A plaza commemorating the legacy of Black Greek organizations and African-American culture at Auburn University will be erected in 2022 in front of the new Academic Classroom and Laboratory Complex at Auburn University.
Back in July 2020, the Auburn University Board of Trustees voted in support of the creation and naming of the National Panhellenic Council Legacy Plaza. The plaza will be a symbolic and functional space that will include one marker for each of the nine Black Greek organizations that make up the NPHC and one central marker that will explain the plaza’s representation while recognizing the project’s donors.
Auburn’s National Panhellenic organization was founded in 1998 by the men and women of Greek Organizations represented on Auburn’s campus: the Sigma Delta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Kappa Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Theta Delta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. , Kappa Chi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Kappa Zeta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Gamma Xi Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. , Omicron Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Omicron Iota Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., and the Auburn Colony of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. According to their website, The Auburn NPHC strives to unite affiliated men and women at Auburn University through collaborative programming, educational initiatives, forums, and lasting friendships.
In a press release from the Office of Communications and Marketing in 2020, Bobby Woodard, senior vice president of Student Affairs, stated that the plaza will celebrate the past, present and future of Black Greek organizations at Auburn.
Madison Riggins, who served NPHC as vice president in 2018 and president in 2019, stated that the plaza will be a place that honors Black Greek students. “Black Greek students have always wanted a place they can call their own, much like the Greek plots at a historically black college or university, “Riggins said. “Knowing that we would not be able to recreate what they have at HBCUs, we had to get creative with the approach of how it was presented.”
Riggins, who graduated from Auburn in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and has now began graduate studies in the Master of Public Administration program, is also one of the many Auburn students connected to one of the D9 Greek organizations represented on Auburn’s campus. Initiated in Spring 2018 as a member of the Kappa Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., Riggins first began working with NPHC under the guidance of the 2018 NPHC President Julius Hammond, a member of the Omicron Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.
According to Riggins, though the idea of the project had been floating around as early as 2009, after the passing of a resolution by Dane Block that was presented by then-SGA Senator and member of the Kappa Chi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., Ada Ruth Huntley, the process to making the plaza a reality finally began.
“I have my theories as to why it stuck this time,” Riggins said. “With the influence of Julius Hammond and John Blanding’s — Julius’s fraternity brother and Black Student Union President — prominent positions on campus coupled with a new Auburn University Student Affairs Vice President, Dr. Bobby Woodard, the proposal of a new central dining location, and a new Auburn University Board of Trustee, my father, Quentin Riggins, who oversaw the Office of Student Affair Projects, I believe Auburn finally had an understanding of the importance of representation of black Greek life on Auburn’s campus.”
In a 2018 letter from then-SGA President Dane Block, the student Senate unanimously passed legislation in support of the NPHC’s campaign to create a legacy plaza at Auburn. Block wrote that several student leaders, in conjunction with members of the student Senate, researched and identified the need for an on-campus space for a legacy plaza.
“This resolution is the first step taken of many needed as we look to see through this project that pushes our campus forward in a positive light and serves for the betterment of Auburn University as a whole,” Block stated. “Through all facets of life, we encourage Auburn to continue efforts in supporting an inclusive and diverse environment, both within the boundaries of campus and beyond. SGA, on behalf of the students, believe this project will aid in this and fully support the effort moving forward.”
However, the plaza isn’t just about highlighting black Greek life. With insight from an additional campus role, Riggins was able to argue that the placement of the plaza would be key to another overlooked aspect of Auburn: aiding in the recruitment and retention rate of black men and women at Auburn. According to the Office of Institutional Research, only 722 black men and 902 black women are enrolled at Auburn out of an overall total of 30,737 students in 2020.
“By the time it got to me, with my background knowledge of how student tours worked because I was a student recruiter at the time, I argued that we should use this as a recruitment and retention total of black students,” Riggins said. “This would eventually play a large part into the overall placement and design of the plaza.”
The plaza is set to be placed between the ACLC and Central Dining Hall near Jordan-Hare Stadium. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only school in the SEC with a commemorative plaza for black Greek organizations.
As for Riggins, she believes that, with the introduction of the plaza to Auburn, students in the majority can finally begin having the conversation with those who serve as the minority on Auburn’s campus.
“By having this plaza we can start a conversation that will invoke change — change in our student demographic and a change in current students' mindsets,” Riggins said. “Most white students here are simply unaware of the impact black Greek life organizations have, or our history or traditions. It is no fault of their own as they are simply not exposed.
“In order to invoke change, there must be something to start the conversation.”