The Divine Nine are a group of nine historically Black Greek letter organizations that make up the National Panhellenic Council. They are built around the values of community, service, philanthropy and scholarship. Only one black sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, calls Rollins home.
The original intent of these organizations was to showcase the black elite at colleges, particularly at historically Black colleges and universities. At the time, Greek organizations that wouldn’t accept blacks, which led to the creation of blacks fraternities and sororities. The Divine Nine actively uplifts the community and works with empowering black youth in middle and high schools seeking to lead black youth to higher education.
Rollins has an issue with recruitment and retention, particularly among students of color. Having organizations that empower black students will allow them to develop a sense of community based on shared cultural and social experiences. There is not a single black female professor at Rollins and there are only three black male professors. This sends the message that Rollins is not a friendly place for Black students. This seems like a bold statement until you realize that students of color make up less than 20% of the Rollins demographics. Zakiya Brown, Assistant Director at the Center for Inclusion and Campus Involvement and a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, reflected on her experiences with Black Greek Letter Organizations.
What many do not know about Black Greek Letter Organizations is the history as to why they exist and how rewarding their existence has been. For example, out of the nine organizations, only three were founded at predominately White institutions. The other six were founded at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The establishment of these organizations came at a time where young educated black students were not welcomed white majority member social groups. Since their founding, chapters of each organization are present on almost every college campus, military base, and city throughout US.
You see, BGLOs are well known in the Black community. Many young Black students were exposed to the idea of college by their teachers and administrators, members of their churches, or mentors within the communities. For my generation, I knew about BGLOs from watching A Different World, but for many others, it was those older individuals who influenced our decisions to go to college. BGLOs have a strong tie to community service, mentorship, and scholarship. Their principles indicate that we are here for the betterment of others and in the process we strive for excellence. And as many individuals who seek a community that fits their interests and passions, BLGOs tends to be that community. At Rollins, we have a great FSL community, but the community is comprised of individuals who look the same and isn’t too diverse. Unfortunately, those members may never understand the experiences of their black members, but having BGLOs on campus tends to give the idea that there are others who understand me, my challenges and successes, and celebrates me as so. The value of having them at Rollins is similar to the value of embracing and advocating for diversity within our community itself; it adds a different spin and finesse to the college experience.
Ashley Williams ‘18 discusses her experience with the Divine Nine: “Being an African American woman and student coming from a predominantly African American high school. When I entered Rollins College campus I searched the campus seeking for the Divine Nine. While walking around campus one day I saw many fraternities and sororities houses but not one was a house of the Divine Nine. I lost all hope and decided to walk back to my dorm. While passing by, I spotted a Zeta Phi Beta Sorority doll in the window of an office in The Center of Inclusion and Campus Involvement. I quickly turned around and went into the building. I located in the office a staff member named Zakiya Brown. She informed that there is only one Divine Nine at Rollins College. I was in shock when I heard this information. Having it on campus would definitely attract a demographic that Rollins needs assistance on. It will attract more African American students on campus”
The Divine Nine is a valuable asset both in the collegiate community but also in our world as a whole. They provide a sense of place for individuals and specifically the black community on campus. The addition of more of the Divine Nine Greek organization will attract a wider net of candidates for Rollins. This will also help with retention of students of color. If students find a home on campus they are more likely to stick with the school. While the Greek organizations on campus can provide a home for many students, these organizations are primarily white. This is not a condemnation of current Greek organizations on campus but shedding a light on an area of improvement for the campus as a whole.