By Eric Luera | Guest Contributor
Despite the fact that it is its 10-year anniversary, many students who walk by the garden adjacent to Fountain Mall have no idea what it is. With large stone monuments, a narrow walkway and a foreboding aura surrounding the garden, some may have believed that it is a cemetery.
This very reason is why the National Pan-Hellenic Council is seeking to renovate the grounds, with awareness and beautification at the forefront of these changes.
At the anniversary event of the NPHC garden, Dominque Hill, the director of wellness at the McLane Student Life Center and a Phi Beta Sigma alum, said he was constantly taking calls from friends and brothers visiting for homecoming, telling them to stop by and visit the grounds.
“It honestly makes me happy to see an initiative being taken to revitalize the grounds that mean so much to me and the National Pan-Hellenic Council,” Hill said. “The garden is such an important part of the Black community at Baylor and is a step closer to the representation that we need here among the larger represented organizations.”
Hill was a member of Phi Beta Sigma at the University of North Carolina and is a mentor to Baylor’s Nu Zeta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma. He said the topic of diversification is a main selling point to donors.
“The Stacy Riddle Forum is such a beautiful building lined with the history of the Interfraternity Council, and I feel that while the garden is nice and beautiful in its own way, a building for the multicultural organizations similar to Stacy Riddle would be a really great step toward emphasizing diversity at Baylor,” Hill said.
According to Baylor’s NPHC Garden website, the garden first opened in September 2011, with the purpose of honoring heritage and recognizing National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations for their service to both Baylor and the greater Waco community.
The website also said its aim is to honor diversity at Baylor and pay homage to the past members of each of the Divine Nine, which consist of the nine historically Black Greek fraternities and sororities in universities across the nation.
The history of the Divine Nine dates back to 1906 with the creation of the first Black fraternity — Alpha Phi Alpha — at Cornell University, and it runs up until the latest founding in 1963 with Iota Phi Theta at Morgan State University. This history of Greek life, which existed in a time when Black students had no inclusivity on university grounds, is significant because of the pursuit to bring diversity and unification to collegiate lives.
This year, the council is moving toward revitalizing the garden. Once the estimated goal of $100,000 is reached, construction will be underway.
The proposed renovations include adding two more monuments, one for the Sigma Gamma Rho chapter that was recently reestablished and one for Iota Phi Theta, if the chapter ever comes to Baylor.
These additions would fulfill the complete chapters of the Divine Nine and bring the total number of monuments to ten, with the last one being a tribute to Baylor and its NPHC. The plans also include bringing awareness to the garden by adding glass signage at the entrances and at each monument to inform passersby of the historical meaning of the assortment of stones.
Additional improvements include the construction of new paths to increase foot traffic through the garden, replacements for broken pavers and the addition of LED lighting to showcase the garden at night.
The NPHC at Baylor hopes that the revitalization of the garden will make the space into a place of gathering — something it has never officially been before. Making it into a space where students can study, hang out or even just appreciate its beauty is what the NPHC is focused on.
“What the garden means to me is it’s my comfort space — it’s a place where I come to relax, clear my head and just reflect on each day,” Sam Onilenla, Aurora, Colo., senior and president of the NPHC at Baylor, said.
The NPHC at Baylor hopes to once again make the garden a staple of Baylor’s Black community and a major focal point of the campus, with help from donors and the rest of the Waco community.
“I love this place, and these renovations will make it into a space where others can enjoy it as well,” Onilenla said.