Here’s what to know about historically Black Greek life at Iowa State


Courtesy of the Iowa State Sorority and Fraternity Engagement website

According to Billy Boulden, the NPHC Plaza will be opening in early April.

Claire Hoppe

Because of her parents, Mychyl Brown grew up knowing about historically African American Greek life.

In fact, they were both involved in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC).

According to Iowa State’s Sorority and Fraternity Engagement website, the NPHC is a local governing organization of historically African-American fraternities and sororities.

Now a senior at Iowa State majoring in biology, Brown is the secretary for the Eta Tau Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which is part of the NPHC.

“It’s always been important to me,” Brown said. “Everyday is about celebrating all of the work and grit our founders put into creating spaces for us to thrive, network and fellowship with one another, all while serving the bigger community.”

While knowing about and being involved with the NPHC has been steadfast for Brown most of her life, many individuals are not aware of the vast amount of sororities and fraternities that are historically African American.

According to the Iowa State Sorority and Fraternity Engagement website, Iowa State has been home to eight historically African American fraternities and sororities, which include:

  • Alpha Kappa Alpha (Sorority)
  • Delta Sigma Theta (Sorority)
  • Sigma Gamma Rho (Sorority)
  • Zeta Phi Beta (Sorority)
  • Alpha Phi Alpha (Fraternity)
  • Kappa Alpha Psi (Fraternity)
  • Omega Psi Phi (Fraternity)
  • Phi Beta Sigma (Fraternity)

“So, when I think about our historically Black fraternities and sororities … Each one of these organizations provides a unique opportunity for students to explore their identity further, to understand what their identity means and how to exist and navigate, you know, in this case, a predominately white campus,” Billy Boulden, the director of sorority and fraternity engagement at Iowa State, the dean of students for student development and leadership and the interim director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, said.

“For Black students to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m Black, and I’m great, and I’m excellent and I’m in a place that’s predominately white, and here’s other people that can explore Black excellence with me through this journey and to figure out how to navigate the university,’ that’s valuable,” Boulden said.

Joseph Putman, the president of Iowa State’s Kappa Alpha Psi chapter and senior in industrial engineering, said Black excellence plays a major role in his fraternity experience at Iowa State.

“I love all excellences, but it’s amazing at a PWI [predominately white institution] to be able to see Black men, like myself, achieve together, do great things together,” Putman said. “So with Black fraternities, having the ability to see other Blackness being successful at the same university you’re at is an amazing thing.”

Putman said there is no match to the feeling of his community and fraternity being united on a predominately white campus. Brown shared similar feelings about being in a historically Black sorority at a predominately white institution.

“There’s a sense of comfort that comes with being in a space with people that have similar experiences to me,” Brown said. “NPHC is small on Iowa State’s campus, but we all do what we can to support and uplift each other.”

According to Boulden, there are many reasons why NPHC is relatively small on Iowa State’s campus.

From Iowa State being a predominately white institution to NPHC chapters having different membership processes, Boulden said there is no lack of reasons as to why historically Black fraternities and sororities have fewer members and are less talked about by the Iowa State and Ames community.

“So when you’re talking about a smaller population of students, who then also choose to be a part of a select group of students who join sororities and fraternities, who then explore membership… So you go to the process there as well,” Boulden said.

Boulden also mentioned that desire for membership plays a large part in deciding the size of a certain chapter. According to him, while some chapters might desire to have over 100 people, some chapters are content with having a smaller group.

“I would say membership intake is a more intimate and discrete process within NPHC,” Brown said about the recruitment processes for her sorority. “We enjoy getting to meet other students at our events and encourage them to support all organizations, not just the ones they’re interested in.”

Brown and Putman both stressed the importance of support from other students and organizations at Iowa State for the NPHC chapters. According to Brown, just because February is Black History Month doesn’t mean that the Black community and their history shouldn’t be discussed and uplifted during the other 11 months of the year.

“I think it is important to stress that black history is relevant every day of the year,” Brown said. “But during this month, it is important to be especially conscious and sensitive to the needs of the Black community. Come out to our events, and help us promote them. If you’re not sure on how you can help personally, ask.”

Putman also stated the importance of support for all events and topics, whether they be fun festivities or more serious discussions.

“I’d say being able to support us with, like, other events that aren’t as fun; like Black History Month, for us we’re going to be doing a ton of festivities, stuff like that,” Putman said. “But at the same time, remembering like, we’re having fun, but we have to work a little harder.”

According to Brown, the NPHC will be hosting a week of events in late February to celebrate Black History Month, and all students are welcomed and encouraged to join.

According to Boulden, the NPHC Plaza, which was built to promote the historically Black fraternities and sororities at Iowa State, will be opening in early April. He advises students to come and respectfully read the plaques about each chapter to learn more about the NPHC and its history at Iowa State.