Forty years ago, Emory University’s Delta Sigma Theta chapter, Omicron Xi, started with just seven women. Now, the chapter boasts 289 members and has a thriving presence on campus. During Homecoming weekend on Oct. 21 and 22, alumni and current members gathered to celebrate the legacy of this historically-Black sorority. 

The weekend festivities kicked off with a meet and greet, complete with a slate of merch for Deltas to trade and an array of snacks. Purple tinsel decorated the top of the Emory Black Student Union, but tones of red in the decorations captured the vibrant spirit of Deltas. As the Emory’s of Delta Sigma Theta chapter entered the space, the energy was vivacious. The Deltas greeted each other with hugs—whether it was an old friend or a new face, the love and warmth radiated the room. 

Emory University’s Delta Sigma Theta chapter, Omicron Xi, celebrated its 40th anniversary on Oct. 22. (Natalie Sandlow)

For Marcia Pettis (23C), the current president, Deltas have always been an inspiration. 

“In my life, the women that I’ve met that I’ve looked up to, they have been Deltas,” Pettis said. 

Pettis said she joined the organization because she felt connected to the mission and community of the Deltas, which prides itself on its sisterhood. 

There’s four components to the service mission—political, economic, education, physical and mental health. Pettis said that she has particularly enjoyed the voting activism that the Deltas have tackled, especially their ability to teach people and raise awareness about the importance of upcoming elections in Georgia. 

For Pettis, the far-reaching community is what makes the Deltas so unique. 

“It’s astonishing to see there’s lines and generations of people who support me and people I can depend upon,” she said. 

What’s even more enriching, she said, is seeing how many Deltas still show up at reunion events years later.

While they all keep in touch online, Pettis said “there’s so much love around” when they attend in person. Even prominent Delta women—like Cassandra Gordon Tancil (83C), who helped spearhead the emergence of the Delta chapter at Emory forty years ago—came back to campus for the reunion.

“It’s crazy because you see the name on the website and think she wouldn’t come, but she does,” Pettis said. 

Tancil is a recurring face at Delta events. To this day, she recalls starting the Deltas chapter at Emory as a source of pride. 

“That’s my greatest accomplishment in life, besides my kids,” Tancil said. 

At the second event of the night, which brought Delta family members into the mix, Tancil reflected on the road to establishing the chapter at Emory. 

When she first came onto campus, she knew she wanted to be a Delta—her mother had been a Delta before her, and she knew she belonged in that space. 

Omicron Xi founder Cassandra Gordon Tancil (83C) spoke at the chapter’s 40th anniversary celebration on Oct. 22. (Deanna Sharpe)

Amid the logistical meetings and events they had to attend to start the Deltas, she remembered someone asking them why they wanted to start a Black sorority when there was already one on campus.

She recalled telling him that there were 13 white sororities on campus, and Black women deserved the ability to choose just the same. 

“They opened the eyes of Emory students and administrators to see that Blackness is not a monolith,” Tancil said. 

Throughout the night, the Deltas featured poetry recitations and held a moment of silence to remember Delta sisters and an advisor who had passed away. 

The Deltas went through the decades, highlighting what the chapter was doing on campus during various prominent times, including when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” came out and highlighting the first Black student graduating from Emory in 1963. 

The night ended with the Deltas singing the traditional “Sweetheart Song,” as Deltas joined hands and swayed from side to side. “She’s a Delta,” echoed the room, as two young girls ran around the circle, the next generation jumping for a glimpse of the Deltas. 

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Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas, majoring in political science and English and creative writing. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Emory Wheel. Previously, her column "Brammhi's Ballot" won first place nationally with the Society of Professional Journalists. She has also interned with the Georgia Voice.