It’s no secret that Greek life is a major part of Dartmouth’s culture. From the chaos of rush to the frat ban, Dartmouth’s Greek system remains highly visible. Despite this, one part of Greek life, the historically Black fraternities and sororities — better known as the “Divine 9” or the “D9” as popularized by writer Lawrence Ross — are shockingly absent from most, if not all, discussion of Greek life at Dartmouth. Due to a variety of factors, these proud pillars of Black collegiate life can go unfairly underappreciated on campus, even as Greek life as a whole remains a point of focus. Considering their history, vibrancy and importance, they should be just as visible and beloved as any other Greek letter organization. With the efforts of the College, other Greek organizations and the student body as a whole, there can be a future where Black Greek life is given the same visibility and respect as any other organization on campus.
The start of Black Greek letter organizations comes, predictably, from a history of racial injustice. Due to segregationist policies, no historically white Greek letter organizations welcomed Black members at the start of the twentieth century, when the first members of the D9, Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi, were formed. Unlike their white counterparts, they took a focus on service rather than on social connection, and the D9 collectively work with or have created over 50 unique charitable organizations.
Despite coming from the segregation and rejection of Black people from mainstream Greek life, these organizations have an amazing and rich history, as well as booming membership. However, you might not know it from looking at Dartmouth’s campus. The four members of the D9 that are currently active on Dartmouth’s campus — Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. — operate fairly quietly. Without housing, they have no permanent space on campus, and they don’t tend to have access to the alumni resources many other Greeks have. Without these traditional markers, combined with their already small size, these organizations can fall into the background of Greek life.
However, this wasn’t always the case. During the early 1980s to early 1990s, Black Greek life at Dartmouth was, for a time, slightly more visible. The housing which today acts as the home of Chi Delta sorority housed Alpha Phi Alpha from 1982 to 1992. Until 2004, the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta occupied college-owned housing as well, and had been hosting the annual step show along with the Alphas since their arrival on campus. However, from the 2000s until now, enrollment of Black students fell, housing was lost and eventually, collective memory of these organizations began to fade.
The history of the Greek system at Dartmouth has been at times shockingly racist, and the College has demonstrated a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Following that, Greek houses which were created out of the direct perseverance and strength of minority students would seem like something to be proud of. These groups should stand side by side with Dartmouth’s other Greek houses.
Instead, the student body can seem apathetic towards or unaware of the existence of some of the most dedicated and vibrant groups on campus. The members of Black Greek life participate in national conferences and conclaves with other chapters, form lifelong bonds that far outlast the four years of undergraduate education and actively seek out other members from around the country.
Black Greek life is thriving on many other campuses across the country, as each member of the D9 has gained a new undergraduate chapter within the last three years, many of them having gained multiple chapters. However, at Dartmouth, Black Greek life can seem unremarkable to an outsider, as its small size and relative quietness can leave it separated from its contemporaries. Despite this, their history, culture, lifelong bonds, demonstrated perseverance and the good that they do make it obvious to an educated viewer that these organizations are some of the most valuable on campus. It’s time for Dartmouth’s Black Greek life to be seen as the gem it has always been.
It’s fairly common knowledge that, among the Ivy League, Dartmouth has the lowest proportion of Black students among its student body. It’s also no secret that Dartmouth is big on Greek life, with 60% of students being involved; by far the largest proportion in the Ivy League. Considering how crucial which organization one joins can seem to your social life, it’s no wonder why students who don’t have a previously established familial or personal connection to the Black Greeks on campus wouldn’t give them a second look.
This is where the College, the students and other Greek letter organizations have the opportunity to make a change. Dartmouth itself should take a page out of the books of many HBCUs and introduce Greek plots. These specially decorated areas, while not houses, give smaller organizations a physical space of their own and would help combat the lack of physical presence that keeps Black Greek life out of the public eye.
As for what other Greek Organizations can do, continuing to extend their spaces to co-host events with the four Black Greek organizations on campus not only brings attention to these organizations, but can also be a great way to build bonds. And for the average student, choosing to educate yourself about Dartmouth’s Black Greek life members and going to their events are some of the best ways to support and respect these important organizations.
Considering just how much Black Greek life has meant and continues to mean to those who are a part of it, it’s more than worth just preserving — it’s worth applauding. The four organizations at Dartmouth that continue to represent the Divine 9, even on a campus that sometimes seems ignorant of or apathetic to them, have more than earned their spots as Greek letter organizations worth respecting, researching, celebrating and joining.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.