Divine Nine Plaza construction wraps up work

The Divine Nine Plaza is almost at the end of its construction. It will replace the green area between the John Lewis Student Center and Paper and Clay that was previously vacant. // Photo by Alexey Tatarinov Student Publications

The Divine Nine Plaza installation is set to open this fall and will be the first of its type at the Institute. Originally announced earlier this year in April, the installation will be located between the Smithgall Student Services Building and the Student Center Plaza.

Intended to honor the nine Black Greek organizations, the space will comprise nine plots and have an amphitheater for performances. According to Tech’s website, the plaza “will offer an opportunity for NPHC [National Pan-Hellenic Council] organizations to gather and foster community engagement and programming.”

According to Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). the legacy of the Divine Nine dates back to “a period when African Americans were being denied essential rights and privileges afforded others. Racial isolation on predominantly white campuses and social barriers of class on all campuses created a need for African Americans to align themselves with other individuals sharing common goals and ideals.”

In order to meet this need, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was first established Dec. 4, 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, “by seven college men who recognized the need for a strong bond of brotherhood among African descendants in this country,” according to the official Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. website.

Since then, eight other organizations, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., were created with an emphasis on community empowerment and service.

In response to the historic installment, the Technique reached out to the eight active chapters on campus to hear the community’s perspective. A representative from Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma, Inc. were present during the discussion.

“Being at Georgia Tech, especially as a [predominantly white institution, or] PWI, I feel like we [NPHC organizations] try to cater to spaces where students … just have a safe space where people can really come together,” said Raphael Parent, third-year CS and a representative of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.

Echoing this  sentiment, the other members of the panel expressed unity, service and brother and sisterhood as core values integral to their organization.

“So coming here [to Georgia Tech] and having that environment of the Nine where you can be yourself, you can talk to people who look like you, it’s extremely important. On the national level, it’s like never being alone, no matter where you go. For example, I had to move to Texas and I already knew I had a chapter there that could support me,” said Kiera Lewis, sixth-year dual degree Chem/ChBE and a representative of Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc. Members reported feeling community input was considered throughout the process, although the installment will differ from a traditional plot, a process Parent described as “detail-oriented.”

“They will ask about, like, what type of space do students want? What type of space do organizations want for this? And so it was kind of difficult at first because I think everybody who was representing their chapter on there was expecting just a basic plot that is traditional at other schools,” Parent  said.

The process was fairly long and went through multiple rigorous rounds of approval.

“So when we realized [a traditional plot] wasn’t what we were getting , we had an initial meeting, and then they came back with like six different design plans. And so they asked us like, which design plans we liked the most,” Parent said.

Janna Stewartson, 3rd-year ME and a representative of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., added that she appreciated the Institute’s “effort to bridge the cultural gap between itself as a PWI and the historically Black organizations.”

While representatives expressed their gratitude, there was also concern about whether the non-traditional space would truly accommodate the organizations’ needs.

“I feel like we bring out a lot more people [to our events] than there’s space for unless just NPHC is present, which is never going to be just us. I don’t know any performance that could happen there,” said Justin Buckles, fourth-year ME and a representative of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc.

Buckles cited the BioQuad as a location that would provide an adequate amount of space.

Ashley Smith, fifth-year CS and a representative of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., and Parent both shared this concern, noting that organization-wide events like probation ceremonies regularly bring in crowds of over 200.

Stewartson also voiced worries over member’s access to the space, which will be available to the general student population for booking, when plot benches are traditionally held as a space for members only.

“I’m just thinking about how hard it is to reserve rooms for our two meetings every week. And I’m not saying that students are going to mass flock the plots to reserve them, but just think about the 36,000 students that are on campus every day,” Stewartson said.

All representatives expressed gratitude for what Stewartson described as the Institute’s “first step” but look forward to continued progress.

“If  Georgia Tech continues to teach the cultural importance of what the plots are, what these social spaces are, who is allowed there, who’s not allowed there, that, to me, will then allow this to be a monument to respect of our organizations and all the things that our student leaders have done on campus,” Stewartson said.

Representatives  also listed many  factors like on-campus housing, Institute promotion, cross collaboration with non-NPHC organizations and visibility on campus as issues to be addressed.

Parent stated that he was looking forward to continuing to work with the Institute to support NPHC organizations the near future.

“Regardless, we’ll [be making] it work,” Parent said.

Smith described her overall feelings as “cautiously optimistic.”

As the campus eagerly anticipates the official completion and unveiling, the final word of the interview fell to Stewartson, who spoke of not just the installment but the steps to follow.