“They Would Not Let Me Quit”: Black Greek Life in The University Center at UNO

Stop 5 of 6 of the "A Space of Their Own Color: Black Greek Letter Organizations at UNO" Tour.

Located near the geographic center of the university, the University Center, or UC for short, host various offices such as the cafeteria, bookstore, ballroom, and staff offices for Student Involvement and Leadership. In the past, the UC also hosted the Admissions and Financial Aid offices. This meant that nearly every student, including members of Black Greek organizations, were required to pass through the UC. The UC was a place for socializing and a place for business.

Marie, an African American student who first began classes at UNO in 1967, once made the long walk from the Liberal Arts building to the UC while attending school. As an African American woman, there were many spaces where Marie felt unwelcomed. Marie did not feel that way when she was around her sorority sisters. Marie pledged the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority in 1969, when the sorority was the only Black Greek organization on campus.

During her tenure at UNO, Marie studied French. Marie grew up in New Orleans, a segregated city where she was always surrounded by African Americans, just like her. Yet when she arrived at UNO, a predominantly White campus, Marie felt like a foreigner. She was the only African American in all her classes and all her professors were White. After simply walking into class, she felt disadvantaged due to her skin color. One day, Marie received an essay back from her professor extensively marked with corrections and a poor grade. Marie felt discouraged, as if she couldn’t go on. In an oral history interview conducted in 2018, Marie reflected on what happened next:

“I was on my way to drop out of school. I was devastated, so I was, I’m crying walking across to the UC. Because at first, we didn’t have all the buildings that they have now. But they did have the UC. And I remember, a couple of my Sorors saw me, and they pulled me on the side. We looked out after each other, they looked out after you, we looked out after each other, they pulled me on the side you know, what’s the matter, why you crying. They talk, they literally kept me from dropping out of school. Because I was determined I would quit. They would not let me quit.”

The support Marie received from her sorority sisters prevented her from dropping out of the University. Marie went on to graduate with a degree in French. The support provided by the sorority not only benefited her, but all of her sisters, as she stated, “Everybody that pledged Sigma Gamma Rho, along the time I was there, graduated from UNO. Everybody.”

Marie’s story demonstrates the strong communal bonds Black Greek letter organizations fostered among members, and how those bonds supported the academic success of African American students.

As the central location on the campus of UNO, the University Center would host events for generations of UNO student organizations. This would be no different for Black Greek letter organizations. In 1990-1991, Alpha Phi Alpha celebrated its chapter anniversary, and both Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta won the Greek Week talent show doing a step performance. Performing these functions in this central location ensured Black Greek organizations would be highly visible to the student body. Having and maintaining this high level of visibility would prove to be an act of resistance. It was important to show that Black students were not only attending UNO, where they continued to be in the minority and unwelcomed but were showcasing their talents and resistance to the entire student body.

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