A Nashville-based educator found herself at the centre of controversy recently, when she removed the shirt of a white, elementary-grade student. The piece of clothing bore the insignia of her Black Greek-lettered sorority.
Although the Metro Nashville Public Schools department confirmed that the sorority-emblazoned shirt did violate the dress code of McGavock Elementary School due to containing written content, the department spokesperson clarified it should not have been arbitrarily substituted with a standard uniform polo without acquiring express consent from the child’s parents.
The spokesperson indicated their intention to proceed in accordance with the district’s employee relations protocol and guide the staff member towards appropriate behaviour in similar future situations.
This event has provoked discourse surrounding the vigorous reaction of the teacher towards a minor wearing her sorority’s insignia – questioning whether such conduct warrants either approval or criticism.
While members of the Divine Nine, a collective term for the nine recognized Black Greek-letter organizations, primarily disapproved of the teacher’s behavior, the sentiment was not unanimous and some members empathized with the sentiment driving her actions.
Historian and Divine Nine member Lawrence Ross states that over a century of history, commitment, and service add a defensive edge to members about who may represent their fraternity or sorority through wearing their symbols. Ross elaborated a distinction between a child donning a shirt for its appealing colours and an adult intentionally wearing the emblems despite not being a member.
Founded during the racially tormented era of the early 20th century, the Divine Nine institutions not only enriched the campus life experience but amplified the upliftment of the Black community. Despite the racially discriminatory clauses of their white counterparts, Black students founded these fraternities and sororities, which embodied their cultural heritage and shared experiences.
To reflect their history and live up to the exclusivity, there are specific requirements related to academic performance, community service, and personal character that must be met for membership candidacy.
Meanwhile, in response to the controversy around the teacher’s conduct, the Nashville school teacher clarified to the child’s parents that AKA-branded wearables were to be reserved only for official members.
Members often adorn themselves in attire depicting their Greek symbols, sometimes called “paraphernalia”, as a display of pride. While the teacher’s decision was supported by a few Divine Nine members, who echoed the sentiment that the child was inappropriately attired, others disagreed and suggested that the response was extreme for a seven-year-old.
Divine Nine fraternities and sororities hold lifelong memberships. The organizations offer honorary memberships to celebrated figures and those contributing significantly to society. The unyielding bond and commitment of these organizations to serve their community prevail till after their passing, symbolizing decades-long dedication and allegiance. The Divine Nine exemplifies the enduring resonance of unity in action, history in making, and legacy in the Black community.