Five National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternity and sorority organizations are celebrating their 50th anniversaries at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2021.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as NPHC, is the national governing and coordinating council for the nine historically African American fraternities and sororities, often referred to as the “Divine Nine.” NPHC members honor the historical spirit of community service, cooperation, cultural consciousness, scholarship, leadership and unity.
“It is phenomenal when you think about the history of this University that five organizations are celebrating their golden anniversaries this year,” said Yancy Freeman, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student affairs at UTC. “When these fraternity and sorority chapters were founded, it was an important step in diversifying what was previously the University of Chattanooga.”
In 1969, the then-private University of Chattanooga, Chattanooga City College and the UT System came together and formed UTC as a public school. During the University’s second academic year, NPHC organizations began to find a new home at UTC.
“It was a momentous occasion to get these five groups on campus in 1971,” Freeman said. “When you bring in the NPHC organizations, it allows students to see themselves and to be represented in ways that they can find their niche and an opportunity to connect.
“This was the beginning of a campus legacy built around diversity and inclusion and what it would ultimately mean about creating a welcoming environment for students.”
The Omega Psi Phi fraternity was the first of the “Divine Nine” to make its way to UTC, with its local Eta Beta chapter founded on Feb. 27, 1971. Three weeks later, on March 20, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s Zeta Kappa chapter was founded.
A pair of sororities quickly followed: Delta Sigma Theta (Theta Rho chapter founded on May 22) and Zeta Phi Beta (Lambda Delta chapter founded on June 16). During the fall, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity arrived with its Eta Phi chapter’s establishment on Nov. 11.
Alpha Phi Alpha later became a home away from home for Freeman, a Memphis native who earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UTC.
“I was initiated in the second semester of my freshman year,” Freeman recalled. “I was 18 and fresh out of Memphis, and I knew about fraternities and sororities and these NPHC groups as a Memphian because they were really popular there among the African American community, especially at my high school.”
Freeman went on to become his fraternity’s president. He also spent one year as treasurer.
“When you join an NPHC organization, it’s a lifetime commitment,” he said. “I would even venture to say that some of the graduate chapters—meaning post-undergraduate members—are just as active as some of the undergraduate chapters.
“But when you look solidly at all these organizations, they are founded on some of the same principles: Scholarship, brotherhood or sisterhood, leadership and community service. There is some synergy among the groups about representing ourselves well and representing our organizations well. And then they have been able to work together to reach the ultimate goal of what they want to reach, which is to have our college students graduate and provide service to humankind.”
Numerous faculty and staff around UTC are still actively involved with their NPHC fraternities and sororities, including another Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity mate in Chris Stokes, assistant director of multicultural affairs NPHC advisor on campus.
In addition to the five fraternities and sororities celebrating their UTC 50th anniversaries, three other NPHC organizations have been on campus since the 1980s: Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity (1982), Phi Beta Sigma fraternity (1983) and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority (1984).
“Symbolically, when those five chapters were founded here, it meant that this was now a public campus. Inviting different types of individuals and different types of people allowed us to be able to move forward,” Freeman said. “We certainly want to make sure that we are celebrating the heritage of having these organizations on our campus for such a long period of time.”