Black History Month Celebrates Black Women in Greek Life

by Jessica McKenzie, Asst. Features Editor 

The Multicultural Center hosted a question and answer panel featuring black women in Greek life to recognize Intersectionality Week, or the week between Black History Month and Women’s History Month. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, three women from historically black sororities, Janay Phillips-Wilson, Tamara Britt and Donna Joseph, Ph.D., were welcomed onto Manhattan College’s campus.

Joseph is a graduate from University of Rochester and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which was started at Howard University in 1908. She now works as a history teacher in Yonkers and is the president of the Graduate Chapter here in the Bronx.

“My family immigrated to this country, so I don’t have a family lineage and Greek life.,” Joseph said. “So when I went to college, I experienced racism and my parents couldn’t really support me in that.”

Once she found Alpha Kappa Alpha, Joseph found the community she was looking for and got involved in outreach programs. She decided to stay at the University of Rochester despite racial prejudice.

Britt is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, also started at Howard University in 1913. Originally from Brooklyn, she was exposed to Delta Sigma Theta at a very young age. The sorority hosted empowerment workshops and she was mentored by Deltas as a teenager.

Phillips-Wilson is a member of Zeta Phi Beta, which began at Howard University in 1920. She discovered Greek Life at 16 years old.

“My aunt worked with the NAACP,” Phillops-Wilson said. “At the time, I didn’t even know what the NAACP meant. However, going to the [NAACP] meetings with her, I happened to see all these other people wearing certain colors. And I wanted to know about them.”

She later went on a college tour provided by Omega Sigma Phi Fraternity, Inc. After attending Morgan State University, she transferred to Borough of Manhattan Community College and joined Zeta Phi Beta in 1997.

“I was seeing [members of sororities] do the work in the community, and that was when it stood out to me that this is something that I wanted to do,” Phillips-Wilson said. “For me, I was the first person in my family to become part of the organizations of the Panhellenic Council. It was something that I didn’t have someone to kind of guide me through. I had to do it on my own,” Phillips-Wilson said.

Britt, on the other hand, discovered Greek Life while growing up in Brooklyn.

“I was surrounded by women who seemed to have more than 24 hours in a day,” Britt said. “[They participated in] service, sisterhood, politics, they did everything. I had no choice but to be great. That’s what they engendered in me. So I always knew I wanted to be a Delta. It was just a matter of when.”

The women acknowledge the stereotypes of sorority life in college. A lot of people believe that black sororities and fraternities are elitists, but also that their focus is to party.

“There is a social aspect to it,” Joseph said. “But I’m very clear when I’m having conversations with people that when we’re raising money that we do party, but we’re raising money so we can turn can give it back to the community through scholarship and service.”

There are also many other ways in which women can get involved within their sorority. There are organizations such as mentoring, community service and fundraisers.

“When you find like-minded women, you’re able to get a mentor or be a mentor to someone else,” Phillips-Wilson said. “So being able to give back or being able to learn from your sister Greeks is extremely wonderful.”

Considering the conditions for African American students throughout the decades, black sororities are involved in organizations that assist them in reaching educational equality. Joseph, being an educator herself, believes that schools are still segregated in the opportunities they provide for students of different races.

“We have a program right now, hashtag cat,” Joseph said. “It helps with the college admissions process because unfortunately, if [African American students] go to public school, [they] cannot trust that [faculty] are doing what they’re supposed to do for our students.”

For more information about minority student opportunities in and outside of Greek Life, students should visit the Multicultural Center in Kelly Commons 3.03.