Taylor Williams ’23 was already familiar with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a coalition of historically Black fraternities and sororities, before arriving on the campus of Southwestern University. Her father is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.®, one of the nine organizations that make up the council, and Williams has grown up hearing about the benefits of belonging to a Black Greek-letter organization.

But her father did more than introduce her to the Divine Nine, as these nine fraternities and sororities are collectively known. He also introduced her to Associate Professor of Education Alicia Moore, who serves as the faculty advisor for Southwestern’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated®, the unofficial sister sorority of Alpha Phi Alpha. 

“Dr. Moore became my mentor and then, later, my sorority sister,” Williams says.

Today, Williams, who is majoring in political science, is president of the Upsilon Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which was chartered at Southwestern in 2015. She is proud to lead one of the newest chapters of this distinguished organization.

“It takes a very strong woman to become an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman,” Williams says. “You have to prioritize service. You have to prioritize sisterhood. You have to make both financial sacrifices and emotional sacrifices. You have to really want to be here.”

Member Rini Mannankara '22 added her handprints to an anti-hazing banner during National Hazing P... Member Rini Mannankara ’22 added her handprints to an anti-hazing banner during National Hazing Prevention Week.Growing and thriving

As a relatively new organization on campus, Alpha Kappa Alpha is still growing its membership. The Southwestern chapter currently has six active members, but Williams hopes the number will soon increase.

“We’re still getting our name out there,” Williams says. “Right now we’re focusing on ensuring incoming students know about our presence and our impact on campus and around the world.”

The international organization has a long and rich history. Founded in 1908 by nine students on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., the sorority was the first Greek-letter organization for Black college women. Today, as a multicultural organization, it has grown to more than 320,000 members across 1,046 chapters in the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Japan, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Some of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s notable achievements over the past 114 years include establishing the nation’s first mobile health clinic in the Mississippi Delta in 1935; spurring sickle cell disease research in the 1950s; purchasing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood home for the MLK Center for Social Change in 1972; establishing the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation, a multimillion dollar entity that awards more than $100,000 in scholarships, grants, and fellowships each year, in 1981; and coordinating a national campaign to highlight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in 2018.

The organization’s members—or “sorors,” as they call one another—have celebrated many individual achievements as well. Notable Alpha Kappa Alpha members include author Toni Morrison, actress Phylicia Rashad, comedian Wanda Sykes, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris. The sorority also has bestowed honorary membership on a number of esteemed women, including poet Maya Angelou, civil rights leader Rosa Parks, and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Servant leadership

Alpha Kappa Alpha is not a social club but rather an international service organization dedicated to creating a college experience that is both meaningful and productive. Its mission is to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards; promote unity and friendship among college women; study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature; maintain a progressive interest in college life; and be of service to all mankind.

The Upsilon Alpha chapter hosted an HBCU 4 Life event to educate the Southwestern community about... The Upsilon Alpha chapter hosted an HBCU 4 Life event to educate the Southwestern community about the importance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“Our service goals change every four years,” Williams explains. The current targets focus on supporting HBCUs; raising awareness of women’s health issues; building economic legacies; promoting the arts, particularly Black artists; and strengthening the sorority’s global impact. 

The Southwestern chapter has been engaging members in these goals in a variety of ways.

“We’ve hosted virtual yoga and Zumba classes. We’ve worn red to bring attention to heart disease. We’ve hosted presentations on the hardships that a lot of Black women face within the healthcare system and how oftentimes they’re not heard or represented in a meaningful way,” Williams says.

The Upsilon Alpha chapter, which is sponsored by the Beta Psi Omega graduate chapter in Austin, collaborates with other Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority chapters nearby, including the Beta Kappa chapter at Huston-Tillotson University and Delta Xi at the University of Texas at Austin. The chapter also participates in initiatives at the regional, national, and international levels. Through the One Million Backpacks initiative, for example,  Alpha Kappa Alpha distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to economically disadvantaged school children, and the Change for Change fundraiser collects loose change to donate to charitable causes. 

Chapter members represented Alpha Kappa Alpha at Galley Fest. Chapter members represented Alpha Kappa Alpha at Galley Fest.Multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial

Williams notes that Alpha Kappa Alpha is a diverse organization that welcomes college-aged women of all races and ethnicities.

“There is a common misconception that Alpha Kappa Alpha only lets in Black women or is solely for Black women. While it was initially founded for Black women, we are a multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial organization,” Williams says. “We have an international presence, with chapters all over the world. There is a space for any woman who fits the criteria to be an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman.”

The organization lifts up women everywhere whether they are Alpha Kappa Alpha members or not. For example, in 2022 the Upsilon Alpha chapter is awarding Eugenia Gabrielle Agobe ’23 with the Dr. Alicia Moore Excellence in Service Scholarship in the amount of $1,908, a nod to the year of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s founding. Agobe will be honored April 13 at the Upsilon Alpha Spirit of Giving Award Ceremony, which celebrates students, faculty, and staff who champion social justice and the university community.

“We love the sisterhood that Alpha Kappa Alpha offers,” Williams says. “There are so many growth opportunities and resources available to you when you join an amazing sisterhood like this.”