By Bryan Savic/El Inde
Besides its beautiful parks, the Arizona state museum, theatre house, the simplistic beauty of the UA mall, and the iconic Old Main building, the University of Arizona is also known for its Greek life and vibrant party culture.
This can be perceived as a good or bad thing, depending on who you are. Nevertheless, the school’s Greek organizations provide ample opportunities in networking, philanthropy, and community outreach activities with its 51 fraternities and sororities — including the predominantly Black Greek organizations, known as the “Divine Nine.” One of those “Divine Nine” chapter houses is Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc: the first Black Letter Greek sorority at UA, founded on May 7, 1975.
The temperature had hit triple digits as it was a typical Summer day in the desert. It was scolding hot, with not a single breeze in sight. There was no way of cooling off except by finding shade under a tree or walking into a building. Despite the scorching heat, vibrant energy could be felt throughout University boulevard and Park Avenue on August 21, 2017, marking the first day of school for returning and new U of A students. Among this new crop of freshmen was Raquel De Los Santos.
At 6:00 a.m., De Los Santos flung herself out of bed and could hardly contain her excitement. Before heading to class, De Los Santos and her twin sister Rose met up with a friend inside the Student Union Memorial Center Cafe. Accompanying their friend was someone they hadn’t met before — A’Niah Bell. During their get together, little did the De Los Santos sisters and Bell know that they would become members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. one day.
Today, Bell is a junior, majoring in bio systems engineering. “I decided to come to the U of A mainly for the engineering program,” Bell said. “I also wanted to come to the west coast. I’m originally from Kansas and lived in Los Angeles for a few years, so I wanted to come back to the west coast and get a new experience.”
For both the De Los Santos sisters, family played a major role in their decision to become Wildcats. “A lot of my family went to the UofA, so I grew up around the University of Arizona …. Coming and going to different sporting events,” Raquel explained. “I always knew when it came time to go to college that I would want to go here. I applied, got in, and it fit,” she added. Raquel is currently a senior, double majoring in spanish and global studies. “My older sisters came here, and I thought it would be easier for my parents to visit all of us at the same time than me having to go somewhere else,” Rose added. She’s studying family studies in human development.
Raquel took a quick glance at her phone and the time now read 7:00 a.m. As excited as she was about starting her new adventure, mixed with it was a feeling of anxiety. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect during her first day as a student on campus. Her sister tried calming her down and mentioned that consuming cups of coffee wouldn’t do her any good. It only made her more jittery and anxious.
During their meals, the four of them had a conversation about how intriguing and exciting it would be to be a part of a Greek organization on campus. Once they all finished their meals, it was time for Raquel to head off to class. She quickly said goodbye to everyone at her table and headed out.
Almost 20% of the University of Arizona’s undergrad student population is involved in a Greek organization on campus. Before these students chose to go into their respective Greek chapter houses, they had to go through a process called “Intake,” also known as “Rush” — a time when students are given the opportunity to visit chapter houses to see if they want to become future members. Usually, the process lasts two weeks, during which prospective members are given roughly 30 minutes per house to socialize and get to know current members. Furthermore, prospects are asked by members of chapter houses a multitude of questions regarding their personality, leadership qualities, what they seek the most in a house, etc. As the process concludes, “Intake” participants are given the chance to find out if they have received a bid or not from a chapter house or houses. For both De Los Santos sisters and Bell’s sake during their separate “Intakes,” they all had their sights focused on one sorority.
“I always knew I wanted to be a member of AK,” Raquel exclaimed. “The values of the sorority are the same values I embody as a person. I also consider it an honor to be among a bevy of intelligent, diverse, and trailblazing women.” “I’m a legacy member …. My mom and a couple of other family members were in the sorority as well.”
More importantly, the women were all seeking a sense of community and social identity — some of the things they lacked when they first arrived at UA. “My freshman year, I joined a whole bunch of clubs, but none of them really stuck,” Rose explained. “I was in freshman class council which is a freshman student government organization … I was a part of Cats after Dark and district programmers which are similar programming organizations on campus. Our job was to create programs and budgets for events like The Renaissance Fest, The Rave, and other campus wide gatherings.”
Rose always knew that being a part of Alpha Kappa Alpha would be a good fit for her. “I always wanted to join, but I didn’t know when was the best time to. With all the things that I was involved in, I didn’t have any time for another extracurricular,” she added.
Finding one’s group of people or social group is very important for college students. These are the people whom they’re going to spend the next four years of their lives with. They may not find these people at first, but when they do, these relationships have the potential to blossom into something special and even last a lifetime. Greek organizations at UA provide its members with opportunities to find a sense of community and even make friends for life, but predominantly white Greek sororities continue to lack in diversity or minority representation.
By 7:50 a.m., Raquel still had plenty of time to make it to her 8:00 a.m. class. She knew she didn’t have to rush so she slowly took in and observed her surroundings. She was enamored by the pristine grass of the UA mall and the statues of wildcats. She couldn’t believe that her first day at college had arrived and that she was now a part of the U of A family. Despite all of this, something was still quite off. The more she had made her way around campus, the more the reality began to sink in. A lot of people didn’t look like her or weren’t a part of her cultural social group.
“I do think I value being around people that look like me and also have the same values as me,” Bell exclaimed. “I think that it is important especially when you’re around people who aren’t from the same backgrounds. You kind of lose a bit of your personal identity from home when you go to a school that is predominantly white. I feel like it’s important to kind of find your niche and be around people who have the same upbringing innocence.”
The University of Arizona provides a special college experience for a lot of its students, although there are some who may feel isolated due to the stark reality of the predominantly white school. As a result, it can be very tough for Black and other minority students to find a home in an environment that features very few people like them. It’s vital for all members of the student body to feel a sense of community, belonging, and identity.
The sound of cars and horns echoed throughout Fourth Avenue. Rush hour traffic could be heard as Raquel swiftly made her way up through the dorm corridors on Fourth. Her phone now read 5:30 p.m., and she was feeling worn out after completing her last class of the day.
A much-needed break awaited as she headed to meet her sister Rose for dinner at the Student Union. As she made her way to the union, she was still bewildered about how many of her peers didn’t look like her. This thought had been on her mind all day, and on Rose’s, too.
“We were talking and debriefing about our day, and she noticed the same thing,” she exclaimed. After dinner, they walked back to their dorm and talked about it with their hallmate, who also happened to be Black. This would be the first of many debrief sessions they would all have with each other.