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Groundbreaking Sorority Hosts Black History Month Celebration

February 23, 2024
The women of Phi Alpha, the first chapter of a 'Divine 9' sorority (or fraternity) at UC Merced.

Editor's note: In honor of Black History Month, the UC Merced newsroom is highlighting some of the organizations, services and people who serve or represent the Black community on campus.

Three months ago, UC Merced welcomed its first historically African-American international sorority. On Saturday afternoon, the Phi Alpha chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., will open the doors of the California Room for an inaugural Black History Month Celebration.

Activities will include singing, a DJ, the Bobcat Band, spoken word poetry, food and games, along with words of inspiration from Dr. Rashanda Booker, Fresno State’s first university diversity officer.

The big, everyone-is-invited event scheduled for 3-5 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. An RSVP is appreciated.

“I hope it will be a great time of community and fun,” Phi Alpha President Victoria Lennon said. “It’s also an opportunity for Phi Alpha to introduce ourselves.”

At the dawn of the 20th century, more than 100 years after the Greek system began to manifest on U.S. college campuses – with predominantly white membership – Black students started forming their own chapters to push back against racism and discrimination in higher education. They united as the National Pan-Hellenic Council, also called the “Divine 9,” with a purpose to promote scholarship, service and the power of community.

UC Merced’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta is the university’s first Divine 9 sorority or fraternity. The UC Merced chartering also makes the sorority the only one of the Divine 9 to have a chapter on every UC campus.

Delta Sigma Theta, founded in 1913 at Howard University, made a powerful debut by participating in the women's suffrage march, marking its commitment to social issues. Decades later, sorority member Shirley Chisholm shattered barriers as the first woman and African-American to seek a presidential nomination from a major party. UC Merced's Phi Alpha chapter continues this legacy of pioneering involvement.

The Phi Alpha chapter found backing for its creation from across the campus community. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies provided important support.

“Outside of historically Black colleges, it’s difficult to find and create safe spaces for Black people – especially for Black women,” Lennon said. “We provide a space that empowers women, provides them with resources, mentorship and tools to excel in leadership – not just on a local scale but at a national level.”

The UC Merced chapter is small – “we have five amazing women,” Lennon said – but poised to grow.

Tatiana Howell, the chapter’s vice president, said the sorority calls for a lifetime commitment to scholarship, public service, sisterhood and social action. Activities and projects revolve around five areas:

  • Economic development
  • Educational development
  • International awareness and involvement
  • Political awareness
  • Physical and mental health

The sorority has 300,000 members and more than 1,000 chapters worldwide. Currently, chapters are focusing on upholding and strengthening voter rights – an issue under siege in many corners of the nation.

“We’re a powerful force,” Howell said.

Jody Murray

Jody MurrayPublic Information Officer

Office: (559) 259-8504