The University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin construction on the “Divine Nine” plaza this spring. The plaza will be located in the garden space across from the Walgreens on East Campus Mall, and it will be unveiled as a tribute to the Divine Nine in early May.
The Divine Nine is the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that encompasses historically African American fraternities and sororities. Their fundraising website indicates that it has been a “pillar of community, service and strength for the Black student population at UW-Madison.”
The project set forth is to create a reminder on campus to physically acknowledge underrepresented communities and their deserved place on campus. It will feature various historical markers to provide information of the significance and history of NPHC.
Zainab “Zee” Akanni, current president of the NPHC, emphasized the importance of the project to her.
“It’s a marker for UW Black History, providing visibility and a ‘sense of home’ to Black students outside of the Black Cultural Center, which is the only space designed for Black identifying students,” Akanni said.
The history of the NPHC and its contributions during its 75 years on campus are “lost, unrepresented and invisible,” according to the JumpStart fundraising site.
With eight chartered chapters on campus, there are currently seven active ones. The NPHC had previously expressed frustration that there is “nothing to physically represent the survival of these groups through years of discrimination, prejudice and blatant racism.”
“I didn’t know much about Black Greek life, especially since they didn’t have physical markers like the traditionally White Greek organizations do (notably on Langdon St),” Akanni pointed out.
In a university press release, Israel Oby of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. emphasized this sense of exclusion.
“There are too many students of color, specifically Black students, who feel like imposters on their own campus,” Oby said.
Last year, former NPHC President Kayla Cotton stressed the significance of the project.
“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,” Cotton said. “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 campus.”
Oby reiterated this sentiment.
“This project will be a daily reminder for every student of color that walks past the plaza that they not only belong on this campus but are honored and acknowledged by the university,” Oby said.
Akanni believes that the university can better support and honor Black and Brown students on campus. If this were to happen, in her view, the Black student population would be “well above 2%.”
Much of the fundraising support for the plaza and its construction came from NPHC alumni. The fundraising page described that the project was “a cohesive and collaborative effort” of the Student Inclusion Coalition, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (Divine Nine) at UW-Madison and UW administration.
Communications Coordinator for Student Affairs at UW-Madison Payton Wade pointed to specific efforts that were put forth to meet the fundraising goal.
“The Chancellor created a $25,000 challenger where three NPHC alumni and their families joined in for a collective $100,000 gift,” Wade said. “The rest of campus and surrounding community were also challenged to meet the rest of the fundraising goal.”
The NPHC partnered with the UW Advancement team to support Day of the Badger and Giving Tuesday to launch their fundraising campaign of $250,000.
Ultimately, for students like Akanni, the Divine Nine plaza is just one part of how UW-Madison can better honor Black students.
“This project is just one step towards honoring the Black and Brown communities on campus,” Akanni concluded.