University leaders hosted a dedication ceremony Saturday for the Divine Nine Garden Plaza, the first designated space for non-predominately white Greek life at UW-Madison. The ceremony took place next to East Campus Mall, where the plaza will eventually be located.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the Divine Nine, are nine historically Black fraternities and sororities. The garden plaza will be a space for the six NPHC chapters at UW-Madison, and will recognize the history and significance of all nine.
"It's a way for my community to be recognized on a campus where sometimes, it seems like we're not always recognized," said NPHC President Kayla Cotton.
The garden plaza will act as an educational tool, featuring historical markers to provide outsiders information about the history and importance of NPHC both at UW-Madison and nationally.
“All in all, it’s just a different way of being able to look at the different sororities and fraternities that make up NPHC,” Cotton said. “It’s kind of like a place marker to celebrate our organizations and for people to see the history behind them and all of the great work that each organization has put forward.”
The historic markers will recognize NPHC chapter and member achievements. It will also serve as a meeting space for NPHC chapters active at the university, Cotton said.
“I definitely think it’s completely different to have a space that is your own, which is why I think the Divine Nine Garden Plaza is so nice, because while it’s not a house, it is a space for us to have that is our own [and] celebrate our achievements throughout our time on this campus,” Cotton said.
This will be the first space for NPHC, but predominantly white Greek life chapters have many spaces to call their own. Twenty-six IFC and 12 PHA chapters have off-campus houses, 31 of which are concentrated on or around Langdon Street.
An external review of UW-Madison fraternity and sorority life in 2019 reported that members of NPHC and Multicultural Greek Council chapters do not feel safe on Langdon.
"I think Langdon just represents something that was completely denied to people," said MGC Vice President Sofia Garcia.
The review recommended that both NPHC and MGC be given a space of their own, even if it is symbolic. Until now, the six NPHC and 13 MGC chapters did not have any spaces of their own. While the Divine Nine Garden Plaza initiative is underway, there is also a space in the works for MGC, Garcia said.
NPHC has been fundraising for the garden plaza since December, with the help of the Multicultural Greek Council, Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council.
“It’s definitely nice to have that support from the other councils,” Cotton said. “Even though some of the other councils might not know as much about what NPHC is and the history behind it, I do think it's nice that they’re really taking the time to educate themselves and learn more about this project and why it's so important and significant to have on UW's campus.”
The ceremony on Saturday took place where the garden plaza will be located, as they have not broken ground yet. The socially distanced event was attended by NPHC chapter members, with Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Cotton and other NPHC leaders speaking.