As she stood in front of the National Pan-Hellenic Council plots outside of the admissions building during homecoming in October of 2020, Terina Matthews Davis was almost in tears. Her decades-old fight to empower Black Greek life on UofL’s campus was coming to fruition.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) was established at Howard University in 1930 with the purpose to “foster cooperative actions of its members in dealing with matters of mutual concern.” In Davis’ words, “NPHC, to me, embodies the principles of Kwanzaa.”
Although NPHC did not have a presence on UofL’s campus until 1992, Black Greek life was at the core of the Belknap campus’ student life for several years prior.
“We were an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) within a PWI (Predominantly white institution),” said Dr. Beverly Dilworth Frye, a 1988 College of Arts and Sciences and 1995 School of Medicine graduate. “The Black community was very close knit. We were a huge commuter school – most students were gone at 5 p.m. and the only people left on campus were African American students.”
There were only a handful of Black Greek members on campus when Frye was a freshman in 1985. While she was somewhat familiar with historically Black fraternities and sororities as the stepdaughter of a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, it wasn’t until a casual conversation in the lobby of Miller Hall that she decided to pursue membership in a Delta Sigma Theta.
Without an active chapter on UofL’s campus, there was work to be done. With the help of some like-minded women and a persuasive petition to area and regional alumnae, the Xi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta reactivated at UofL in 1988. The oldest collegiate chapter of any Black Greek organization in Kentucky, originally chartered in 1922 at Simmons College, welcomed Frye in a group of 10 women that spring.
The sorority’s reactivation followed a group of men initiated to Omega Psi Phi just a week before and line of women initiated to Alpha Kappa Alpha the previous semester. Their chapters were joined by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and, in seemingly no time, there was an active Black Greek presence at the University of Louisville.
“It just seemed like this fire that was catching on, but we still didn’t have our own entity,” Frye explained.
By the time Davis, a 1993 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, set foot on campus, eight Black Greek organizations were active at the university.
“Because of [Dr. Frye], I’m a Delta,” Davis said. “If there hadn’t been those 30 women who wrote that letter, Xi wouldn’t be here.”
Although she says she’d advise against it, Davis was dead-set on attending a school with a Delta chapter. Without that petition in the 80s, Xi may not have existed at UofL when the soon-to-be-voice of the students’ fight for NPHC was choosing a university.
When Davis was initiated in 1990, Black Greek organizations were operating under the guidance of the Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council (IFC). Although Black Greek organizations were required to have representation at IFC and Panhellenic meetings, some chose not to attend. Davis noticed stacks of missed-meeting fines piling up in the fraternities’ mailboxes, which was a catalyst for change. Black Greek organizations needed guidance that truly represented them. They needed a place for themselves within UofL’s campus to do the work of Black Greeks and the Black community. They needed NPHC.
The road did not come without a few bumps along the way.
As the student government vice president at the time, Davis had a seat at the table to represent the Black Greek community – and she used it. She used it to represent students who historically did not have the choice to join a Greek organization, so they made their own. She used it to voice students’ desire for an organization that would foster the needs of the Black community and would allow students to thrive in a space that was uniquely their own.
Initially seen as a form of separation by administration, the request for NPHC was not immediately met. The students didn’t waver. Instead, they became more persistent. They took up camp in front of the administration building to ensure their collective voice was heard by Dr. Golden, then-vice president of Student Affairs. When they were brought inside, in an act that could only be described as “true grit” by Keira Martin, UofL’s Coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life, they slept in front of his office.
“It wasn’t just the Black Greek community, [IFC and Panhellenic] had to support us,” Davis explained as she noted that the groups showed support by bringing food to the administration building. “At the end of the day, we knew that we all had to come together to make this a reality.”
Their efforts paid off in 1992 when Golden agreed to meet with then-National NPHC president, Daisy M. Wood, a Delta from the Louisville Alumnae chapter. Soon after, NPHC was brought to the University of Louisville which is now home to chapters of each of the Divine Nine historically Black fraternities and sororities.
After being founded in 1913, Delta’s first act of social activism was to participate in the women’s suffrage march. Frye noted that since the sorority was established, the active members and alumnae have continuously used their voices to say that Black people, Black women, matter.
“[Rosa Parks] didn’t know what that day would result in,” Davis noted. “I need Black students to understand – don’t give up the fight.”
Frye and Davis agree, the fight for social justice does not end after graduation.
“At the end of the day, you take away Delta Sigma Theta, you take away Alpha Kappa Alpha, you take away Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho, you remove Omega Psi Phi, Kappa, we’re still African American men and women who endure the same struggle,” said Frye. She tearfully continued, “The fight that Terina and the NPHC organization went through, it established a place that belongs to us on the University of Louisville’s campus.”