Courtesy of Paula Irvin

As people across the country celebrate Women’s History Month, two Black New Haven sorority chapters are hosting a series of events and encouraging women to run for office.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated are two historically African American sororities founded on the campus of Howard University in 1908 and 1913, respectively. Both organizations were chartered in New Haven and have established a presence in the Elm City for their sisterhood and service work. 

The News spoke with three members — one from AKA and two from DST — about various online programming scheduled throughout the month, including panel discussions and a virtual parade. Sorority members also spoke to the News about the significance of Black womanhood and political action.

“When you think about Women’s History Month, it’s celebrating history,” President of the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of DST Paula Irvin told the News. “Celebrating all of the accomplishments we have done in the past as well.”

Irvin emphasized “knowing where you come from” during the Women’s History Month, particularly through the sorority’s history. In the year DST was founded, members of the sorority participated in the 1913 women’s suffrage movement. Irvin said that for over a century since its founding, DST has “provided service” to various communities across the country, including New Haven. Their work centers around economic, physical, mental and political development and awareness for their members and the surrounding community.

Courtesy of Karen DuBois-Walton

To honor this history, the chapter planned a panel discussion on March 14, titled “Better Together: Collectively Transforming Lives and Strengthening Communities.” The event will commence via Zoom and will feature members of other historically Black sororities — like the President of the New Haven Chapter of AKA, Shenae Draughn.

On March 17, DST will hold another event as part of its “Building and Sustaining Financial Freedom” series, where members will discuss homeownership.

Earlier this month, AKA hosted a virtual parade to commemorate its New Haven chapter and the legacies of its members. AKA member Dori Dumas emphasised the importance of a community supporting women — especially those seeking to work in the political sector.

 “A lot of what Alpha Kappa Alpha is doing is looking at women and encouraging them to step up, run for office locally [and] at the state level,” Dumas told the News. “Moving forward, we just feel like more women need to be in places where laws are being made.”

Dumas highlighted AKA sorority members like Vice President Kamala Harris and Rosalind Brewer, who will become the only Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company next week. Dumas herself is the President of the New Haven Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She said Women’s History Month was about “celebrating who we are,” but especially uplifting women of color to take on leadership positions.

Dumas said the New Haven AKA organization also plans to highlight members on their Facebook page and post tidbits of their rich history.

Courtesy of Karen DuBois-Walton

Karen DuBois-Walton ’89, who is eyeing a mayoral run, spoke with the News about focusing on the position of women throughout the year.

Last Monday — on International Women’s Day — DuBois-Walton launched an exploratory committee for the Democratic mayoral primary in New Haven. DuBois-Walton is also the advisor to Pi Alpha, Yale’s DST chapter. She recalled joining when she was a 19-year-old attending the University, and underscored “the power of women coming together” to focus on scholarship, community service and social action.

“Reflecting on all the work we need to do to achieve gender equity … to take a month to highlight the impact of women and to center women I think is important,” DuBois-Walton said. “But more importantly is to certainly figure out how we’re doing that year-round.” 

She called the organization “a source of support, joy and fun”, a highlight of her time at Yale and a consistent part of her life. 

The Pi Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was chartered in 1984, becoming the first Black sorority at Yale.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu