In 1923, five Black women founded UCLA’s first Greek life organization, the Pi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. One hundred years later, dozens of the chapter’s members gathered at UCLA to celebrate the chapter’s centennial and impact on the UCLA community.
Friday morning, UCLA presented the chapter with plans for three historical markers at the centennial ceremony, voicing support for the organization’s leadership in student organizing, education and community service. The chapter continued celebrations later in the day with a yardshow honoring the chapter’s one hundred years of service.
The first marker will be a crest in the Black Bruin Resource Center made from 3D renderings, highlighting the importance of the sorority and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, said Lindsey Goldstein, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, at the event. The NPHC is an umbrella council composed of historically African American fraternities and sororities sometimes referred to as Black Greek Letter Organizations. The second marker will be a banner in the OFSL in Kerckhoff Hall, and the third will be a permanent plaque placed outside the hall in Meyerhoff Park, specifically honoring the five women who started the chapter, Goldstein added.
Speakers at the ceremony said the chapter and sorority’s efforts have been integral to student organizing and community service at UCLA. They also called attention to several impactful alumni from the national sorority such as Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and Natalie Cole, a famous singer and songwriter.
“(The chapter) has helped Black Bruins thrive, achieve and succeed,” said Darnell Hunt, UCLA executive vice provost and chancellor. “The Delta alumni and current students here are upholding a proud tradition of service and leadership, and that tradition follows in the spirit of Delta luminaries, chapters across the country.”
Eboni Shaw, a student affairs officer at the Department of African American Studies, said at the event that members of the sorority were instrumental in advocating for the creation of UCLA’s ethnic studies research centers in the late 1960s and pressuring the University of California to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
Other speakers included Pi chapter president Rayven Hickman, interim director of the BBRC Amanda Finzi-Smith and Kenya Yarborough, a representative from the UCLA Black Alumni Association.
Catherine Sylvester, an international development studies and Pi chapter alumnus, said the Deltas have been at the forefront of many movements for social justice, such as the women’s suffrage movement.
She also said she appreciates the university now acknowledging the contributions of her organization, given the history of marginalization Black Greek life organizations have faced at UCLA. The chapter was not included in the school yearbook until 1950, nearly 30 years after its inception, Hickman said.
“We don’t have space on sorority row. There are no Black fraternities or sororities (there) and there’s a reason for that,” Sylvester said. “It’s very important that that plaque goes up to acknowledge the history that passed, but also to receive a chance to atone and to make sure that we’re recognizing the work that was done.”
Debrina Collins, the chapter’s treasurer and president of UCLA’s NPHC, said she appreciates one of the markers being located just next to Bruin Walk where many students will see it, adding that UCLA’s history is intertwined with her chapter’s legacy. Seeing the ceremony and an acknowledgment of the sorority’s historical significance was particularly joyful, added Collins.
The chapter plans to continue its mission of community service, Collins also said. She said she hopes to follow in the footsteps of women who came before her by making more spaces for the Black community throughout campus.
Hickman, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said UCLA can also do more to provide institutional support for the chapter. Their acknowledgment is a step in the right direction, but more can be done to honor the sorority’s legacy, said Ashley Anderson, vice president of the chapter and a third-year neuroscience student, adding that UCLA did not provide any funding for their centennial celebration despite the organization applying for it.
Ultimately, Anderson said she felt inspired to see so many women in the sorority who came before her continuing to prosper. The central focus of the sorority’s sisterhood has always been uplifting one another, a mission she said she plans to continue.
“These women were able … to create a space here on campus and demand that they be taken seriously and change UCLA history for the better,” Collins said. “And so I think Black history at UCLA is really Pi chapter history here, because we started everything.”
Contributing reports from Sydney Scher, Daily Bruin contributor.