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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


People of UW: President of Divine Nine sorority talks importance of organizations for Black students on campus

Stories of students: Read about students making a difference on campus
Photo courtesy of J’Khayla Johnson

Editor’s note: People of UW is a human interest series produced by Badger Herald staff members. The series aims to highlight a student or student group at the University of Wisconsin making an impact on the campus community. These Q&As are lightly edited for clarity and style.

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is J’Khayla Johnson, I’m a junior studying information sciences and I have certificates in digital studies, African American studies and video game design. I am a house fellow in Sellery Residence Hall and have been for about a year and a half. I have a lot of passion for media and media literacy and helping people from different areas have access to the internet and everything. Right now I’m doing a research project on TikTok and how it can help Black students find different forms of representation when it comes to formal and informal learning. I also work as a programming assistant for the Center for Cultural Enrichment, so I plan out a lot of different events that help promote our university and housing value.


What is the Divine Nine? 

I am a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated and I serve as chapter president. The Divine Nine are a group of elite Black organizations that were founded in order to create spaces for Black people during times where it was hard for us to find spaces on college campuses. The first D9 organization to be founded was the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated. They were founded in 1906 at Cornell University. My organization was founded at Howard University on January 16, 1920 and our principles are scholarship, service, sisterhood and finer womanhood. We put a big emphasis on who we are as people and making sure that we do a lot of service that impacts our communities.

What are your responsibilities as President? 

I’m a very busy person, I’m president, and I work two jobs, I have three minors and I’m in STEM. As president, I’m in charge of all membership, and I’m also in charge of meeting with people. If someone wants to collaborate with us, they come and talk with me. Or, if we need to say something to regionals or nationals or a graduate chapter, I’m the person that handles all of that. I also serve as one of the faces of the sorority. Even though we’re a smaller chapter, we still have to make sure that everything we do, we’re always holding ourselves to a high standard. So when people see me around I like to let them know you can ask me anything, you can always come and chat with me and everything.

What are some of your goals for the organization? 

I know that after I graduate, Zeta has youth auxiliary groups, and one of those youth auxiliary groups is a group of girls called Archonettes, they’re ages 14–18. After I graduate, I want to become an advisor to one of these groups, it’s similar to Girl Scouts but it’s under that Zeta umbrella. As far as my chapter, I’m going to help us expand and grow and just do as much for the campus as we can. We have some events coming up that I’m very excited for, we have different community service things coming up and we also have our upcoming finer womanhood week which I’m very excited for. So, I would say in general I want to help the people who will eventually be coming into my chapter to grow as people and to truly embrace the principle of finer womanhood.

What’s your favorite part of being President? 

I’m president and I also serve as secretary, it is the most wonderful combination because I’m the one who writes up all of the notes and all of the documents so immediately, if someone asks “Hey, can we collab with you on this on this date,” I already know I can look back at my notes and have it right there. Just the way it has pushed me to become very organized, my calendars are planned all the way to July and are color coordinated.

Why are the Divine Nine important to the Madison community in particular?

I would say it’s really important especially because Madison has a very small Black population. The [undergraduate] student body is only 2% Black, so there’s not a lot of us and it can be really hard for us to find community and know where to go. I know my freshman year, I was the only African American girl in my dorm, and I came from Chicago where everyone’s Black, so it was really hard for me. Having these D9 organizations can really help students to see, “okay here’s another Black person who is doing everything I want to do, this is someone I can look up to.” It also is because our Black organizations, we really care about service. So we’re giving back to our community and supporting our fellow Black students and students in general. I would say D9 organizations on campuses serve as role models, places for community and also places to receive a different level of support that students don’t get in their day-to-day.

What is your favorite part of Zeta Phi Beta?

Besides my role, I would say really the sisterhood. Me and one of my sorors are extremely close, like you see her you see me, that’s my twin and she really pushes me to do different things. For example, there’s a Zeta scholarship that was going around and I didn’t want to apply to it because I was scared that I wouldn’t get it and she pushed me to apply to it and I did actually get the scholarship.

What advice would you give for students who want to be more involved in a Divine Nine? 

I would say, first, get to know us as people, come up and talk to us. I know it may be intimidating, but just come and talk to us. You have to be discreet, you can’t say, “Oh, I want to be a Zeta” you have to be discreet, not everyone needs to know what you want to do. I will also say it’s exciting, but make sure you take your time and really get to know everybody. Don’t get your sights so set on one organization that you don’t see all of your possible options. And save money, because once you get into the D9 you’re gonna want that hat and shirt and have to pay for it.

What are your career goals post-grad?

I want to become a video game designer and have my own video game studio. One of my goals is to have my own video game studio that creates games that can be used as a form of therapy and games that can be used for virtual learning because I was a part of the COVID group of kids. I graduated during COVID and it really just changed the way I thought about learning in general. I also want to do just more research into how Black people, specifically African Americans, interact with media.

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