The Saturday of Homecoming was filled with festivities, from marching band’s early morning reveille to the Freshmen Cake Race.
Just a few blocks away, nearly one hundred women participated in the Homecoming festivities by performing a line routine to a funky hip hop beat in celebration of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s (AKA) 40th anniversary at Tech.
Keisha Wilson Tanner, a ChemE ‘95 and a member of the Nu Beta chapter of AKA, explained the significance of this celebration that commemorates the first black Greek sorority on Tech’s campus.
“We’re practicing our stroll,” explained Tanner, decked out in AKA pink and green like her fellow sisters.
“There’s a work hard, play hard mentality. When we stroll, we play hard.”
Tanner epitomizes the organization’s culture of both working and playing hard. After having grown up in the small town of Coffee County in rural Georgia, Tanner now works for BP as a recruiter. A highlight of her job? It gives her a chance to frequently visit her alma mater.
“Once we graduate, we keep serving,” Tanner said. “No matter what university or city we end up in.”
Tanner also took her skills from dancing on the Georgia Tech Dance Line to becoming a professional cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons and winning Miss Atlanta. She was even inducted into The Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni.
Tanner was far from the only one enjoying the stroll as the women continued their performance at their Homecoming tailgate.
The tailgate featured not only a presentation but plenty of free food and fun as well. Preparations for this special 40th anniversary began back in January.
Of the 200 chapter members who have come through Tech in the past forty years, 105 of the sisters registered to come back for this significant anniversary.
“It’s indicative of women at Tech. These women have busy professional lives but are coming across the country,” said Maria Bailey Benson, IE ’92 and MSIE ’94, who served as chair of the event.
Francine McCarley, IE ’79 and one of the members of the original charter line dived into the history of Nu Beta that allowed for the formation of the group on campus.
McCarley explained the lack of minority representation at Tech within Greek life, especially in comparison to the surrounding schools of Clark University, Morris Brown and Spelman.
Having grown up with AKAs as role models — her mother serving as significant one — McCarley knew she wanted to bring the organization to Tech. After McCarley found two other undergraduate women at Tech interested in AKA, McCarley and the new interests pledged with Spelman in 1978.
To charter Tech’s chapter, they first needed to find a minimum of 20 members for an initial charter line and to also work within the Tech, chapter and National Panhellenic Council guidelines.
As early Technique coverage demonstrates, many at Tech were ignorant of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s national standing since 1908. In fact, the early Technique coverage revealed that Georgia Tech Panhellenic had mistakenly thought that McCarley and her two friends picked a name at random and tried to merge AKA with another organization. It was not until April 14, 1979 that the Nu Beta chapter was finally chartered.
“The reason I went through all of that to try to start a chapter was because there was a void,” said McCarley.
At the time, the Georgia Tech African American Association (currently known as the African American Student Union) was the only organization for minority students.
“The sorority became my support system,” McCarley continued. “That support system is absent when you’re not a majority. It was, as they say in politics, my base within GTAAA. It was the foundation for everything else we accomplished.”
Around a decade later, Benson faced both the same challenges and support as her sorority sisters did.
“We formed a bond at Tech that I don’t think other women formed,” she said.
“Georgia Tech was not inclusive or inviting. I needed refuge at Tech. If it wasn’t for Nu Beta, I would have dropped out.”
Members of Nu Beta continue to inspire historic and present changes across campus.
McCarley went on to lead the Minority Affairs Task force to start the minority affairs office of OMED at Tech. The office offers financial, social and academic support to the almost 15,000 minority students currently enrolled on campus.
Another original Nu Beta charter line member, Sonya Rush, ChemE ’81, applied her Nu Beta leadership to life after graduation. In fact, Rush served as the first African American female to serve on the Executive Committee of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association Board of Trustees. She also helped to start the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization.
Rush attributed her involvement with AKA to the success she found in her career.
“It helped me to find my voice,” Rush said. “I was a sophomore, and I wasn’t involved in anything I was passionate about.”
“I found more confidence and a support system. I became less of an introvert. For the first time, I felt I could contribute to something beyond academics. The sorority brought me out of my shell,” Rush continued.
Rush smiled and looked over at her friends as they wrapped up stroll practice. Older and younger members alike gathered in for pictures.
“They’re my sisters,” she said. “Like familial sisters, we have good times and points of difference. Both are good.”
The Technique also discussed AKA with the chapter’s current leadership to look into the chapter’s development. President Aliyah Hill, fifth-year MGT, discussed the way in which AKA influenced her from an early age, as her aunt had joined her chapter.
“She was a role model in how she embraced service in her community. I wanted to be a strong woman like her.”
Hill now helps to carry out the chapter’s mission of sisterhood, scholarship and service.
The sorority promotes women’s health and wellness, economic legacy, global impact and the arts. The sorority also works with NBCU For Life, an organization that exposes high school students to nationally black colleges and universities.
Most recently, the sisters participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in which they exceeded their fundraising goal and raised $1500 for breast cancer research.
This year, the Nu Beta chapter also commissioned twin paintings to hang on the sixth floor of Crosland Tower. The paintings will be designed by African American artist Tracy Murrell and will incorporate both Tech white and gold as well as AKA pink and green. Benson noted the art will “commemorate the legacy we’ve created at Tech.”