The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The importance of the Divine Nine at a predominantly white institution

On AKA’s Founders Day, we must reflect on the importance of black sororities and fraternities at W&L
Courtesy of Washington and Lee University

This past week, hundreds of young men and women on this campus underwent fraternity and sorority recruitment. Greek life at Washington and Lee has existed since 1868 and currently accounts for about 75% of all students, making it a staple of this university. However, there is an entirely alternative world of traditional Greek life that we often don’t think of when considering sororities and fraternities on campus, and that is the Divine Nine.

The Divine Nine is a group of nine historically Black organizations that comprise the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). This past Monday, Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), one member of the Divine Nine, celebrated their Founders’ Day. AKA’s Founders’ Day marks a historic shift in Greek organizations. Founded in 1908, AKA is the oldest established Greek organization for Black women and was one of the first groups to challenge the historic segregation and exclusion of sororities.

The creation of Black fraternities and sororities evolved from the segregation of Black students from Greek organizations. After the establishment of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Black fraternities and sororities gained prominence. Howard University, in particular, was the founding site for five of the Divine Nine.

In 1930, students formed the National Pan-Hellenic Council to foster collective unity and action between the Black sororities and fraternities. Since then, the NPHC has played a pivotal role in the advancement of equal rights. In fact, many of the critical leaders in the Civil Rights movement were members of the Divine Nine; including Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Jesse Jackson.

While initially founded at HBCUs, the Divine Nine plays an equally important role at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). A PWI is defined as a higher education institution where 50% or more of the students identify as white. At Washington and Lee, 74% of students identify as white.

On campuses like ours, Black sororities and fraternities often serve as a safe and welcoming space for people of color to express themselves and celebrate their culture. Each of the nine NPHC organizations was formed during a time when Black students were denied innate human rights and liberties, and although we have since made much progress, there exists systems of oppression that historically disadvantage Black Americans. Hence, there continues to be a need for community.

There have been four different charters of NPHC organizations at Washington and Lee; however, only three are currently active: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. There has recently been a resurgence of these organizations. In the previous two years, there hadn’t been any members of either Alpha Phi Alpha or Phi Beta Sigma. However, in 2023, Phi Beta Sigma proudly unmasked twelve new members. And, while there is currently only one member of Alpha Phi Alpha, we have a thriving joint chapter with James Madison University.

No matter if there are one or twenty members, the importance of black fraternities and sororities on this campus still stands true. The National Pan-Hellenic Council, or the Divine Nine, provides a community for students of color, students who have been historically excluded from traditional forms of Greek life. It is critical that all of us, whether we are students of color or not, whether we are Greek affiliated or independent, continue to support and uplift the presence of the Divine Nine at Washington and Lee.


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  • J

    JEFFREY DUKE SOUTHMAYDJan 22, 2024 at 4:58 pm

    Phi Kappa Psi was founded on campus on March 3, 1855, and has been a part of Greek life since then.

    • A

      anonymousJan 26, 2024 at 12:08 pm

      And that information is relevant to this article because…?