The Mu Pi Chapter, which marked its 40th anniversary at UD, has as its charter members Esther Hayman Welch, Lethia Cottman, Tara Harmon Williams, Edith Claude Moyer, Terry Bayard Joyner, Charalane Hoxter, Marlene Hurtt Dunkley, Denise Hayman, LaVerne Terry, and the late Karen Patton and Adrienne Strickland Green.

Mu Pi Chapter

First African American sorority at UD celebrates 40-year anniversary


2:30 p.m., Dec. 21, 2015--In the early 1970s, African American students could walk the entire University of Delaware campus without seeing another person of color. It was a time when sports defined “black culture” at UD, so much so that black students would attend games and root for any black player — it didn’t matter the team.

“People knew the athletes,’” remembers Esther Welch, “but there was no student voice for black females.”

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Until there was.

On Oct. 26, 1975, Welch and 10 other women established the Mu Pi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., making it the first African American sorority at the University of Delaware.

In matching white shirts, wrap-around skirts, crimson scarves and platform red Payless shoes, the Mu Pi ladies walked in solidarity around campus. They put on step shows. They studied at the library each night from 6-10. They created a community for each other and for the University, helping the wider campus see and understand why their voices mattered.

“But it was the ’70s,” says Mu Pi charter member LaVerne Terry. “Things were not always ‘kumbaya.’” 

Though their chapter was chartered on Oct. 26, 1975, the sorority’s acceptance was contingent upon recognition by the Pan-Hellenic Council, a process that brought on both passive and overt resistance. Finally, in May of the following year, as the women were to board a bus headed to the Delta Regional Conference in Washington, D.C., someone hand delivered a letter confirming their status at the University.

“We had a lot of resilience,” says Terry Joyner, who, along with her fellow “sorors,” nonetheless holds their UD experience and education in highest regard.  

“I had a ball at UD,” says Marlene Hurtt Dunkley. “I cried when I graduated.”

“It was one of the best times of my life,” adds Edith Knotts Moyer.

They all tout their Delaware education and agree few institutions come close. 

“If it weren’t for UD,” says Terry, “we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

The Mu Pi Chapter celebrated its 40th anniversary this fall, with a Homecoming reunion attended by all living charter members (of the original 11, two have since passed away); their first adviser, Agnes Green; and more than 125 alumni and current students. 

With a weekend full of activities, ranging from a welcome reception to a gospel brunch, the reunion provided an opportunity to reflect upon the legacy of both the chapter and University. 

But all the Mu Pi members know their history. 

Dunkley recalls rummaging through Nordstrom recently when a young lady ran up to greet her. 

“Hi soror,” the girl exclaimed. “I’m Mu Pi, too!” 

Dunkley hugged her newfound sorority sister. “How’d you know I was?” 

“I know the Charter Line,” the student responded, referring to the 11 sisters who established the sorority four decades ago. “I was on the phone with a friend from Texas when I saw you, and told her, ‘I gotta go!’” 

Dunkley laughs while retelling the story to her fellow charter members. “We’re like celebrities,” she says, as her sisters nod and smile in acknowledgement.

Across campus and beyond, current students who follow in their footsteps speak with palpable love and admiration for their torchbearers. 

“We wouldn’t be here were it not for what [the charter members established],” says senior Morgan Franklin. “The initiative, integrity and courage they displayed — you can’t be anything but grateful.”

Senior Kimani DeShields agrees. When asked what the charter line means to her, she says, simply, “Everything.”

Article by Artika Rangan Casini

Photos courtesy of the chapter and by Lane McLaughlin

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