Hundreds of current and alumni members of the fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the Divine Nine, and their many supporters gathered on May 7 for the unveiling of the Divine Nine Garden Plaza at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The nine historical markers on East Campus Mall honor and acknowledge the groups’ achievements, contributions, presence and history on campus.
The Plaza is named in honor of the historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up NPHC, seven of which are active at UW–Madison: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. The first NPHC chapters began at UW–Madison in 1946, making the unveiling of the Plaza more than 75 years in the making.
“For me, these monuments aren’t just a representation of the amazing work these NPHC organizations do — although I’m very grateful to finally see these historical organizations properly honored, and excited to see the impact these monuments make — but these monuments, to me, are also a representation of the fact that our voices matter,” said Israel Oby, UW–Madison alumnus, Plaza project leader and Kappa Alpha Psi alumnus.
The forward momentum of the project began with a request by the Student Inclusion Coalition, a student advocacy group that formed in 2019 at UW–Madison in response to a homecoming video that had excluded a group of students of color who participated in the filming.
UW–Madison alumna, SIC co-founder, and Epsilon Delta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha alumna Payton Wade described the importance of student activism and the work leading up to the Plaza unveiling.
“We spoke up, took action, and did the work with campus leaders so students of color, who come here after us, will not have to feel erased or unwelcome, but instead can see places on campus like the Divine Nine Garden Plaza and feel like they belong not only because they can physically see our presence here, but also because they know they’re at a university that will stand with and by their students of color,” Wade said.
A fundraising committee that includes UW–Madison students, staff, and alumni worked together to bring the Plaza to fruition, with UW–Madison students of color leading the way. In about one year, their efforts, which included a collaboration with UW–Madison Student Affairs and UW Fraternity and Sorority Life, led to surpassing a $250,000 fundraising goal for the $510,000 project. The more than $275,000 in donations for the project included financial support from more than 250 individual donors, the Office of the Chancellor, and Student Affairs.
“This entire project has been student-driven and student-led,” said UW–Madison Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Lori Reesor. “So, to our NPHC members and students of color here, I want you to know that this is your place to call home, to be seen for the amazing work you do, and to be celebrated.”
This is one of multiple efforts to bring visibility to NPHC’s fraternities and sororities. Another effort by the Wisconsin Union at UW–Madison, is the renaming of two spaces at its Memorial Union for NPHC and the Multicultural Greek Council. The State Room is now the Multicultural Greek Council Room, and Inn Wisconsin is now named the National Pan-Hellenic Council Room. The Union team is also installing display cases in the rooms that celebrate the history and contributions of NPHC and the Multicultural Greek Council.
These spaces and the Divine Nine Garden Plaza mean numerous opportunities for people to learn about NPHC and for students of color to see themselves represented at UW–Madison.
“Thousands of people, who pass through this busy corridor, will learn about the rich history and impact of the NPHC chapters that have been an important part of the Wisconsin Experience for generations of students,” said UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.