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agenda, we wanna be incorporated. We don't wanna just be the girl group

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of Alpha Phi Alpha, we wanna have our own identity as a professional

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women. And then the Zetas pushing back in some ways and saying,

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"We are concerned about what some viewed as elitism

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in the Black sorority culture, and we wanna create an organization for

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educated women that sort of leans more towards...

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More heavily in public service." And then Sigma Gamma Rho that also builds

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on that tradition by being a core and a center for women who

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are in a very particular way invested in education.

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So they all had unique orientations, although the traditions and the rituals

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are very, very similar. I have noticed that when

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people tend to talk about why they joined organizations, they're typically

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values based decisions. Like, "Certainly like I wanted a community where

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I connected to people, but I... These are my values, and that's why

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I wanted to join this particular organization." And I just think that

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that is distinct from Greek organizations broadly. I don't know that

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in other organizations, that people are joining specifically because of

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values. And a lifetime commitment, when you join a Black sorority,

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it is not a... An... A college exercise, you... It... You hold your

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membership for the whole of your life, and there is even a very

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intentional ceremony that happens at the time of death

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that is part of transitioning members into what is known generally as the

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Omega Chapter, or the chapter of the hereafter. So it is a forever tradition

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in all of the rituals, all of the rituals are

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deliberate, intentional and sacred. Yeah, I think that seems to me to be

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one of the pieces that I think generally speaking... Like the incident on

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our campus, I think, is an example of this, is really not understanding

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that sacredness, or not respecting it, I guess. But just in name, Divine

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Nine, I'm sure that's an intentional signification of

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the sacredness of these organizations. This is not a... Just a social

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club or a college age thing, but it really is a sacred group,

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it's a sacred act to join. And I think... It's a honor to

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join too. Yeah. I don't think a lot of people that are

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outside of the Black community or outside of Greek Life intentionally think

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about. It's a honor to be a part of a Divine Nine organization,

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people carry that honor really highly. It's hard to join this org,

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so people really value that once they're in it.

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These are international organizations, there are global networks of people

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all around the world that are a part of this org. There are

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so many famous members of this organiz... Of these organizations, this is

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a large, widespread thing. And it has stood the test of time.

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So many organizations. Especially new ones, haven't had a chance to stand

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over 100 years. These organizations are historic to our foundation of Black

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scholarship. When I think about a Divine Nine organization

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across the board, there may be differences between values and founders and

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mission statements and even people that join these orgs, but one thing that's

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consistent is academic achievement, priding theirselves on academic excellence,

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priding themselves on community service, priding theirselves on uplifting

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Black communities. 'Cause one thing about Divine Nine organization is they're

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gonna give back to the community, they're gonna be there fighting for...

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Fighting back against voting suppression, they're gonna be there during

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critical moments of our history and are still are. And so I don't

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think many other organizations are thinking about the legacy of these orgs

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but also the constant work that current members are putting in to keep

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those orgs alive and thriving. Yeah. Some people would argue, and I think

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there's some legs to this argument, that Kamala Harris was able to

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achieve what she achieved, because she's a member of a Black sorority.

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That that not... That didn't just mobilize her sorority, but it mobilized

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a base of support among Black women in different sororities.

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And it was a moment of acknowledgement. Let's keep in mind these organizations

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are emerging during the reconstruction, it's the rebuilding of America,

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it's this moment where Black folks are really trying to define

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who are we in America going forward, what's the relationship between the

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North and the South. And at the place where the north and the

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south meet, at this... In Washington DC, you have these roots taking place

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on the... In the mecca of Black learning,

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where Black folks are doing different sorts of

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meaningful organizing. Everyone from Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson,

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Michael Jordan, you just... The list goes on and on and on.

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Many, many acclaimed celebrated Black folks have roots in these Greek lettered

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organizations and remain active. One thing I think about is

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the importance of having D9 still. Some people may not understand why do

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we need D9s on a predominantly White campus? Why are they still something

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that's important, that needs to be active, that needs to be protected?

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Maybe we could talk a little bit more about

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how it's still relevant. So speaking for myself specifically,

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as a Black woman who attends a PWI cannot express how important representation

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is. Like for example, I've never had a Black

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woman professor, I've never experienced that before. So representation is

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something that is very, very important. And that was something that drew

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me to a Divine Nine organization. Especially at a PWI, I can't express

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to you how many times I've been the only Black girl in the

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class or one of very, very few. And that's something that is a

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very, very, very common experience amongst me, my staff members, my siblings,

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this is something that we all experience, 'cause we all attended Southern

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as well. And that was something that did have an effect on me

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in the beginning, because when you're a young Black girl, and you're on

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a college campus, and you're not seeing anybody who looks like you,

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it's hard for you to confide in people, 'cause they're not understanding

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the shared experience. So that was something that really drew me to my

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chapter and something that I think is really important to remember about

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Divine Nine organizations, especially on PWIs, is that we don't have the

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same level of representation, and also a lot of the national programs and

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initiatives that our organizations do are geared towards communities of

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color and Black communities. So they speak to us in a very,

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very, very personal way that other organizations don't. So yeah, the representation

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is something that was very, very important for me.

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And there's this other piece of it, Tishana, that I would add to

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what you just said, which is that it is about

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tradition, and it's also about ritual, it's about the importance of rights

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of passage at a certain age. That you have the ability to go through

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a process that allows you to bond with other women, you bond through

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your physical closeness, through the way you walk up with each other,

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through your learning steps together, through the call and response, the

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tradition that comes from the Black church, through stepping, through strolling,

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which you look at Black sororities doing their stroll, it's like you could

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be watching Diana Ross and The Supremes. The traditions borrow so much from

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each other and instill in us this very strong sense that we are

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not rootless as a people, that we have traditions, we have ways of

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doing things, we have ways of bonding and connecting, and those bonds cannot

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be broken or challenged in the face of racism or in the face

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of any obstacles that we have. It's a link.

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And in fact the other Black women's organizations that are non sororities

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have similar philosophies, like The Links, which is another Black women's

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organization. The Girlfriends, the Chums, Jack and Jill, there are all kinds

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of Black organizations, all of which are asking the same question,

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"How is it in the face of racism,

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in the face of a nation that it feels as though it disinherits us,

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every generation in a different way, how do we maintain a sense of

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strength and community?" And the Divine Nine is an important part of that,

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especially the ritual. And something I think of,

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even if you're not a Greek member, people that are in Divine Nine organizations

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make space for other Black folks, regardless of their membership.

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They're putting on programs on this campus, and they're pulling in other

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Black students to provide that sense of belonging. These organizations are

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filling gaps in which our university's not filling for us. They're having

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programs for us. We're talking about our hair, our roots, our ancestors.

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We talk about our experiences being the only Black person in class.

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It's taking that gap away. So our experience at predominantly White institution

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doesn't feel isolated, doesn't feel alone. And that's why... One of the

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reasons I hold Greek Life to such a high regard, Black Greek life,

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because it's not this closed circle all the time. It's something that all

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Black folks can feel a part of, not as a member,

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but as a member of the Black community, allowing that space to be

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open, which I think is such... Something so beautiful. That's so beautiful

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to hear, because we all think... All Black folks think about the gaps

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that are created when you separate off, 'cause there's so few of us

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already, right? So when we separate off, and you join this club,

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you join this club, you do this, you do this, then where is

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our core? But, Jamil, it's so encouraging for me to hear you say

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that, No, no, no, it's drawing us into

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these traditions. It's allowing us to witness, to talk about hair,

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to have parties, to watch those. So that it's the opposite.

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I'm thinking of homecoming as the perfect example.

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Black homecoming at our campus is a big thing. But it's mainly big

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why? Because a Black Greek Life. They host those events, they call in

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their alumni. And so that allows other Black students to be in community

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with them. So now you're talking to alumni of color who happen to

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be Greek, but you're invited into this space. You're not feeling like you're

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isolated, like you're not invited because you don't have letters on your

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chest. You're able to be in this space, to network, to be in community.

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Some of... Growing up, I didn't know Black men

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with degrees. Some of the first Black men I've ever met in my

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life with degrees have been a part of a Greek organization,

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because I'm attending events that Greek Life is putting on. And so even

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for Black people that are not part of a Greek organization,

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Greek organizations are important to them, whether or not they choose to

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join or not. No, no. Go ahead. No. Please. Well, I think

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this is a good moment to hear from a few of...

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A couple of Tishana's sorors who are alumni,

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have graduated, but talk a little bit about that piece about so you join,

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perhaps, as undergrad, and what happens after that in that alumni

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connection? So I'm gonna play these for us

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to bring them into the conversation. Alright. Here's the first thing.

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Hello. My name is Dr. Natasha Wright. I am

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a member of the illustrious Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated. I serve

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in the local chapter of Iota Chi Sigma in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Sigma Gamma Rho, founded in 1922 at Butler University, represents sisterhood

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scholarship and service. However, for me, it is service.

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We come together locally and abroad to service women and their families.

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We have several programs such as Operation Big Book Bag, sworn 1922, we

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have a Women's Health Initiative. It is a service for me that I

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am able to unite with women across the world to serve our local

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communities. I am proud to be a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated.

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Hello. My name is Danielle Monteque, and I am a member of Sigma

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Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated. How do my sisters make me better?

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I would say that while you're an undergrad, your sisters are there to

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help you to represent yourself well and to represent the organization well.

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They help keep you accountable 'cause you're not just walking around on

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campus, representing yourself. You're representing something larger. And

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it's helpful that your sisters are there to support you and keep you

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accountable during those times. I would say, after you graduate and you

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become a part of an alumni chapter, your sisters are there to support

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you through all the different life events that you go through.

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And as you are new to your career path, there's gonna be others

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in your chapter who are either on the same path as you or are

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in similar careers, and they provide guidance, they provide advice, they

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provide mentorship. And those are the things that help you... Help make

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you better in your career. So one thing that I hear

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in their responses is just really... I do hear that the legacy that

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we're talking about, the continuity through different life stages, I hear

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that, of course, a lot of pride. But also,

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that piece of a real deep commitment to service.

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I don't know if Tishana is frozen, but I just wanna note the

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big smile on her face when she listens to her sorors. Just hearing

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their voices makes her smile. I don't know if she's frozen right now.

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Service is... Service Is such a big part of the Black sorority movement.

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And when you think about... In order to be in a Black sorority,

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you're college educated, and... But we recognize that

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Black community often needs support outside of our

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opportunities or our experience. And so everything from early education

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programs, maternal health programs, mobile vans, mobile dental vans that

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go into inner cities and make sure that children are able to get

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their dental check ups, scholarship funds. Every single sorority has some

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type of scholarship fund. So, yes, there are all kinds of ways that

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beyond the college years, well into adulthood, well into being

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grandparents, through your entire life. I know families that have three

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or four generations of women who are in sororities.

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So, yes, it is... They are organizations that literally, as Tishana's soror

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noted, speak to every aspect of every part and every phase of your

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life, and every phase of the needs that

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exist in external Black communities. And on top of that...

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'cause I've been to events hosted by Greek affiliated folks.

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They follow you through each step of your life. A baby shower,

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if you've ever been to a baby shower

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by someone who's a part of a sorority, a Black sorority,

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what I mean to tell you, hundreds of people are coming.

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You got your bassinet, you got diapers for the next 14 years.

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The support when people hit milestones. A wedding? Don't let you get married

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and both of y'all are in a Greek organization, the level of support

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that that organization will carry you on into your adult life is not

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something you see in many organizations outside of a historical Black organization.

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I've seen that also at funerals, and it really

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staggered me, actually, witnessing that kind of sisterhood and community

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support for someone in their moment of grief. Just

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the way that she was held through that worst time of her life

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with dozens and dozens and dozens of people who came from all over,

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and that she was fully held supported, taken care of by her sisters.

::

Yup. Yeah. Yes. I have seen people travel from out of state

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to go support their soror, to go to event that they're hosting, travel

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from Jersey to Connecticut, from New York to Connecticut, coming from all

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across different states. It really seems to be something that connects Black

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people and holds 'em dear. Yeah. I can tell you, my dad

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came to this country as a foreign student in 1956,

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and he was at a very small Black college in

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Little Rock, Arkansas called the Philander Smith, no one's heard of.

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And he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha while he was there.

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I remember as a kid him telling me some of the crazy things

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he had to do. He came to this country with his best friend,

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also from Jamaica, who was a member of... Who became a member of

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Kappa Alpha Psi. And then when they integrated Little Rock High School

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in 1956, so two years after Brown versus Board of Education,

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they sent all the foreign students up north.

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So my father wound up at the University of Connecticut where there were

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no fraternities, and he became inactive and got married and had kids,

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was never active again a day in his life.

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My father died 10 years ago. And when he died, I called the

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local Alpha chapter. They didn't know my dad.

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He was living in Maryland, where he'd retired. They didn't know me.

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I just picked up the phone and called Nationals, and I said,

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"Hey, I'm looking for a local chapter where some brothers can come out

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and do an Omega ceremony for my dad. He was never really active."

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And within, I'm gonna say, 15 minutes, my mother's phone rang,

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and it was a dentist in Washington DC, who at that time,

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I think, was the President of the Montgomery chapter... Montgomery Maryland

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chapter. And we had calls every day from brothers offering to bring us

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food, flowers, do we need any help. And then

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at my dad's funeral, lines of Alphas. This is a man,

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again, who had not been active since 1957.

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Just Alphas as far as you could see for a stranger,

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someone they didn't know. They comforted us, and it was... I tell you,

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it was incredible. So, yes, that was why my... As someone who was

::

not American, he was looking to build ties in this country.

::

And they came through for him in the end. So it was really

::

beautiful. Wow. Yeah. I wonder if we could talk about some of...

::

Ritual and practices that are passed on, because I think, in part,

::

that's what happened in the incident on campus was that... A misunderstanding

::

of the significance. So we're not gonna talk about that specifically,

::

but just this... What is a stroll. Why do these rituals,

::

physical rituals in particular, why does it matter so much? Yeah. So one

::

of the most... Perhaps the most sacred part of the process of being

::

initiated into an organization and even after you become a member,

::

is that your lines can't be broken. So this is the...

::

It's metaphoric, it's symbolic, but it's also literal.

::

So when you're pledging, you and you are with your line sisters,

::

after you cross they become your sands 'cause you cross the burning sands

::

together, which means you enter into Greek dom together. So a stroll is

::

usually a series of dance moves that's organized by each of the organizations

::

by its members, and when it's done, it's done by all of the

::

members in a line. It's a choreographed dance. One might say it's analogous

::

or looks like a line dance, and part of respecting the organizations is

::

that you never, ever, ever break the line

::

of a dance when a black sorority is doing their stroll.

::

Stepping is different. Stepping is usually in one location in a place.

::

You can think of stepping if you've seen videos of say,

::

African tribal traditions or... Nelson Mandela well described it when he

::

said, "When Africans dance, they don't dance from the middle of the body,

::

up. They dance from the centre of the body, down," which means your

::

connection to the land and to the earth is actually the thing that

::

is supposed to ground the dance. So the idea that you're stomping into

::

the earth, your hands touch the earth, it's grounding you,

::

and it's very, very close if you look at videos to

::

traditions that come out of different countries in Africa.

::

So, again, you don't interrupt the step. You don't interrupt the ritual.

::

And in terms of the specific moves that

::

sororities do, which is a kind of sitting move, fraternities have a different

::

version of that. This is something that would have emerged more recently,

::

I would say. After the 1960s, you went from pledging to this period

::

that black organizations entered into that was more closely known as hazing.

::

And out of that period in time, around 1963 and on,

::

towards the end of the civil rights movement, beginning of the Black Power

::

movement, those were more based on calisthenics and strength. How are you

::

able to physically maintain strength and posture, position?

::

What's your sustenance? What's your perseverance level? And a lot of those

::

postures come out of that tradition. So the stroll is where you see

::

the movement and a line, you never break the line. The stepping is

::

rooted in one position and it has a connectedness to the earth,

::

and the standing still positions are usually affiliated with strength, strength

::

of character, strength of the body. All very meaningful. The hand symbols,

::

which we don't do if we're not members of that, of any of

::

the organizations, I am a member of a sorority, the hand gestures usually

::

go along with a tradition that the organization affiliates with... Affiliates

::

itself with. So it could be a symbol that mimics the look of

::

a cat, and every sorority and fraternity has their own symbol.

::

So for Omega Psi Phi, it kind of looks like a Q. It

::

looks like they're doing the letter Q. For the Deltas, it looks like

::

a pyramid. And these are very intentional and it is considered...

::

It's only used by members of the organization.

::

These are not things that someone would obviously know,

::

and one of the tricky parts of sorority culture is that it's very

::

secretive. They are secret organizations, and part of being a secret organization

::

is that outsiders don't know the reasons why

::

we might have some of the traditions that we have.

::

Yeah, it's very true. A lot of things that take place in black

::

organizations are kept private, which also makes it special for many folks.

::

So there's a lot of reasons why these things are kept private.

::

But often when you get... When someone asks how do I join a

::

D9 organization, they say, "Do your research," and people get frustrated

::

by that. Do your own research, but it's true. It's really important when

::

you're looking at these organizations. Even if you don't plan on joining

::

them, to do a little research on why they exist and who they

::

are, but even more importantly, learn about the chapter that exist on your

::

campus. These are national organizations, but each chapter has its own origin

::

story, how it got to that campus. Their members may be unique to

::

this chapter. They may have different community service that that chapter

::

specifically does. Every chapter has its own culture, their own people running

::

it, which makes it different from other campuses, so

::

doing your research is super important. Yeah, doing your research is important

::

and being able to... You mentioned the importance of

::

the local chapter, and the other piece of that, I think,

::

Jamil, is figuring out whether or not you are able to

::

feel a connectedness to that chapter and also the national mission of the

::

organization. One of the things that I mentioned to you

::

previously is that before she died, I spoke to one of our founders

::

in my sorority, which was such an honour to get to do an

::

interview with her for my research, which was on black social

::

and political organizations and... The building of black institutions for

::

the sustenance of higher education. And I interviewed Myrtle Tyler Faithful

::

who was one of our founders, and I interviewed her actually shortly before

::

her death. And one of the things that I found really awesome about

::

that conversation was her talking about being a student at Howard University,

::

walking around campus, seeing what the other sororities were doing and deciding,

::

"Oh, that's not for me for this reason." But just as a

::

19 year old girl, right? Not as our illustrious founder, just as a

::

19 year old girl saying, "There's something I want, there's something I'm

::

looking for. There's a way I think about black womanhood, and I don't

::

see it here in the way that I want to express myself as

::

a black woman. And so I'm going to create my own tribe."

::

Right? And she does. And we talked about some of the reasons and

::

what needs she felt Zeta filled that didn't already exist.

::

Every one of these organizations has a story, we all have a story,

::

and their stories are recorded, and Howard University has their papers.

::

You can go to Howard and see papers on almost all of the

::

organizations, you can read the letters they wrote when they were disgruntled

::

with... You can read the letters they wrote when they were

::

going through a difficult time and they were asking the university for assistance.

::

It's just incredible to imagine that they were

::

like you, like Tishana, they were just young people

::

wanting to figure out how they define their blackness in their time and

::

place. Well, Audrey, I would love to play... I actually have two clips

::

from Zetas who are current students, and I would love to hear...

::

You've read these letters from 100 years ago. I would love to hear

::

how you make a connection between what students

::

in the organization are saying today and then what people were thinking

::

and talking about back then. So I'm gonna play this for us.

::

Hello everyone that's listening. My name is Gene, and I am a part

::

of the supreme and sophisticated Psi Omicron Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

::

Incorporated here at Southern Connecticut State University, and I joined

::

this organization in fall of '20. So what had me join this organization?

::

I had joined the organization simply off of the fact of the principles

::

that the organization has. I thought they just really connected to me in

::

my everyday life, and I just felt joining this organization would really

::

help me build those principles that I had already instilled in myself.

::

But also just help build me to become a better person and just

::

a better woman in general. And I think that ties with the next

::

question of how has this organization made a difference in my life?

::

Simply off the fact that they've just helped me find my voice,

::

I feel like. I was always someone who was very outgoing,

::

I was always very active, but I was also always somebody who didn't

::

really speak up for myself much. And I never knew how to really

::

find my voice in the crowd, if that makes sense. And this organization

::

has just really helped me find my voice. I know that...

::

I advocate for myself, now a lot. I know that it's okay to

::

express how I feel when I'm not okay with something.

::

So it's really helping me find my voice to say like,

::

"I don't like this or I like this."

::

Just really helped me boost my confidence in myself.

::

And if there's one thing I can say about Greek Life in general,

::

if you are interested, don't be afraid to really get out there.

::

We want to know you as much as you want to know us.

::

So if you are interested, don't be afraid to say hi or reach

::

out to us because we're all pretty friendly

::

and do your research. That's my one tip.

::

Thank you for listening. Hi. My name is Jarayah Macintosh. I'm a senior

::

social work major. I am a member of the supreme and sophisticated Psi Omicron

::

Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated. And I became a member in

::

my freshman year of spring 2018. I joined Zeta Phi Beta because I

::

knew it was the right fit for me.

::

I became familiar with the Psi Omicron Chapter members at the time,

::

during meet the Greeks of my freshman year.

::

During the breakout session, I felt very welcomed by their presence,

::

because everyone in that room... The members at the time had their own

::

different personalities and backgrounds, and it made me feel that I was

::

safe and accepted in the space to be myself.

::

After the breakout sessions and meet the Greeks I did my research about

::

the organization. Looked at the principles, the history, all that, so I

::

acclimated with the organization. And I just knew immediately

::

I could possibly have great potential while being a member of the organization,

::

and eventually I was right. This organization has changed me in an amazing

::

way. I used to be so introverted in high school, we never talk

::

unless spoken to, be introverted and shy. Over time, having different positions

::

on campus, and in my chapter encouraged me to break out of my

::

shell. If the old me saw what I was doing now,

::

she would probably be so surprised, just being in this organization has

::

helped me to become a beautiful finer woman.

::

I found my sisterhood, I have opportunities that I never thought I had,

::

connections and relationships too. I want a young woman who started out

::

just like me, shy, introverted, barely spoke to eventually be in my shoes

::

because it is possible. For anyone interested in Greek Life, listening to

::

this, "Don't be afraid. We're not scary people.

::

We wanna get to know you, just like you wanna get to know

::

us. Do your research." That is a very important tip, because this is

::

a lifetime commitment. This just doesn't end when you graduate college,

::

it continues throughout your lifetime. And finally, most importantly,

::

be yourself. We wanna see the real you, don't pretend, like, you have

::

to be someone, you're not. Just be yourself.

::

I love that. I think one of the things that happens when you

::

become a member of any of the Divine Nine organizations, you have to

::

know a lot of history. You have to know all of the history

::

of your organization. You also have to learn

::

History of the other Divine Nine organizations, there is tons and tons of

::

history, and I think doing your research is really important,

::

not just about the organization you're interested in, but really knowing

::

a little bit about the traditions of all

::

the organizations, it's Black History, it's important and it's exciting.

::

Next time you watch a game, KC, next time you're watching football or

::

basketball or... And you're watching the men play, if you look,

::

pay really close attention, you'll see a lot of brands

::

all around, perhaps not one of the traditions we talk about the most,

::

but when you're watching a game, you will see people with their Omegas or

::

with their Sigmas and... Very common. Yeah, Jamal is laughing because

::

we talk about sports, he never watches sports, and I barely do,

::

but I certainly do want him to know, I don't know if they're better... I

::

don't watch sports. This is very true. I only watch sports if my little

::

brother is playing. That's about as much sports I get, but you know Audrey,

::

I feel like I'm sitting in a master class that you're teaching.

::

That's what I feel like. I'm sitting in a master class,

::

but I loved what the Zetas are talking about,

::

to be yourself. So often as a black people, they were viewed as

::

a monolith, they were viewed as all having the same values,

::

the same thoughts, the same likes, the same desires,

::

that we have to be a certain way, talk a certain way,

::

behave especially in predominantly White spaces, a certain way,

::

but what these ladies are saying is, show up to us as you

::

are, and I think as Black people, that can be comforting is to

::

realize that it's a space for you, and you are good enough for

::

that space as you are, and you don't have to

::

show up as someone you're not. Mm hmm. Not something as black women,

::

we hear enough in the world, and that's something that our black girls

::

get to feel and experience that kind of unconditional...

::

Yes, the idea that you can just be yourself.

::

To be a black girl is to live in a world where you

::

are always feeling performative because of all kinds of intersectional isms,

::

because of racism, because of sexism, because of classism, because of ageism,

::

you name it, it can fall on your plate.

::

And so I think that distinguishes a difference between these organizations

::

for Black women, and perhaps, I can't really speak to others,

::

but for others, because it can become everything

::

in a world that doesn't always provide those comforts

::

to Black girls and Black women. And to go off of what you

::

just said, when I was first interested in my sorority, and I had

::

attended meet the Greeks, I remember they had the little breakout rooms

::

and sessions so that you could take out time to ask them questions

::

about the organization and the chapter, and I stuck around afterwards to

::

just kind of talk to them and get to know them more on

::

a personal level, and there was just that sense of comfort.

::

A lot of the other girls in the room, they had the same

::

major as me, or similar majors they were in the same program,

::

pursuing the same careers, so I automatically felt that sense of home,

::

and then we also had some grad chapter members that were also there,

::

so we could see what that sisterhood looked like beyond undergrad as well.

::

So that was something that was really, really comforting to me to see

::

a chapter of women... Some of them were first generation, like I was.

::

A lot of them were immigrants from the same country that my parents

::

came from, so I did feel that, that sense of comfort immediately with

::

them. Tishana, is it still the case that you can't do freshman year?

::

You can't do the first semester of your freshman year, you have to

::

wait 'til you have a GPA. Yeah. What is it typical to join

::

in your sophomore year? Most people that I've seen, usually it's

::

junior and sophomore. Oh, interesting. Yeah, once you're established as

::

a student academic record seems really important too, in the sense of the

::

university and community who are in the space. And it's also beneficial

::

'cause it kind of gives you that time to gain some sort of

::

leadership experience before you join the chapter, so you have a lot more

::

to bring as well. Yes, I think that's something I get lost often,

::

I don't think a lot of times people would think about that before

::

they try to enter into a Divine Nine organization.

::

A lot of times people talk about how hard the process may be

::

or how long that process may take, without realizing that the real work

::

is after you join an organization, which is one of the reasons I

::

did not join. I'm sure folks are wondering, Jamal is speaking so highly

::

of D Nine, but not anyone. One of the reasons I didn't join

::

is because it's a huge time commitment, especially during undergrad, you

::

may be sitting on an e board, you may be doing programming,

::

you may be on a fund raiser chair, you may be doing the

::

community service chair, that takes hours and time,

::

and I don't think folks are always thinking about that when they are

::

looking towards joining your organization as that time and leadership commitment

::

that you're gonna have to bring, but thankfully, there's always a chance

::

to join an organization later on in life after undergrad has ended,

::

but that's a huge commitment afterwards. So that I didn't know,

::

Jamal. You surprise me all the time, but I wouldn't be surprised if

::

you joined, you keep mentioning it, maybe 1 out of 55,

::

but... So that... How helpful is that to join

::

post grad? You always join post grad, many people do join post grad, some

::

people join in their grad school. So it's not something limited to undergrad,

::

and for myself, I always felt a deep connection to black students throughout

::

my entire undergrad experience. I probably would not have stayed at Southern

::

if it wasn't for my fellow black peers.

::

We were a very tight group of people,

::

and that also was true with other people that happened to be Greek.

::

So between that and the amount of jobs I worked and leadership titles I

::

held, I didn't have the space in my undergrad experience. And that's okay,

::

not every black student has to join a group, like organization to

::

partake in the community, to partake in our community.

::

That's something that can happen later on in life.

::

Yeah, the daughter of one of our founders who actually was not able

::

to pledge when she was young, became a Zeta, I think when she

::

turned 95. So there's definitely no expiration date... There's not. Wow.

::

And you know, Tishana, I'm thinking of... It's important that we're having

::

this conversation because for all too often, I'm thinking about this with

::

Greek life, a black Greek life, but also with multi cultural groups on

::

campus, and I'm sure this is not unique just to our campus,

::

but I'm sure this is happening in other places,

::

black people are not often brought to the table of programming when it

::

comes to organizations that are predominantly white. They call folks for

::

when it's time to do a stroll, when it's time to perform,

::

when it's time to rap and sing and dance

::

for entertainment purposes, and not for a scholarship, not for programs

::

that are meaningful. And so I think this is also a good time

::

to talk about other organizations coming to the table as us,

::

coming to the table with black and multicultural groups.

::

I know I was speaking to Jamil about this before, but this semester,

::

we really wanted to make it a goal to do programming as black

::

women, to make a safe space for conversations of things that we kind

::

of talk about more so behind closed doors. So things like the over

::

sexualization of black women or mental health and how it affects black women.

::

Those are things that we kind of talk about

::

with our friends in our more intimate conversations, but I think it's important

::

that we create that bigger and broader space to give other women,

::

that sense of comfort to educate and also really creating a space for

::

non students of color to also learn about our experiences as well,

::

'cause this isn't just a safe space for us, as black and brown

::

students, we also want... Especially as us being a social justice institution

::

and thriving for that, I think if that's what we really strive to

::

do, it's really important as well about other people who want to be

::

allies and want to stand in solidarity with our community. Also take the

::

time to come to our programs and learn about the things that we

::

experience and the things that we have to say, because even thinking of

::

my experience as somebody who wants to be a licensed clinical social worker

::

and I'm a black woman, there are already certain things that I understand

::

as challenges that my community faces because I went through them,

::

whereas somebody maybe who grew up in a predominantly white community who

::

also wants to be a social worker, maybe they don't see that same

::

perspective 'cause they didn't grow up in a certain environment. So,

::

it also gives those people that space to understand some of the things

::

that they or the people that they work with might face as challenges

::

because they came and they wanted to learn about some of those things.

::

So that's something that we're definitely trying to focus on this semester,

::

broadening our audience and the people that we bring into our programs,

::

'cause it's not just beneficial to us, is beneficial to non students of

::

color as well. Tishana, that's a real balance between maintaining an enclave

::

when you are free to be a home space, free to be a

::

self support one another, where you are so insulated from the pressures,

::

wider pressures at the university and maintaining that. There also... As

::

I'm listening to you talk... As a music professor at this university,

::

I mean, that's a heavy lift while you're creating these spaces for these

::

hard conversations, educating your peers, that is a huge service to the

::

university and a heavy lift, I just... Yeah. I can definitely say that

::

sometimes we put a lot of work into the things that we do,

::

but you forget how much we're putting into it. And I can even

::

think of last week when I had attended a meeting and another black

::

RA in another building came up to me, and she said,

::

"I just want you to know that even though you're not the most

::

outgoing person, you're kind of quiet. I just want you to know that

::

the work that you put into things and your leadership and who you

::

are as a person is not something that goes unnoticed." And it's true,

::

because we do put a lot of work into our Chapter, into our

::

organizations, because we're passionate about it, but for somebody else

::

to come up to you and say, "Hey, it doesn't go unnoticed we

::

see you. We see the work that you put in." It really means

::

a lot, 'cause our goal is to create those safe spaces for other

::

people to be able to learn and feel comfortable.

::

And you know, that kind of validation, really just be coming from black

::

people. And throughout my experience, some of the things that keep you going,

::

keep your leadership going and keep you involved, keep you mentoring is

::

your fellow black peers, 'cause those be the folks that come up to

::

you, congratulate you, tell you doing a good job and make you wanna

::

keep moving forward, 'cause it can be tough, especially when you put on

::

programs that are catered for a non black audience, and non black people

::

don't show up. When you try to put a program on to have

::

intentional dialogue, but you're having dialogue with the same people that's

::

involved in social justice already, and are also marginalized themselves,

::

those conversations, if anything, becomes frustrated because it's hard to

::

even get non people of color at these tables, even when they are

::

invited personally. It can be super frustrating. And so I'm hoping as

::

we progress as a university that non students of color feel,

::

one, comfortable going to these events, 'cause I don't believe all students

::

are comfortable attending these spaces, but also critically think about

::

the importance of attending these kind of events, opposed to something more

::

social. And I just... To piggyback off that, I wanna say that,

::

these Black organizations have always had White members. Eleanor Roosevelt

::

is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. All of our organizations,

::

Sigma Gamma Rho has White members. So Black...

::

Primarily Black organizations are generally not exclusively Black, Blue

::

Ray is an exception to that, I think it's pretty exclusive.

::

One big piece of this is that Mary Helen Washington was the scholar

::

who said that Black women often wind up being the domestic workers of

::

the academy. Which is to say that when there's one Tishana, or when

::

there's one Audrey, what happens is nobody knows that you've already been

::

asked to serve on 10 other Black committees.

::

And so you're spread very thin. And the weight of that is enormous.

::

I remember it being enormous Tishana when I was in undergrad.

::

And it's enormous, now, it's always big. And there's an invisibility and

::

a hyper visibility that's happening at the same time, everybody sees you

::

as a Black woman, they see you as whatever they wanna see you as, and

::

then also nobody is seeing all of what you're having to do in

::

all of what's going on, and all of the hats you have to

::

wear on a college campus. And the code switching, the code switching,

::

constantly. You're talking to this person, you're in your sorority, you're

::

here, you're there, and you're having to constantly...

::

That class where everyone suddenly turns and looks at you because something

::

Black comes up, it's like it can feel like death by a thousand

::

little needles. And sometimes it feels like... So I say that to say

::

that these organizations are powerful in centering, but yes, it is important

::

that people recognize the particular heavy lifting that Black women's organizations

::

have had to do. If you took a look, Jamal, I don't know

::

if you were able to... If you saw the recent

::

housing protest at Howard University... I sure did. And you will know that

::

it looked like about 98% of the people

::

who were fighting against these 60 year leases and tenant housing were

::

Black women. Boom. So the heavy lifting is kind of everywhere,

::

and so it's important that our organizations, whether they're social organizations,

::

whatever they are, also be places of healing,

::

and recognize... This is for people who aren't in the organizations,

::

Black or White, that support is never ever... Support, interest, education,

::

is never rejected. I've never been to a Black event

::

that was about education where anyone was made to feel that they weren't

::

welcome, in my life, that I can think of.

::

I'm so glad you bring that to the forefront and that it centers

::

Black women in that discussion, and I think that's a hard pill that

::

Black men need to hear, because there is a difference with how Black

::

women in leadership have to operate in spaces. And I can think about

::

so many of my friends that were SGRhos, or Zetas, or part of

::

these organizations that carry so many jobs, you're a RA on campus,

::

you're a OA maybe, you have two different other student jobs or you

::

work off campus, you do programs on campus, you do programs for your

::

job... You're babysitting your cousin on the weekends. You're mentoring

::

50 students on the side, you're volunteering at the local high school,

::

and then every time a situation happens, a racial injustice situation happens

::

on campus, who do you see on the phone with admin?

::

Black women. Who do you see at the front lines talking to admin,

::

negotiating a deal? Black women. Who do you see leading protests?

::

Black women. And they have been historically, even outside of Greek Life

::

organizations. When you talk about social movements, when you talk about

::

the cornerstone of families in the Black community, you have to think about

::

Black women and that burden that is often put on Black women,

::

that same expectation is not always shared for Black men.

::

And I loved how you brought up Howard University because so many Black

::

women were out there fighting. And I have said this to a couple

::

of my friends before, "Where are the Black men that are supporting these

::

Black women?" What is our job to support Black women in their fight

::

for injustice? How are we supporting them in misogyny? We often talk to

::

Black women about racial injustice, but then we're really silent when it

::

comes to misogyny, like how are we supporting Black women in their fullness,

::

in their entirety, and not just in their Blackness? And sometimes we may

::

even be absent from that conversation. Well, thank you for saying that,

::

I do appreciate it. Listen. I've been asking the question to myself sometimes.

::

"Where are we at, y'all? Did I miss something in the mail?"

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Poor Jesse Jackson was falling down, there are like 10 Black,

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19 year old, 20 year old women holding him up, taking him to

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the hospital, all women. Yeah. But that's something Black women have historically

::

always done without even being asked. They will uphold the entire community,

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and no one would even bat a eye. And not getting all the

::

credit. No. And if you think about Black families, the cornerstone of a

::

Black family is a Black woman. When Big Mama dies,

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they got the whole family... The whole family falling out, no one got

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any act right. Yeah, doll, black women they run the family,

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they run the community, they run the church,

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the first ladies in the church with their hats, they'll play,

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they're keeping us all together, they're keeping us all together. And they'll

::

probably end up being Black sorority, I tell ya. I tell ya. Black

::

faculty, Black women faculty, they're on every committee. I don't care what

::

committee, they're on every committee. You name it, it got anything social

::

justice on it, they're on it, anything non social justice they're on it.

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They're at every speaking engagement, they done spoke at 50 of them in

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a year, they're at all of them, then wrote all the books,

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then did all the research. Lord. If you could see everyone's faces...

::

Well, I'm tired just listening to you. I'm just saying. And then let's

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not talk about the gender pay gap, Lord have mercy. Y'all, you're starting

::

another episode. I tell ya, we should. I just had to tell the people,

::

"Listen, black woman are tired, they get tired of us." I'm gonna take a

::

nap when we're done here. Okay. Well, you're setting us up perfectly to

::

hear from our last person today, who is a black woman and a

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black historian professor at our university, talking about her

::

experiences in AKA. And so, yeah, let's hear from Chivon. My name is

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Chivon Carter David, and I'm currently a 21 year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha

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Sorority Incorporated. I was initiated through Alpha Delta Chapter at Morgan

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State University in Baltimore, Maryland back in fall of 2000, and since

::

2016, I've been an active member of Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter here in

::

Clayton, Connecticut. I initially joined the sorority because I was committed

::

to the vision that the founders had for sisterhood and service to all

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mankind, back in 1908, and I was also very impressed with the women

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who were on our campus and wanted to be in fellowship with them.

::

What I've gotten from the sorority cannot be measured.

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I have found sisterhood in every city I visit or move to,

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I have seen unparalleled leadership training to push me forward in my civic

::

activities and in my career, but most importantly, being someone who statistically

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wasn't supposed to make it as far as I had, in terms of

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education and accomplishment, I am convinced that being chosen for this

::

sorority and being in fellowship with these amazing women gave me the confidence

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to believe that I could accomplish great things, since my sorority sisters

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could do it, I knew that I could as well. Boo woof, didn't

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she say it though? Didn't she say it?

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"I knew I could do it because my sisters did it."

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Yeah. And I can listen to Chivon talk all day. All day.

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She and I are from the same hood, we're both from the Bronx. Oh. And yeah,

::

and both do African American Studies, and she's my sister

::

as well. And now I have Tishana as a sister, so yeah,

::

we link up together too and welcoming others, it's not just about Greekdom,

::

yeah, so we link up with each other too.

::

Yeah, I'm liking the whole, "Because my sisters could do it,

::

I could do it." Now, we don't often talk about the importance of

::

peer support. Looking at your peers and seeing what they can accomplish

::

and them guiding you, and then eventually you guiding another group of students

::

and that passing the baton of guidance, of wisdom, of support

::

is so needed in higher education, is so needed in our black spaces.

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'Cause for so many of us that are first generation,

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we couldn't do it without our peers, without our black support,

::

and that's why we need to support black organizations on this campus that

::

are Greeklife and non Greeklife, we need to support them. We need them

::

on these campuses. So many times people think of, "Why do we even

::

have these organizations?" Because they're needed. There're so many reasons.

::

I'm really, I'm so grateful we're having this conversation, it's really,

::

it's humbling, because my long time impression has been associating

::

Black Greek organizations with excellence. I'm used to seeing

::

people who are leaders members of these organizations, so I just associate

::

them with accomplishment. And the depth actually, I just actually, for me,

::

I feel like we're just scratching the surface here, for those of us

::

who are outsiders to organizations. But the history, the legacy, folks who

::

are listening, they can hear that sense of...

::

We're not asking people to say when the organizations were founded or to

::

speak in particular ways, but you can just hear across organizations that

::

sense of legacy, connection, commitment. It's really... It really is humbling

::

to understand that it's far deeper and more significant than I thought and

::

certainly important to the American society, to our university systems,

::

and really couldn't be more relevant today than it was a 100 years

::

ago. That's true. And the need for it persists,

::

but the function it serves changes with every generation,

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