The Return of Yale’s Deltas

After a long wait, the Deltas have returned to Yale.

Amidst community observers, friends, supporters, and other Deltas, the new initiate presentation of the Pi Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., occurred Thursday, March 9th. Nia Berrian, Seyram Dodor, Alero Egbe, Tiffany Oche, Naiya Speight-Leggett, Micah Mingo, Hannah Greene, and chapter president Kaylan Burchfield were officially initiated into the Black Greek Sorority. Representation from other Black Greek fraternities and sororities was also present and was recognized. The women were met with cheers and excitement as they were welcomed in to a broader community of over 200,000 predominantly African-American women across the world.

To understand the significance of Delta Sigma Theta returning to campus, we should examine the significance of Black Greek Sororities. Black Greek Letter Organizations came about in the early 20th century, at a time when Black people faced difficulties on college campuses. African Americans were just allowed to attend colleges not specifically made for them. Students would go days without seeing another person of color on campus. They were also barred from joining white Greek organizations, therefore, as is the case for much of history, they made their own. Designed to support the students of color and give them an out when life got difficult, organizations such as Delta Sigma Theta began. The first attempt at something of this nature was of Sigma Pi Phi, however, it didn’t last as the others did.

The oldest of the “Divine 9” Black Greek organizations, or D9, is Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, founded at Cornell University as a study group to cope with the members’ stress. Alpha Phi Alpha paved the way for fraternities on other college campuses to follow their lead and create a lasting sisterhood and brotherhood.

The Divine 9 consists of the fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta. The sororities are Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho. Though the organizations’ founding principles differ in some ways, the D9 has done many amazing things across the world. They continue this excellence with a new generation each year.

Delta Sigma Theta was founded January 13th, 1913 by 22 women at Howard University. These women wanted to assist others in need, perform public service, and collectively promote academic success and that is what the sorority has been doing for over a hundred years now. Their official colors are crimson and creme and their official flower is the African Violet.

When the Pi Alpha Chapter was on campus last, they impacted many people, especially the greater New Haven community. Kaylan Burchfield gave me a run-down on their history:

“Pi Alpha was involved with hosting many formal Black events, discussions, and panels at The House. Deltas were the innovators and leaders on Yale’s campus, and they took that energy into the surrounding New Haven area. For example, they would help repair homes and tend unkempt yards because they knew that their duties as Deltas extended past the boundaries of Yale.”

Deltas are obviously women who truly stand by their words and ideals.

It goes without saying that black sororities offer an experience unlike any other. However, prior to the Deltas’ return to campus, Yale had other sororities available. These other sororities have higher numbers, established presence on campus and more recent alumni connections. Yet these women chose to join the newest on campus and forge their own path. They did this for a number of reasons. Through email, I asked four different ladies of the chapter exactly why they chose Delta Sigma Theta, what they believe the value of black sisterhood is, and what they believe the significance of the black sorority experience is. Their responses are below.

Why did you choose Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.?

Alero Egbe: I chose Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., because I wanted to have a lifetime surrounded by like-minded women, who wanted to use their education and talents in service to the community. Contributing to the world around me is a personal value of mine, and I know that two minds are better than one, and over 300,000 heads are definitely better than one! And the more I learned about the history of the organization – from the bravery of our 22 founders to change the direction of the group they were a part of, to participating in the Women’s March two months after the founding, to partnerships with the NAACP, UNCF to serving on Civil Rights Commissions… – I knew this was a group that was actually about what they said they were.

Kaylan Burchfield: I chose Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. for several reasons. First, every successful, poised, and prominent Black woman that I admired was a Delta, and that included my grandmother, mother, and godmother. Moreover, these women were making important decisions that advanced the lives of Blacks in America. Since its first public demonstration as a sorority, Delta never looked to outside communities for assistance; they were committed and qualified in making sure Black communities were taken care of by Black people. I wanted to be a part of a strong legacy where women were focused on impacting the lives of those around them, and Delta was surely the only option for me.

Naiya Speight-Leggett: I have been blessed to see Black women model excellence through love, strength, tenacity, and service all my life. And all those women are Deltas, not by coincidence. When I was growing up, it was common for women in my life to be Deltas, just like my mom and grandma. As I grew, I realized that the circle of role models existed for a reason. It is important that the women who love, lead, and serve collect themselves in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. I began to see how I was intentionally surrounded by these magnificent women, not just anyone. I wanted to be part of an organization that pushes every sister to be the best version of herself by serving others, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is that. Deltas get the work done. Deltas think past themselves. Deltas love and lead and are the epitome of the woman I want to be. That’s why Delta Sigma Theta is the only way. 

Seyram Dodor: As a first-generation Ghanaian American immigrant, I did not have much exposure to Black Greek Life until I went to my state’s boarding school. All of my best friends had mothers who were a part of some black Greek org[anization] so I had the opportunity to learn a lot. As I learned more, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. really stood out to me. Unlike the other organizations, I saw a real emphasis on service, especially on programming that uplifted black women and the black communities. Meeting other Deltas exposed me to the type of women that Deltas were and I aspired to be such. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has always been a leader in community service and pushing boundaries. Through the well-rounded Five Point Programmatic Thrust, I see a way for this organization to work towards the liberation of marginalized folks. As someone who is very critical about the things she is a part of, I wanted to ensure that if I ever had the chance to pursue Greek Life, I would join an organization that not only provided a community but also pushed me to challenge the world and fight for liberation. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. provides for me a space for social justice, black sisterhood, and of course love. 

What is the value of black sisterhood for you?

Alero: Black sisterhood is pivotal. When you look back at history, black women are always making changes and moves, some underground, some right at the forefront. When black women come together for a common cause, we’re unstoppable. I think harnessing that power for good is incredibly important. And I also highly value being a support system for each other. I would not be the person I am today without the black women in my life. Everything good in me is from God and shaped by my mother. Many of my closest friends are also black women, ready to hear me out and back me up when I need them. Speaking personally, I honestly can’t stress the importance of black sisterhood and how beautiful and powerful it can be. Speaking more broadly, representation is everything. Seeing someone who looks like you doing something you’d like to do? And having them turn around with a hand extended to do whatever they can to help you get to that spot too? That’s priceless.

Kaylan: Black sisterhood is invaluable. Often time, media portrays black female bonds to be superficial, but Delta is a prime example that contradicts that narrative. Delta women are powerful, college educated women who are loyal, dedicated, and dependent upon one another. 

Naiya: The value of black sisterhood is infinite and integral. The institutional dismissal, denigration, and dehumanization of Black women in society is of course one potent cause for Black sisterhood. No one can understand you like your sisters can; no one can have your back like your sisters can. Blackness is certainly not a monolith; there are many experiences within the diaspora. Still, at minimum, one avenue by which Black women relate is the reality of global misogynoir. We get each other on a fundamental level. And we need each other. Through all of time, Black women have had to do the work and hold each other up with no one fighting for them but them. This is Black sisterhood, and today it remains just as necessary to survival and prosperity.

Seyram: Black sisterhood is extremely important for every black woman/femme to have. If it wasn’t for black girls, I honestly doubt I would ever learned how to love myself. Black sisterhood creates a community of uplift and love. It also provides a community of accountability. With black women, I always know that if I am out of line, I can count on my black sisters to hold me accountable and push me to become a better person.

What is the significance of the black sorority experience for you?

Kaylan: The Black sorority experience is significant because it does not stop after your collegiate years. The bonds you create and the commitment to public service are a lifetime responsibility and honor. 

Naiya: The Black sorority experience is one way to solidify Black sisterhood. I do not have biological sisters. I have wanted sisters all my life and am thankful for my incredible Black women friends, especially at Yale. My sisters in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. fill an extra role too. I know for certain I can count on them. The bond of sisterhood lasts a lifetime. It is a commitment to be there in times of trouble and of triumph. It is a promise to answer when called and to know that you can call. It is a pledge to lift each other up, to rise together because we know we are better together. I know my sisters got me. We are in it forever. Black sororities, especially Delta Sigma Theta, enforce this pledge. It is a community and an honor you never want to betray. 

Nia: There is no greater joy than connecting with other Black women. Since Black women have been the backbone of the Black community, it is often that we are the only ones who support each other. The Black sorority experience is an experience full of joy and happiness that really allows women to support each other in all of our endeavors. Since Delta Sigma Theta is a lifetime commitment, I know that I will have a support team of wonderful Black women for the rest of my life. Black sisterhood is power; it allows you to bond over creating change in a way that you cannot compare.

Being a Delta is a lot of work. Deltas are known for their commitment and dedication to everything they do. To have Deltas back on campus is truly an honor and a privilege for Yale.

When asked what was in store for Deltas, Kaylan said, “We plan on doing a great number of service projects in the New Haven area, so that may look like partnering with missions, soup kitchens, or Black teen programs. We also want to create a strong presence on Yale’s campus, and we hope to co-sponsor Black events with The House, Black affinity groups, and other campus-based organizations. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is a service-based organization focused on the development, empowerment, and success of its communities, especially its Black communities, and Pi Alpha is wholeheartedly devoted to fulfilling that commitment.”

Luckily, here at Yale we have a front row seat.