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Leadership Highlight

The Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho at UT Dallas Opens Up About Chapter Leadership and Inclusion

Photo Credit: David Taylore (@inphiniteimages)

In an effort to highlight those who are leading undergraduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the women of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.’s Tau Pi Chapter at the University of Texas at Dallas and did an interview with Dee Portilla the president of the chapter.

The position of president of an undergraduate chapter of a Black sorority is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Dee Portilla has used the position to gain new leadership experience, improve the lives of other students on campus and help the community around her.

We interviewed the Interdisciplinary Studies major whose concentration is in Visual Arts and talked about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold a leadership position on campus in the digital age.

Read the full interview below.

What does it mean to be a chapter president to you?
The Too Fly, Tau Pi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. was chartered less than a year ago on March 3, 2018. I have had the honor of being the chartering Basileus of the chapter and it is incredible. There have not been generations of sorority sisters before us to continue the legacy. My charter members and I have the amazing opportunity to create that legacy. We have creating history now. We are setting the framework for our chapter now and future sorors to build upon.

Being the Basileus has afforded me opportunities to travel and attend multiple conferences. I have received training from some incredible women. I have even had the privilege and honor to hear International Grand Basileus, Deborah Catchings-Smith speak about leadership and the sisterhood. Additionally, I have forged some friendships that I truly believe will last a lifetime. It has been a life-changing experience.

What made you decide to attend the University of Texas and Dallas for undergrad?
I decided to attend The University of Texas at Dallas because it was rated number 7 of The Best Colleges In Texas. The Arts and Technology program was also a big part of my choice. I initially was interested in attending an art school, as I am a photographer and aspiring filmmaker. My parents advised me to pursue something practical that incorporated my interests and I ended up pursuing Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Visual Arts.

What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the campus/surrounding community?
The Swim 1922 initiative is one that the Tau Pi chapter will be heading up during the spring semester. We are partnering with the Aquatics Center to host a swim clinic on campus. The Swim 1922 initiative is the first partnership of its kind with the intent to increase swim participation and decrease drowning rates in the African American community.

In addition to Swim 1922, we will be working with The Pearls of Promise Debutante Program. It is an honors recognition and scholarship program for exceptional young women who excel academically, serve as role models to their peers, and are future leaders of our community. Through the program, debutantes undertake a six month long educational program focused on Leadership Development, Personal Development, Networking, and Mentoring. On campus, we had a Golden Alert Town Hall and discussed police relations with the black community. This year we partnered with Alpha Phi Alpha and had voter’s registration booths and provided rides to the polls. Making sure that we are registered to vote and providing rides to the polls eliminates excuses not to vote.

What made you want to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho?
I decided to pursue membership into Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc because they accepted me for who I am.

As an Afro-Latina (Cuban and Puerto Rican) woman, I have always had a difficult time finding my place. I wasn’t light enough for the Spanish students or I wasn’t Black enough for the Black students. The ladies of Sigma Gamma Rho accepted me for me. I remember being invited to my first event and feeling like I was a part of the crew and not like an outsider.

What sealed the deal for me was that I had a pretty bad depressive episode. I struggle with severe depression and anxiety disorder. During this time, the Basileus of the graduate chapter, Basileus Latisha Brandon, noticed that something was wrong and reached out and did not stop until she made sure that I was alright. Today she is not only my advising Basileus or mentor, she is one of my best friends.

What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
The Too Fly, Tau Pi Chapter is unique because we just chartered on March 3rd, 2018. We chartered in less than a year, which had not been done at UTD before. There is something special about being the first. As chartering Basileus, I have had the unique pleasure of helping to lay the ground work for future sorors. The other thing that makes Tau Pi unique is our bond with our graduate chapter, Lambda Upsilon Sigma. Each undergrad has their own mentor and they are very supportive of us. My joke is that I was LUS born, Tau Pi raised. Our individual bond as a chapter is special and unique as well. We have women from all walks of life, ranging from First Generation College students to sorors with families that going back to school.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2018?
The beauty of living in a digital world now is that we have access to view what other chapters or organizations are doing across the country. UTD is a PWI and the black population is less than 4%. I have met so many people and had so many conversations with other greeks from HBCUs and PWIs. As far as representing ourselves online, I think that organizations need to remember that we are always recruiting. This is an amazing platform to showcase what your chapter is doing to help the campus and the community. The world hears about Greek life when something tragic happens. Let’s show the world what we are really about. That’s how intend to represent myself and my chapter.

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership can be defined in many different ways. I think that it means setting an example for others. It is motivating and guiding your peers or your sorority to serve and excel. Leadership is having a vision for your chapter and inspiring them to bring that vision into fruition. It’s about building a strong team, being creative and think of ways to constantly improve yourself and your peers.

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard is important to Black Greekdom because it is a place where we can see the various organizations flourishing. Especially for PWIs that don’t necessarily have a large number or Black Greeks on campus. Knowing that others are sharing similar experiences not only encourages, but motivates you to continue striving for excellence within your community.

What does sisterhood mean to you?
To me, sisterhood means having a bond with a group of like-minded women who encourage you to be the best possible version of yourself. Sisterhood means loving each other enough to not only be around to celebrate your accomplishments, but also be there to help you pick up the pieces when you fail. Sisterhood isn’t conditional, we win together, lose together and die together.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?
After graduation, the plan is to work at a firm as a graphic designer while continuing to work as a freelance photographer. The dream is to pursue radio. I have hosted my own radio show with Radio UTD for the past two years. That is where my passion is. I have a three-hour show called “Major Malfunction with DJ Feisty” every Friday night from 9 PM- 12 AM. I play a mixture of classic hip-hop and R&B. God-willing, I will secure a position at a local (or not so local) radio station.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Dee Portilla for her work as the president of Tau Pi Chapter which has a legacy that began in 2018.

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