Four big, bold letters, NPHC, appeared on the pediment of the old Phi Delt house this past August. The house on 25th avenue is now home to the National Pan-Hellenic Council, an organization composed of nine historically black fraternities and sororities. Under the letters NPHC are the names of all seven chapters that are active on Vanderbilt campus.
Although the new house functions as a space for all NPHC members, the building serves as a place of residency only to the sorority women. Six women live in the house with at least one representative from the three NPHC sorority chapters on campus. The fraternities continue to reside in the Delphi house on West Side Row. The house will belong to the NPHC organizations for the next four years while the previous occupying organization is suspended.
According to Gregory Rudd, Secretary of NPHC and Vice President of Kappa Alpha Psi Inc, the move represents the administration’s commitment towards diversity and inclusion through concrete actions that affects to all students on campus. He said he sees the new house’s location as an edifying opportunity for education.
“NPHC will be presented to a larger percentage of people,” Rudd said. “Last year, unless you’re walking to Towers, you probably aren’t passing that section of homes and you don’t know anybody in NPHC then it’s easy to go throughout your Vanderbilt time and not know anything about NPHC. Now this will be a little bit harder for you to not notice us. That is very intentional.”
The previous collective space for NPHC, comprised of the Del Phi house and three apartments, stands adjacent to Towers I. This space shares a street called West Side Row with other campus diversity groups such as the Office of LGBTQI Life and the Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center. For the last few years, the NPHC fraternities lived in the Del Phi house while sorority members resided in the apartments. This space was inaugurated around 2010 and served as the first official and consistent on-campus presence in Vanderbilt’s NPHC history.
However, according to members of the NPHC organizations, the West Side Row residences were not without problems. Rudd said having the old NPHC house located on the periphery of the Greek neighborhood was inconsistent with university goals for inclusion.
“Having NPHC placed in this alley away from Greek Row and behind the dumpsters of the sororities is bad optics with a university that emphasizes diversity and inclusion on campus,” Rudd said. “There needs to be some sort of tangible dedication to those very abstract ideas.”
Jami Cox, VSG President and member of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., said that the old apartments were outdated and the space itself was in need of repair. Although Cox was not a resident, the old apartments functioned as a meeting spot for her entire chapter.
“I was not a fan of the old space. Our chapter had the upstairs apartment and it wasn’t well taken care of at all,” Cox said. “The stairs to our apartment were broken for years before getting fixed. The stove beforehand had been there since the early 2000s and now it’s 2017. It was really old. The apartment was very neglected. It wasn’t that Greek Life was not paying attention to us. It just wasn’t the priority because we’re in that little corner. Appliances rarely got fixed when we asked for things.”
Cox sees the new NPHC house on Greek Row as a major upgrade to the old apartments.
While [the move] gives NPHC greater visibility on Greek Row as well as a space for us to hold events, it took away a lot of the residential autonomy
“For me personally, this is definitely an upgrade because we have space so our whole chapter can be in here, whereas that was not the case in the old apartment,” Cox said. “We could barely hold the chapter meeting in there because we couldn’t fit. The [new] house is really nice. It really works for us as far as all the different chapters in the house living together.”
Christina Onuoha, President of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and current resident of the new NPHC house, said that the collective grouping of all NPHC chapters erodes a sense of unique identity and chapter autonomy.
“Living in the old apartment was something I was looking forward to when I became a member of the Omega Pi chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. last semester,” Onuoha said. “While the appliances were old and needed replacement, it served as Omega Pi’s personal home on campus. I’m very ambivalent towards the NPHC community house. While it gives NPHC greater visibility on Greek Row as well as a space for us to hold events, it took away a lot of the residential autonomy from us. The NPHC sororities went from having our own chapter apartments to sharing a house that all members of the NPHC have some access to.”
Kristin Torrey, Director of the Office of Greek Life, said the decision for the shared space was due to low membership numbers. Collective NPHC spaces have been the case for many years and will continue in the Del Phi house and the Greek row house.
“It would be difficult for a smaller chapter to fill even a 6-person space,” Torrey said. “Given the membership numbers, it has been sensible for them to be in a shared space versus an individualized space.”
Schools like TSU and Fisk don’t have the venues that Vanderbilt has, so they look to us to provide those venues.
The new house on Greek Row allows NPHC to host events that were logistically impossible in the past. Cameron Hightower, President of NPHC and member of Phi Beta Sigma Inc., explained that the new NPHC house has significant value not just for black students at Vanderbilt, but also for black college students throughout Nashville and even bordering states.
“We are the main provider of social events for the black community at Vanderbilt,” Hightower said. “Schools like TSU and Fisk don’t have the venues that Vanderbilt has, so they look to us to provide those venues. We actually serve a much, much larger community than just the 50 people in NPHC at Vanderbilt.”
On the starting day of the Vanderbilt football season, NPHC joined IFC fraternities and hosted a tailgate party of their own.
“It was the first tailgate that we had since I’ve been at Vanderbilt. I’m a senior,” Hightower said. “The whole community doesn’t necessarily know about us yet. We still haven’t really gotten used to how we can use the space. It’s really just bare. There are no NPHC decorations or anything.”
Dr. Rosevelt Noble, Director of the BCC, Vanderbilt Alum and long-standing member of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., says that the new house will be a great recruitment tool during a decline in NPHC membership and will bring greater overall visibility to NPHC organizations.
“I think the new house will help NPHC. It gives them a very visible spot to do programming and have social gatherings,” Noble said. “Now that can’t be the only thing. We still have to be more proactive in actually going out and seeking folks to join the organization. The new house definitely will help more than the previous apartments.”