The National Pan-Hellenic Council — an alliance of historically Black Greek organizations on Grounds — hosted a virtual NPHC Week from Feb. 14 to 20, filled with activities designed to introduce students to the NPHC and spotlight Black History Month. NPHC Week takes place annually to celebrate the founding of the NPHC at the University.
“Our project is really to enhance the experience of Black Greeks in the U.Va. community,” said Danielle Muriel, president of NPHC and fourth-year College student. “We really want people to know that we're here.”
The NPHC was founded in 1930 at Howard University and consists of nine historically Black fraternities and sororities referred to as the Divine Nine. The national founding dates for these groups range from the 1900s to 1920s.
Eight chapters of the Divine Nine organizations have been established at the University — the oldest group, the Lambda Zeta Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., was founded in 1973. Other Greek life councils and committees on Grounds include the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Inter-Sorority Council, Multicultural Greek Council and the Order of Omega.
Six of the eight NPHC chapters on Grounds were founded in 1973 or 1974, reflecting the larger influx of Black students in the 1970s. The remaining two chapters were founded in 1978 and 1980. In 1970, Black student enrollment exceeded 100 students for the first time. That year, 121 undergraduates attended the University, making up 1.8 percent of the undergraduate population.
By 1974, the University’s Black student population had increased to over 300 students — over 3 percent. This year, there are 1,177 Black students, comprising 6.8 percent of undergraduates. In 1991, Black students comprised 12.1 percent of the University’s student population.
By July 1974, approximately 29 percent of the University’s Black population had pledged with the newly founded NPHC chapters. Today, around 60 students are pledged with the eight chapters at the University. Several NPHC-affiliated organizations start membership intake later in the spring semester.
“Coming up as a Black student or first-generation Black student, you probably don't even realize how many Black people there are at U.Va.,” Muriel said. “I feel like through community service, you let people know that we're present and that we're here to help, and I feel like that encourages more Black students to want to go to U.Va. and find their place here.”
The search for community and meaningful public service has drawn many Black students to NPHC chapters on Grounds. Joshua Franklin, vice external president of the NPHC and third-year Engineering student, is a member of the Zeta Eta chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. Franklin’s father, a Class of 1985 alumnus who pledged with Zeta Eta, introduced him to Greek life.
In the case of Christopher Jones, president and polemarch of the Eta Sigma chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., his own search for belonging in his community led him to his chapter.
“I was bullied a lot, and that caused me to distance myself from people,” Jones said. “And as I got older, I realized that a lot of things in life I can't do by myself, so I decided when I got to college, I was going to find a group of people like-minded, driven about achievement. And I found it. I found Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated.”
The NPHC decided to make all its events this year virtual, including NPHC Week, yet individual chapters made their own decisions on making chapter events in person or virtual. Beyond just Zoom social gatherings, the NPHC set up activities over social media as well, such as posting impactful Black Greeks on Instagram. Muriel said the group’s goal was to work around the Zoom burnout caused by online classes.
“Reactions have been positive, and I feel like we've been having a great turnout,” Muriel said.
The NPHC’s mission revolves around enhancing the Black experience on Grounds and giving back to the community — continuing a legacy tracing back to the Civil Rights Movement. Over the years, chapters have been involved in voter registration efforts, tutoring elementary school students and other community service projects. Last semester, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. raised thousands of dollars for The Haven, a local homeless shelter. Community service events held by NPHC chapters this year have all been virtual — either fundraising through social media or delivering supplies.
Franklin said that historically Black Greek organizations on Grounds are more than just social groups.
“I think a lot of the misnomers about Greek life is that it only includes people who are in the ISC [or] IFC who may have big houses on Rugby Road, but in reality, there's a lot of good people part of Greek life organizations that are here to uplift the community, to uplift U.Va. students,” Franklin said.
Franklin also expressed concern over the NPHC being negatively impacted by poor perceptions of Greek life following calls to suspend noncompliant chapters of the IFC and ISC for the rest of the semester. The push for suspension has been prompted by allegations on social media that in-person IFC and ISC rush events were not compliant with COVID-19 safety guidelines and led to the recent spike in positive COVID-19 test results last.
Last week, over 600 positive tests were reported Monday through Thursday, including a record-breaking 229 cases on Tuesday. The University has not singled out IFC and ISC events as the sole contributors to the increase in caseloads, though Dean of Students Allen Groves has confirmed that cases of noncompliance with COVID-19 guidelines have been brought against five fraternities for COVID-19 violations. As a result of the increased cases, the University has banned in-person gatherings until Friday.
Last week, a mural celebrating the University’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha was painted over with the message “Dear frat and sorority members … this year, the price was community and safety.”
The NPHC addressed this in a statement on Instagram Tuesday, adding that both the IFC and ISC made the decision to hold in-person events without the input of the NPHC, which has held events virtually all spring.
“The Theta Kappa chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha was the unfortunate victim of anti-Greek backlash aimed at the IFC and ISC, which exposes the large ignorance about the presence, history and mission of our organizations,” the statement said. “We encourage the U.Va. community to make it a priority to know the difference between the Greek councils, organizations and history of the NPHC.”
NPHC week of virtual activities began Feb. 14 with delivered Valentine’s Day packages of candy bouquets, Valentine’s messages and teddy bears. Profits from sales went to the organizations that the NPHC partnered with during the week, including Xtasee and individual NPHC chapters.
A Feb. 15 event was dedicated to posting famous Black Greeks from history on social media, such as the late U.S. Representative John Lewis, who was in Phi Beta Sigma, and renowned actress Cicely Tyson, who was in Delta Sigma Theta. On Feb. 16, the event featured dance choreography lessons over Zoom by Xtasee, a hip hop dance crew on Grounds. The lesson was a great chance for people to dance with the Xtasee crew, Muriel said, and Franklin agreed with the sentiment.
“I got some new stuff in my arsenal to use now, when we’re post-COVID,” Franklin said.
On Feb. 17 — a designated break day at the University — the NPHC council held their own bonding event with Zoom games and a school debriefing session.
A highlight for many was the speed-friending event hosted virtually the night of Feb. 18. For Franklin, it was a great opportunity to meet first-year students and share stories about the University and the Black community on Grounds.
The social meeting was particularly valuable for those staying home this semester, such as Jones, who joined his fraternity last March. As the sole member of his chapter, he has taken part in Greek life this year by participating in events with other chapters.
“I was having conversations with some women on there — they were just talking about their haircare products ... and it was very interesting to me because they all had beautiful, beautiful hair,” Jones said. “This stuff must really work.”
On Friday, the NPHC invited students to collaborate on a Spotify playlist featuring Black artists. NPHC Week ended Saturday night with Wild ‘n Out style team games played over Zoom. Wild ‘n Out is an improvisational comedy game show hosted by Nick Cannon on MTV.
Muriel encourages interested students to reach out to Greek organizations.
“Talk to the members of the organization — go to their events, that's the way you'll get the most updated information on how to get involved,” she said.