United in Service Washington and Lee students are making a dynamic impact in the community through National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations.
“We strive to make this campus and the surrounding community better when we leave as seniors than when we arrived as freshmen.”
~ Alan Haigler ’26
Visitors to Boxerwood Woodland Garden and Nature Center on Sept. 30 would have noticed some unusual activity in the garden’s “fairy forest,” an area along one of its many wooded trails decorated with tiny houses, involving some human-sized fairy godmothers.
Students from Washington and Lee donned fairy costumes and headed into the Boxerwood tree canopy to read books to local children on a beautiful fall day in Lexington — all part of a new partnership between Boxerwood and a dedicated group of sorority women.
The event was organized by Washington and Lee’s Tau Zeta chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., (AKA) one of the historically black Greek letter organizations (HBGLO) represented on W&L’s campus. AKA, along with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the recently reactivated Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., are the active “Divine Nine” (D9) organizations operating on campus under the umbrella of the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
Washington and Lee’s NPHC, advised by Heidi Bustos, assistant director of inclusion and engagement, promotes collaboration among the HBGLOs on campus, emphasizing community outreach and service. Bustos said most NPHC organizations require that students interested in becoming new members complete a designated number of volunteer hours prior to applying. Tamara Futrell, dean of the office of inclusion and engagement, said that all D9 organizations share a mission of commitment to service.
“Service is the hallmark of our organizations. It is one of the reasons we exist, and it is who we are,” said Futrell, who is also a member of AKA. “We are civic-minded. If you look at any social justice movement in our society, you will find NPHC organizations leading the charge, or at least lending their voices. We’re about sisterhood, brotherhood and educational attainment, but at the heart of all D9 organizations is the commitment to service.”
AKA chapter president Tiwaniya Tyler ’24 said she learned about AKA’s service model from an early age, as a participant in a mentorship program organized by an AKA chapter in her hometown of Greenville, Mississippi. Tyler was in the program throughout her middle and high school years.
“I learned so much about the importance of community service and giving back to those who have given to you,” Tyler said.
In addition to the fairy forest, AKA members also planted trees in the Boxerwood garden with fraternity brothers from Washington and Lee’s Beta Beta Nu Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma and assisted with seasonal maintenance projects.
Karen Stanley, volunteer coordinator at Boxerwood, said she is excited that the AKAs have “adopted” the fairy forest as a project and looks forward to collaborating with NPHC students on future volunteer opportunities.
“They’re a great group to work with — so high-energy and enthusiastic, with lots of great ideas,” Stanley said. “Many were also visiting the garden for the first time, so it was great to share the magic of Boxerwood with a new group of W&L students.”
W&L’s newest fraternity chapter, Phi Beta Sigma, also has ambitious plans for its service and philanthropy projects. Along with planting trees at Boxerwood, the chapter — which was reactivated on W&L’s campus in the spring with 12 new members — partnered with AKA on a recent event to educate the campus community about sustainability and fast fashion. The fraternity has also become involved with volunteer coaching for the Rockbridge Area Recreation Organization’s (RARO) youth football league and plans to establish new community partnerships in 2024.
Chapter president Alan Haigler ’26, an accounting major from Fairfax, Virginia, said the organization has three categories of focus for service projects: social action projects that promote physical and mental health, community-building and partnerships; education-focused projects in partnership with local schools; and Phi Beta Sigma’s national Bigger and Better Business initiative, which helps support Black-owned businesses.
“We strive to make this campus and the surrounding community better when we leave as seniors than when we arrived as freshmen,” Haigler said. “We are more than willing to do what it takes to better our surrounding community in any way possible.”
Jalen Todd ’25, a cognitive and behavioral science major from Louisville, Kentucky, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his godfather, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. In March, Todd joined Alpha Phi Alpha’s Xi Delta Chapter, which was chartered in 1979 on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and became a joint chapter with W&L in 1992. Before Todd joined the chapter, Washington and Lee had no active members since Garrett Clinton ’20 graduated. Todd, who now serves as the chapter’s director of educational affairs, travels to Harrisonburg as often as he can to spend time with fraternity brothers and assist with their volunteer efforts, including tutoring at a local middle school.
“I grew up going with my godfather to volunteer and help at events with his fraternity brothers,” Todd said, “so I got to see how organizations like ours can impact the community.”
Bustos said Divine 9 organizations share a culture of service and civic engagement that also challenges students to learn to manage their busy schedules.
“Members of our NPHC chapters on campus are athletes and club presidents in addition to being high achievers academically, and we appreciate that diversity and involvement,” Bustos said. “We want students who are bringing a variety of identities and experiences into their chapters, because that is what allows those organizations to flourish and grow in unique ways on our campus.”
Growing is a focus for NPHC over the next few years. Bustos’ goal is to continue to expand the number of active NPHC chapters on W&L’s campus; currently, AKA is the only active D9 sorority at W&L. Washington and Lee’s Tau Omega Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. currently has no members, but the university is in communication with the organization’s regional officers about strategies to recruit future members.
“Giving our students positive experiences and helping ensure their identities are represented in our offerings is really the heart of what our office does,” Bustos said.