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Depending on who you ask, it took as little as 10 years or as much as a lifetime to imagine and dedicate a National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) plot on the University of Pittsburgh campus. No matter where you mark its origin, the plot is now on display for everyone to see, share and celebrate.
“This is a special moment in Pitt history,” said Kenyon Bonner, vice provost for student affairs and member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. “This is a blue, gold and Black moment. This is welcome home.”
The plot installed in Schenley Quad celebrates each of the “Divine Nine” — historical Black fraternities and sororities — with their seal, information about their founding and the names of donors who helped make the plot possible. Each of the nearly 40-foot network of steel louvers honors the historically Black Greek letter organizations while paying homage to the region’s industrial history. Pitt is now one of only a handful of predominantly white institutions to host such a plot.
“The wait is over,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher at the unveiling ceremony during Pitt’s Homecoming on Sept. 25, 2021. “I hope that the plot becomes a place to gather — a place where all students can see the importance of these Black fraternities and sororities on our campus.”
More than 400 alumni, students and friends, many of them donors to the project, attended the event, which was called both a dedication and a consecration by the speakers.
“We must note that today’s celebration symbolizes more than a beautiful structure,” said Valerie Njie (EDUC ’71), Pitt Alumni Association president and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Diamond Life member. “The women and men who chartered each of the Divine Nine Greek organizations beginning in 1913 were courageous trailblazers who overcame stark discrimination and prejudice to establish the organizations we salute today.”
Doug Scabor (CGS ’85) traveled from his home near Washington, D.C., for the event. The unveiling ceremony offered Scabor a moment to reflect on his time at Pitt as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and note how things have changed.
“We were a bit of an afterthought; the Black fraternities and sororities were not a priority of the school, but this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Pitt is saying we acknowledge what you do in the community; we acknowledge your value to the University and what you have become.”
Bonner said by placing the plot in Schenley Quad, which he called the heart of campus, the University is saying to its Black students, “You belong here.”
“It shows that the University of Pittsburgh is making an investment in its African American students and the Divine Nine organizations,” said Erin Clarke (A&S ’05), who was an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. while at Pitt. “This is a very definitive statement that Pitt supports its Black and Brown students.”
Clarke, who made a gift to help build the plot, said she came back for the event because she wanted to “be a part of history.”
Iniobong Etuk (A&S ’17), an Omega, said when he was in school, he told his fraternity brothers that he wanted to ask Pitt to create a plot on campus. They responded that others had tried, and the University had declined. His response was, “That’s not good enough because there is no reason they should say no.”
“I graduated in 2017, it’s now 2021, and we are finally getting it. Now we have a physical representation of our presence and that we matter on campus,” Etuk said.
Gallagher described the unveiling as “a local moment with national reverberations,” and others at the event noted its historical context.
NPHC President and alumna Vanetta Cheeks-Reeder (NURS ’83) traced the idea of a “plot” back to the Civil War when some freed slaves were said to have been promised 40 acres and a mule.
“These plots on campuses across the country are our spaces, they are our 40 acres,” said Cheeks-Reeder.
If you’d like to help fund the NHPC plot, opportunities are still available for donors to have their name or the name of a loved one engraved on the permanent structure.
— Mark Nootbaar and Kara Henderson