Without knowing it, Jazmin Hunt and Jasmine Gray came to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life on the same day, at the same time, wanting the same thing – to revive Zeta Phi Beta, an African-American sorority not seen on campus for five years.
With its revival, Georgia College is one step closer to becoming home to all nine of the Divine 9 -- which are historically African-American fraternities and sororities. During Greek Weekend this month, the new Zeta sisters were introduced to a cheering crowd of about 1,900 Greek-life students.
“It was amazing,” said Stacey Milner, assistant director of fraternity and sorority life. “What’s great about Georgia College is we have such a robust community. Those girls felt so welcomed. It was awesome seeing them reintroduced into the community but, more importantly, to be embraced by them.”
The moment tells a lot about Greek life at a small university that has a distinguished past – but aims for a more diverse and unified future.
The Greek system appeared at Georgia College in the 1970s with original sororities like Alpha Delta Pi, Phi Mu and Delta Zeta. The first African-American fraternity on campus, Alpha Phi Alpha, was also established in the ‘70s. More chapters came in the 1980s, with memberships ebbing and flowing over time.
About 35 percent of all students now join one of the 27 fraternities and sororities on campus, said Dr. Andy Lewter, dean of students.
High Greek involvement speaks to the type of students Georgia College attracts: academically successful, motivated, involved and charitable, Lewter said. Values-minded students are changing the face of fraternities and sororities. Leaders are monitoring the behavior of their own members, supporting each other and celebrating their differences.
This friendship among Greeks has increased since Milner and Tiffany Bayne became co-assistant directors of fraternity and sorority life in 2014. With the motto, “UP” (Unity and Pride), they’ve nudged Greeks into a different mindset – one more indicative of a changing society.
“I think Greek life at Georgia College, but also nationally, is headed toward reevaluation,” Bayne said. “For so long, Panhellenic was all about who had the best decorations and cheered the loudest. Now I see them talking about personal values.”
Milner agreed, “We can no longer afford to be who we were. Do we allow our traditions to make us obsolete, or do we innovate and reassess?”
That open-mindedness has given Georgia College the unique characteristic of having eight of the Divine 9 on campus. Soon, Milner said all nine African-American fraternities and sororities may be represented – something only seen at historically-black colleges and universities.
Membership in the Divine 9 is growing; 14 new recruits joined African-American Greek organizations in the past two weeks. The national office of the final Divine-9 organization, Iota Phi Theta fraternity, has expressed interest in starting a chapter at Georgia College as well.
“For a small liberal arts institution, dead-smack in the center of Georgia in the Bible-Belt south – that is phenomenal. It’s just unknown,” Milner said. “That’s bragging rights. As an alumna, it fills my heart with so much joy.”
Hunt chose Georgia College specifically because it held a Zeta charter. The sorority was active on campus 23 years, before its last member graduated in 2012, and Hunt wanted to be part of its revival. The strong women in her life – especially missionaries she admired at her church in Macon – were all Zeta members.
“A lot of people in my life, who influenced me, were part of the Divine 9. So that was one of the main things I looked for in a college,” said Hunt, a first-year music education major.
“Some people look for which parties are the best,” she said. “I looked for which Divine 9’s could be brought back and benefit their community.”
Gray, a senior math education major from Milledgeville, was also inspired by Zeta women. One in particular is GC alumna Pamela Peek, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Baldwin and Jones Counties. Peek was one of the founders of Zeta at Georgia College.
“She always pushed me to continue my education,” said Gray, who went to the Boys and Girls Club as a child and later worked there.
“I saw all the work she put into the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, as well as what she put into me,” she said. “It let me know her morals and the characteristics of Zeta that really stood strong with her.”
Hunt and Gray realize it’ll be a lot of work, rebuilding Zeta from scratch.
They’re planning to repaint the blue-and-white Zeta bench between Parks and Atkinson Halls, get new members and start a community-service program with the Boys and Girls Club. They’d also like to be instrumental in planting a “sacred” Divine-9 Garden on campus, where African-American fraternities and sororities can hold ceremonies.
“If there’s any way that we as an organization and as the Divine 9 can get our campus involved in helping Milledgeville become a better place – sounds good to me,” Hunt said.
“As a black female coming into any school and seeing the Divine 9? It’s exciting,” she said. “The Divine 9’s all about unity and helping each other and our communities. Together we can make a larger difference.”