Multicultural Greek organizations offer space for underrepresented students to serve campus

Zeta Phi Beta was Baylor's first Multicultural Greek Organization, Zeta Phi Beta, was founded in 1979. Lariat Archives

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

In addition to the traditional Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council, Baylor is also home to seven active organizations within the National Pan-Hellenic Council and nine active organizations within the Multicultural Greek Council.

In 1980, the Baylor Lariat did a series about race on campus. In its first article, it discussed the creation of Zeta Phi Beta on campus, a social sorority for Black women after they expressed fear in pursuing the white-dominated sororities on campus.

Jackson, Miss., senior Emani Sullivan is president of Baylor’s National Pan-Hellenic Council and has been a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. sorority since the spring of 2019.

Sullivan said NPHC is “big, big, big on service” and as the organizations within NPHC are historically Black, it is where she feels most comfortable.

“That just creates a safe, comfortable space for me to be completely me,” Sullivan said. “That’s not to say that Black people cannot join other orgs or non-Black people can’t join our orgs, it’s just that this was a space that was created for me, so I just feel most comfortable here.”

Sherilyn Williams, president of Zeta Phi Beta at the time, said they didn’t face opposition from administration when they asked to charter their sorority but were originally turned down membership in the Panhellenic Council.

They were advised to charter under the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Otherwise, the article said, the sororities within the Panhellenic Council that filed before them would have to be chartered before Zeta Phi Beta was able to.

Zeta Phi Beta was officially chartered on Baylor’s campus on Nov. 2, 1979.

In an article published by the Lariat in 2013, the first adviser, Frank Newton, recounted many instances of opposition that the group faced during its early years from the student body.

The article stated that Panhellenic sorority Zeta Tau Alpha asked Newton to change the Zeta Phi Beta name.

“I told them if they wanted to change their name that would be fine, but we weren’t changing ours,” Netwon said.

A young Black male student also approached the associate dean for student organizations at the time, Virginia Crump, about creating a Black student fraternity for males.

Crump said the fraternity and sorority within the NPHC would be able to work together, but they would not be able to work alongside other Panhellenic groups on campus.

Sullivan is a legacy within AKA as her mother, sister and two of her cousins were also a part of the AKA sorority.

“I grew up around Alpha women my entire life, so I saw what they exemplified and the type of role model that they were,” Sullivan said. “That’s what led me to be like, ‘Maybe this is something that I’m interested in.’”

As Baylor is a predominantly white institution and her parents attended historically Black universities, she said they noticed a difference in the prevalence of NPHC.

“At HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), granted I have not been to one, but I know from my parent’s experience it’s just a totally different environment,” Sullivan said. “Everybody knows everything about the NPHC and everybody wants to be in this one and wants to be in this one.”

On Sept. 24, 2011, the National Pan-Hellenic Garden was officially opened on campus. This garden was proposed in March of 2007 and final approval was given by the Board of Regents four years later.

Plots are a classic symbol of Black Greek Letter Organizations on many campuses and serve as a physical representation of the different organizations.

Sullivan said she is very grateful and honored to have that exemplified on campus.

She said the NPHC still struggles with visibility and representation on campus. She said that often students know things about organizations within Panhellenic Council that they don’t always know about chapters within NPHC.

“We are not getting the representation that we deserve,” Sullivan said. “And it’s not any fault of PHC; it’s just the current climate we have at Baylor where they just don’t know that we really exist.”

Sullivan emphasized that the organizations with NPHC have a lot to offer and that the work they do often goes unnoticed.

“I’m glad we have the outreach that we do, and I don’t ever want to lose that, but if we had the platform that PHC has then we can have an even greater outreach and reach even more people that need the help that we’re willing to give,” Sullivan said.

With the return of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the charter of Iota Phi Theta fraternity on campus, Baylor will reach the full Divine Nine status.

“Right now, we are ecstatic about having the seven that we do,” Sullivan said.

Aurora, Colo., junior Samuel Onilenla is the secretary of Baylor’s NPHC and a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He said that throughout his time in NPHC, he has become more organized as his attention to detail has grown.

“Our platform is only so big,” Onilenla said. “And being able to collaborate or even gain knowledge of more organizations on campus is what I hope to see in the future.”

In addition, the Multicultural Greek Council was founded on Baylor’s campus in 2004 and is currently the only one without a national affiliation.

The Multicultural Greek Council includes active sororities alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Delta Kappa Delta, Gamma Alpha Omega and Kappa Delta Chi, as well as fraternities Beta Kappa Gamma, Delta Epsilon Psi, Lambda Phi Epsilon, Omega Delta Phi and Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha.

Friendswood senior Monique Suarez is president of the MGC chapter at Baylor and said that she joined alpha Kappa Delta Phi last fall.

She said the recent involvement of the MGC in All-University Sing has been an exciting addition, but funding and exposure are less than other organizations. She hopes to extend networking to other councils such as the Panhellenic Council.

“I feel like that would help with exposure as well,” Suarez said. “So, maybe seeing those organizations reach out to us.”

Kayle Nguyen, recent graduate and current Alumna Adviser for the alpha Kappa Delta Phi sorority, said that her time with MGC was very valuable.

“Whenever I was just an officer for my own organization, of course I learned a lot and delved a lot into the Asian community,” Nguyen said. “But as soon as I was an officer, I learned a lot more about the Latinx community and since we tried to partner a lot with NPHC, I learned a lot about the Black community as well.”

She said that throughout her time serving MGC last year, they focused on advocating for the Multicultural Alliance to get to perform at Sing, which they did for the first time in February of 2020.

“We also have Sing Alliance, but NPHC and MGC really didn’t have a voice on that stage other than Sing Alliance,” Nguyen said. “So having a Multicultural Alliance was a really cool initiative.”

Nguyen said the MGC is ever evolving and there is no limit to how many organizations can be in the council. She said each university looks different.

“Throughout my time at Baylor, I’ve seen one or two organizations come and then some come back,” Nguyen said. “My last year, we only had nine organizations that were active and a new one that re-joined.”

She said throughout the years, the events have continued to get bigger.

“My sophomore year, I think our count was maybe 50 people to go to this one event we had,” Nguyen said. “The next year, we would budget a little bit more because we see that more people are going so it was like 50, then 75, then 100 my senior year and even more than that came I believe.”

In a Lariat article from 2013, Astrid Beltran, coordinator of Baylor’s Greek Life and Chapter Development for NPHC and MGC at the time, said that without the MGC, the organizations within it would not have a place to call home.

“That’s why we have different councils,” Beltran said. “It’s not to segregate or to divide. It’s to really make sure these councils are a home for these chapters to be successful and to have resources.”

Sullivan said that their main goal is to continue to serve more people.

“We are so much more than pretty faces,” Sullivan said. “We have commitment, hard work and so much more behind us and substance that we want to show people.”