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Leadership Highlight: Odlenika Joseph the Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho at Florida Atlantic University

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In an effort to highlight the young leaders who are leading undergraduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the sorors of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.’s Pi Eta Chapter at Florida Atlantic University and did an interview with Odlenika Joseph the Basileus/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. 22-year-old Joseph 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 theater major and talked about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold a leadership on campus in the digital age.

Read the full interview below.

What does it mean to be a chapter president to you?

It is a great honor to serve as the 2019 President of the “Oh So Pretty”Pi Eta Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated. This position means the world to me. I do not take the responsibility of leading my sisters and managing the operations of my chapter lightly. This is because I am aware of how other past presidents have done their due diligence to progress the mission and values of our national organization through local initiatives and programs. Stepping into my presidency I knew that I had big shoes to fill. Therefore, I set several tangible goals for the chapter and shared my presidential plan during our summer member retreat. I wanted to lay down the framework to make Pi Eta an even more successful chapter in the areas of business operations, organizational procedures, and accountability. In action, that entailed updating chapter software, chapter bylaws, procedures, and event planning facilitation.

What made you decide to attend Florida Atlantic University for undergrad?

I always knew that I was going to pursue higher education. As a Haitian American, education is an extremely important value to my parents. When it came down to picking my university the decision was an unexpectedly easy one. I had always looked up to my older sister, Oldine Joseph. She is a trailblazer, the first to try everything in my family, and a curiously complicated soul. She had started at Florida Atlantic University two years before me. I had often visited the campus to bring her food and hang out. Through those adventures, I became convinced that Florida Atlantic University would be a great fit for me. It was a safe distance from home, affordable, and had a great Theatre program. As a graduating senior, I am happy to say that I do not regret my decision.

What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the campus/surrounding community?

Food insecurity is a hidden crisis on college campuses across the nation. Last year, the Pi Eta chapter recognized this crisis and helped our sister, Calonda Harvey, launch her Anything Can Help Food Drive. The drive brought awareness to the Beyond Food Program located in the Dean of Students Office for her Leadership Capstone Project. Over the span of a month, we were able to collect over 400+ different non-perishable food items and donate it to the Beyond Food Program. My chapter is so excited to bring the Anything Can Help Food Drive back this year and positively impact the lives of students who are suffering from food insecurity. My chapter was intentional about creating events that would serve as safe spaces for women to engage in open dialogue regarding issues that are important to our community. So, we launched an educational event series titled Girls Room. Each month we talk about different issues like men, relationships, safe sex, alcohol safety, and financial literacy. In particular, I am excited about partnering with Delta Phi Epsilon to host an event titled You’re the One that We Want. It was important to my chapter to support the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) mission to alleviate suffering and provide support to those struggling with eating disorders. The informational session will be open to all high school students as well as the entirety of the community of Florida Atlantic University. The event will include Speakers from ANAD, Owls Care Promotion, a Nutritionist from Caring Therapists of Broward, and keynote speakers sharing their personal stories about eating disorders, proper nutrition, and human empowerment.

What made you want to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho?

When I was non-affiliated, I admired the social support that Fraternity & Sorority Life provided its members. Oftentimes, people look at joining such organizations as “paying for friendship”. The people who believe such a statement trivialize the impact that having a value-based system has on student life and productivity. To be frank, I never envisioned myself as someone who would join a sorority. However, Calonda Harvey and Jazmine Lora inspired me to want to become a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. When I stepped onto campus I noticed that the women I admired in my community had letters across their chest. They carried themselves differently, had an unshakeable tenacity, and a drive to succeed. I wanted to be able to tap into whatever source energy made them so captivating. They were passionate about the betterment of Greek Life and that passion drove them to deliver high-quality work.

I will forever be grateful for all the ways in which becoming a sister of the “Oh So Pretty” Pi Eta Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. has changed my life for the better. Having the social support of my active sisters and the wider network of alumni members is invaluable. Joining a sorority has given me the tools to articulate my thoughts and ideas and learn more by traveling to conferences. It has provided me with the transferable skills of planning, executing, and budgeting for events. It has allowed me to learn how to effectively communicate with a team and navigate conflict. It has taught me how to impact my community through meaningful community service. Most importantly, it has given me the love and support of women that I am privileged to call my sisters.

What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?

The Pi Eta Chapter was chartered on April 6, 2002. Since 2002, we have had lines come out that continue to build the legacy and impact that we have on our community. What makes our chapter distinct is our continued commitment to quality work in all that we do. This year, Pi Eta was recognized by the Florida Atlantic University Fraternity & Sorority Life Office at the Standards of Accreditation and Excellence Banquet. We were recognized for Sisterhood Excellence, Most Improvement Scholarship, Campus Involvement, Member Education, and Organizational Operations Excellence. We also held the highest grade point average (3.2) in the entire Greek community at Florida Atlantic University. It’s one thing to talk about values like sisterhood, scholarship, and service. It’s another thing to live out those values every single day. We are about cultivating leaders within our chapter. Everyone plays a pivotal role and holds an executive board position. We do more with less. We accept our members for who they are and don’t try to mold them to fit the stereotype of a sorority woman. We meet people where they are and envelope them with our authenticity and impress them with our impeccable work ethic.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2019?

As a Generation Z baby, the digital world is a domain I know well. Social media is a powerful tool. The mere existence of Fraternities & Sororities gives non-affiliated students the hope of something better. It creates and ignites the passion in young leaders and is the breeding ground for their leadership development. I believe that undergraduate chapters across all organizations need to be mindful of the content that they post and how it sends unintentional messages to potential interests on what they value. For example, If all a chapter posts consistently are stroll videos, they need to be mindful of the unconscious messaging they are putting out. For example, some members within organizations demand their interests to mold into stereotypical caricatures of what they deem appropriate to represent their organizations. Some members wear their letters like medallions. As if, that is what makes them who they are. As if, becoming a part of a Sorority or Fraternity is the best and last thing that will ever happen for them. This is a critical problem currently affecting my generation of Greeks who wear their letters like medals. Greeks who flaunt their letters and look down on non-affiliated students who were not “chosen” to serve among them. This bravado is fueled by ego stroking social media posts and threads in the digital world. To tackle this problem, as the 2018 Vice President of Public Relations of the National Pan-Hellenic Council I created a Hashtag (#NPHCdoesMORE). The #NPHCdoesMORE hashtag was created to inspire my council to focus on what really matters. I wanted to hone in on the three fundamentals that all our organizations share which are brotherhood/sisterhood, scholarship, and service. I wanted to make the point that our #NPHCdoesMORE than step, stroll, and party. I wanted to make the point that our letters don’t make us who we are. That the work we do within our organizations doesn’t end at undergrad. It was important to make the point that the best days of students lives will not be these days. Our letters do not make us better than anyone else but simply demands that we do more with the time and privilege that we are given. I can only imagine a world where that is the messaging we are consistently putting out.

What does leadership mean to you?

Effective Leadership is all about relationships. I believe in order to create a team that wants to struggle together towards a shared goal, you have to build an authentic rapport with them. This doesn’t mean being everyone’s best friend. It’s about being an intentionally present, consistent, and compassionate person in their life. In order to lead people, you have to be cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses, encourage their hearts, and hold them accountable to what they said they would do. Personally, the leadership philosophy I subscribe to is servant leadership. The servant-leader is servant first. It is my hope that those that I serve grow as women and that while being served, become healthier, wiser, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants. In action, I am assertive, direct, and empathetic. I am a strong believer in being my sisters keeper, leading by example, and being a shoulder they can lean on.

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?

A recurring question that is present on the national scale is whether Greek life has lost its relevance. Watch The Yard is a unique space that positively highlights Black greek life. It gives Black greeks a forum to talk about and showcase their successes. The legitimacy of our organizations are threatened everyday by negative accounts regarding the practices of some chapters. What is publicized in the news are accounts of hazing, binge drinking, partying, and sexual assault. While these stories are important and deserve to be told. Oftentimes, opponents of Greek life and the implications of its culture leverage these stories as reasons to justify the decline of Greek life. There are not many spaces left online or in real life where Fraternity and Sorority life is celebrated. So, I am incredibly grateful for the positive light that Watch The Yard casts on Black Greek life.

What does sisterhood mean to you?

Sisterhood is about accountability. Pi Eta taught me that being my sisters keeper should be a reflex. Whether it’s checking them on their ashy knees, consoling them during a tough loss, celebrating their achievements, or cracking jokes to relieve tension. Sisterhood is messy. The beauty to me of sisterhood lies in its imperfections. Humans are infallible. We are not always going to get it right and it’s up to us to own our mistakes. Sisterhood is therapy. Being a part of my sisterhood, has taught me to set my ego aside and be vulnerable about my shortcomings so my sisters can maximize their strengths to support me. Most importantly, Sisterhood is love. It’s about operating from a place a care, leading with love, and being fulfilled by shared accomplishments.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

Upon completion of my Bachelors of Arts in Theatre, I plan to pursue a Master’s in Higher Education Administration. As a daughter of Haitian immigrants, the pursuit of higher education becomes not only a reward for myself; but for my family as well. Education, development, resilience, and leadership are strong values I have due to the empowerment of my parents. In action, I have immersed myself into campus leadership opportunities through my service as a Student House Coordinator for the Student Union, a Mentor Orientation Leader, a Student Assistant, and a Resident Assistant. In these experiences I have assisted in the training and cultivation of emerging leaders along with supporting their college transition. In these experiences, I discovered my passion for serving as a support resource for students;inspiring them to become leaders and giving back to the community. Though the work of a leader can be taxing, I receive fulfillment knowing that I made a positive impact in their lives.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Odlenika Joseph for her work as the president of the Pi Eta Chapter.

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