Geneseo is home to many sororities, but there is one that is like no other: Zeta Phi Beta. The Zeta Iota chapter of ZPB has been on Geneseo’s campus since April 21, 1979 and is known for being a “sorority of many firsts.” For example, they are the first—and only—sorority at Geneseo that is part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Colloquially known as the “Divine Nine,” the organization consists of nine historically African-American fraternities and sororities.
Being the only Divine Nine group on campus isn’t an easy task. It can be hard to garner membership due to factors such as misconceptions about race as a club requirement or a general lack of awareness about the organization. This is shown in the fact that ZPB’s current undergraduate chapter at Geneseo only has two members. These two—junior Rebecca Mirville and junior Emonnie Bennett—admitted that while they love their organization, they do acknowledge that it’s difficult to garner as much support as other sororities on campus.
“It’s pretty hard because no one really knows what a ‘Divine Nine’ is,” Mirville said. “It’s really hard being in a predominately white school—people aren’t open to joining because they think they have to be black to qualify—which is not true.”
The issue of inclusion plagues many of the non-white organizations on this campus. It can be challenging to get students to feel comfortable joining or even learning about them.
Psi Omega Zeta chapter co-vice president and undergraduate advisor Joyce Akwaa reiterated that a lack of support and fundraising efforts from fellow Divine Nines can make the singular chapter feel isolated or unsuccessful.
“It’s different because the support system is not there. I came through Chi Lambda Chapter at University of Rochester and at that time, there were all the Divine Nines except the Kappa Alpha Phi,” she said. “We had a balance, we supported each other, attended each other’s events. And on this campus—when talking about the programs and events—[Bennett and Mirville’s] concerns are people … won’t come out unless it’s free, so it’s a bit of a struggle. This is another problem they face because they are a nonprofit organization.”
A unique and defining component of ZPB—and all other Divine Nines—is they don’t rush or haze. They even started a campaign in 2012 entitled “Finer Women Don’t Haze” in accordance with the sorority’s fundamental principle of, according to ZPB International President Mary Breaux Wright, promoting “positive images of the sorority and the highest ideals of Finer Womanhood.” Their process is called a membership intake, similar to how you apply for a job. Once you join ZPB you are in it for life., it doesn’t end after undergrad. You can transfer to an alumi or graduate chapter.
“It’s meant to be a learning experience,” Akwaa said. “You get to know the women you join with, the people in it already and our history.”
Mirville reiterated this sentiment, adding that this encouraging and professional attitude helps to foster social connections and life lessons in the sorority. “The people you come in with, there’s a bond that grows and helps you grow within the process as well. And that’s one of the things that I feel like are different from the sororities already on campus,” Mirville said. “You learn how to communicate better, how to understand what they are feeling and you take those skills and apply them to other people as well. It’s a great way to learn how to interact with people.”
ZPB stands by the four principles: scholarship, sisterhood, service and finer womanhood—the latter unique to their organization. Their shortest aim is to be “a community conscious, action-orientated organization” and this is exemplified in the events they host and co-host on campus, such as their upcoming March of Dimes event that will take place in March.
Even without fellow Divine Nines on campus, Akwaa noted that the underlying principles of unity, social progress and connection are still strong at Geneseo.
“Although we are wearing different letters and different colors, we are all striving for the betterment of our people … there is a lot of love shared and looking out for each other,” she said.