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Greek life by Rufus Coleman
Summer 2004      

story extras

Other Delta Sigma Thetas

other features

History of integration

Opening doors

Transforming history

Making college home

Greek life

A team united

Pride and tradition

Remembering the early days


Sheila Wheatley-Clark ('69, '72 M.B.A.) didn't want to come to North Texas.

She didn't want to be the only African American in class, especially after growing up in the ethnic majority in her schools in Houston.

But more importantly, she didn't want to give up the chance to be a Delta like her big sister at Fisk University.

"More than anything I wanted to pledge Delta Sigma Theta," she says. The African American sorority, founded in 1913, is one of the oldest of its kind. "Since UNT had just begun integrating, it didn't have any black sororities or fraternities."

Social limitations

archive photos of the fraternity and sorority

The social clubs that became Delta Sigma Theta and Omega Psi Phi were formed in 1967. Sheila Wheatley-Clark ('69, '72 M.B.A.) and Joel Bennett ('68, '70 M.B.A.) were the founding presidents.

Two factors ultimately brought Wheatley-Clark to North Texas — the university's affordable price and the fact that it was closer to her Houston home than the all-black universities she was considering attending. However, neither of those things eased her fears about getting an education at North Texas.

"I often felt like African Americans were considered a necessary evil at North Texas," she says. "The law said we had to be there. I remember going to a university dance and feeling, not that we weren't welcome, but that there still wasn't a piece of us in North Texas."

Wheatley-Clark could get a great education at UNT, but not much of a social life — at least not one with the options of all-black schools like Fisk or Howard universities.

In the late 1960s at North Texas, sororities and fraternities were far from integrating, leaving few opportunities for African American students to socialize.

A place of support

So Wheatley-Clark and 18 other African American women on campus formed the Alpha Omega Social Club, which became the basis for establishing the Zeta Eta chapter of Delta Sigma Theta at North Texas, in 1967. At that time, North Texas rules required a group to spend a year as a social club before forming a sorority. Some administrators had suggested there would not be enough students with the grades to stay in the club, Wheatley-Clark adds.

"But we still had a big group when we got to the end of the year," she says. "The Deltas provided more than just a social club. It was a place of support for all the black students on campus — male or female."

Members went out of their way to form study groups and prepare incoming African American students for college life and any obstacles that might come, she says.

"We used to keep a running list of faculty who were biased and made things hard on black students," she says. "But more than anything we were a bunch of people who just wanted to be Deltas."

A good outlet

Also in 1967 came the beginnings of North Texas' first African American fraternity — Omega Psi Phi.

Joel Bennett ('68, '70 M.B.A.), one of the 24 founding members of the group, remembers driving up from Scottsville with his parents and being dropped off at North Texas. His folks wanted him to commit to succeeding in his new life in college.

"They expected me to work hard and not come back unless I had a degree," he says. "And I studied my butt off."

But life on campus could get lonely, so after studying all week, he and some of the other African American students would hang out in an apartment. They'd kick back and listen to the music of the Supremes and the Temptations.

"We were already together, but we needed a real social outlet — so we made Alpha Mu Omega," Bennett says. The social club eventually became North Texas' chapter of Omega Psi Phi. "Good grades were always important — it was how we picked people to join — but we also needed a good social outlet," he says.

Success and growth

Bennett, who now serves as a judge in Austin, says the fraternities and sororities kept many of the African American students in school by providing an escape from the isolation they felt on campus.

"So much of college can turn on being in a fraternity," he says. "I know it increases your chances of success and making it all the way through."

The fraternity members tutored other African Americans on campus and younger students in the community. They also hosted parties for other African American students at North Texas and Texas Woman's University.

"It gave us a chance to really get to know ourselves in a healthy way," Bennett says. "Too often in my job today I see young people who didn't have that. Without knowing it, we've created a bright legacy."

UNT today is home to every nationally recognized African American fraternity and sorority: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Iota Phi Theta, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho and Zeta Phi Beta, in addition to Delta Sigma Theta and Omega Psi Phi.

"Looking back on it I feel it was so rewarding," says Wheatley-Clark, who is now a certified planner in Houston. "To have started something that's grown this much means a lot to all the charter members."

Representing chapters of the nine nationally recognized black Greek letter organizations at UNT today are, from left, back row, Kevin Jiles (Alpha Phi Alpha), Jaime Germany (Delta Sigma Theta), Tia Johnson ('04) (Sigma Gamma Rho), Phallon Tillis (Alpha Kappa Alpha), Timyeus Mohair (Omega Psi Phi); front row, Dennis Lanham (Phi Beta Sigma), Randon Knighten (Iota Phi Theta), Joseph Todd (Kappa Alpha Psi) and, inset, Cecilia Fitzpatrick (Zeta Phi Beta).



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