Davidson is home to a variety of Greek organizations, including eating houses, fraternities, and sororities. However, several fraternities and all sororities are unique in that they are National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations. This denotes these groups as being historically African-American and internationally recognized Greek sororities and fraternities. According to Davidson’s Patterson Court Council (PCC) website, the NPHC was formed in 1930 at the historically-black Howard University in Washington, D.C. and became incorporated in 1937. The council, composed of nine organizations, seeks to encourage each organization to promote its own agenda regarding scholarship and service, while recognizing camaraderie and support among members.
NPHC organizations are particularly known for their induction ceremonies, colloquially known to people outside of these organizations as probates. However, the NPHC organizations recently have been moving away from the term “probate.” PCC Advisor Erica Urban explains: “The word is often associated with hazing as well, so there has been a shift in the last couple of years to change the language from probate to new member presentation, which is a more accurate description of what is happening, since the members have been initiated before the presentation occurs.” Today, these induction ceremonies have been coined “new member presentations”. During these presentations, the new members reveal themselves to those in attendance, and they often present history or cultural context to express the meaning and unique style of their organization. Probates also often include strolling and stepping, and new members traditionally cover their faces with masks prior to officially revealing their identities on stage.
Davidson’s campus boasts four NPHC organizations: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA), Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (Alphas), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (DST), and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. (Kappas). The Alphas were the first NPHC group on campus; it was founded in 2003. AKA followed as the first NPHC sorority on campus, and the Kappas became the second NPHC fraternity at Davison in 2008. DST is the newest addition to Davidson’s NPHC organization; it was founded in 2011.
Each Davidson NPHC chapter welcomes a class of new members each spring with a new member presentation. These events have always been popular events on Davidson’s campus, and large crowds often gather to watch and congratulate the new NPHC members. Urban applauds the events for drawing “peers from other schools, parents, community members, and alumni all together to share their care and love for the organizations.”
Beautiful matching outfits and masks are on display, and upbeat music often pumps through the space, attracting both the college and the wider national community to view and congratulate the new members. AKA member Malaika Simmons ‘17 says that while the presentations are fun to watch, ultimately, “ the most important thing is how the new members are integrated into the everyday functioning of the chapter and the entire organizations as a whole – socially, economically, and scholastically.”
Davidson’s NPHC organizations place strong emphasis on protecting their traditions by maintaining a level of secrecy about their new members’ preparation processes. Recently elected president of DST Melissa Hayban ‘17 stated that her decision not to comment on her organization’s induction or preparation for their new member presentations hinged upon respect for the “years and years of history in the building of these organizations and the history of African Americans in the United States.”
Joi Stevens ‘17, the current President of AKA, explained how the induction ceremonies introduce new members to the broader community: “Our new members work very hard to join our organization and are not allowed to discuss any portion of the process with anyone outside of the chapter. Their presentation to campus does not only announce their membership into our organization, but also gives them the opportunity to show some of the information they’ve learned and their passion for the organization.
It is also an opportunity to thank those who helped them through the process, such as current members, our advising AKA graduate chapter (Alpha Lambda Omega), and family and friends. By the end of the show, the campus knows who the new members are and have a sense of how hard they worked for their membership.”
Additionally, new AKA member Heidi Bustos ‘18 spoke to the honor of becoming part of such an organization. She expressed the priority of academics, and the strong camaraderie she enjoys with her fellow AKA members. “Words can’t explain how much it means to me to be an AKA woman. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but forming part of the sisterhood is what makes it very special, especially having this long-lasting bond with my sisters.”
Additionally Dustin Atchley ‘17, current President of the Kappas, similarly emphasized the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into the presentations, applauding the new members’ commitment to their demonstration. When asked about the impact of the new member presentations at Davidson specifically, he explained that because it is such a small campus, each presentation is “intimate,” encouraging those around to stop and view the performance. Atchley also discussed the importance of “building brotherhood” within the fraternity, and hopes that the new members will continue the legacy of the Kappas on Davidson’s campus.
From a faculty perspective, Assistant Dean of Students Ernest Jeffries discussed his experience as an active member of and advisor for the Alphas. He described his affiliation with the group as life-changing, and he emphasized the ways in which his brothers “pushed and challenged” him to “bring out potential that [he] didn’t know [he] had.” Like Urban, he described how Davidson’s NPHC groups bring a variety of cultural backgrounds and elements to the college, and “connects the community to the outside world.”
While new member presentation formats and preparation may range among the four organizations, all of Davidson’s NPHC groups share a common pride in their presence and influence on campus. Stevens discussed AKA’s focus on service, emphasizing their work with Stop Hunger Now and Let Me Hear Your Body Talk; these are nonprofit movements seeking to address international hunger and issues with body image and mental illness, respectively. Bustos reiterated Stevens’ message, expressing her desire for AKA to continue enacting positive change on campus and in the world, serving mankind as they go.
At Davidson, Jeffries applauds the leaders and students who make up NPHC organizations, claiming that “our chapters here at Davidson make up some of the best chapters in the national organization.” The NPHC sororities and fraternities on campus bring recognition and respect to the representation of the organization’s values of service, pride, and community, and through the most recent new member presentations, these organizations continue to highlight the leadership and dedication of Davidson students to those on a national level.