Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ A historically black sorority is expanding in New Mexico, and college officials hope the group’s presence will help recruit more black students in the state.

Twelve University of New Mexico students recently chartered the state’s first undergraduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. _ the nation’s oldest Greek-letter sorority established by African-American female students.

Alpha Kappa Alpha, founded in 1908 at Howard University in Washington, has had thousands of members over the decades, many who later became doctors, lawyers and key members of the Civil Rights Movement. Famous members include novelist Toni Morrison, actress Phylicia Rashad, and jazz artist Cassandra Wilson.

But establishing an undergraduate chapter at the University of New Mexico _and keeping other chapters of black fraternities and sororities active on campus _ has been a challenge given the small black student population that sometimes get overlooked on a campus known with a strong Hispanic presence, school officials said.

Black students make up around 2 percent of the student body at UNM, university numbers show.

Last month, more than 350 students greeted the new undergraduate Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter during an opening ceremony amid southwestern Pueblo-style abode buildings.

“It’s historic no matter how you look at it,” said William Scott Carreathers, director of the university’s African American Student Services.

The University of New Mexico undergraduate chapter comes four decades after a graduate chapter was established at the school. Shalonda Renee Davis, 30, vice president of the graduate chapter and high school biology teacher, said graduate students had been trying for years to establish an undergraduate group but had a hard time gathering enough students.

That changed when the 12 females, which include a student from Guatemala and another one from Jamaica, organized themselves and made the necessary requirement, Davis said. “Everything just aligned right so it’s very exciting,” Davis said.

Carreathers said the group’s arrive may coincide with the developed social conscience among the campus’ current black students. That heightened conscience comes as Albuquerque faces U.S. Justice Department required reforms into the city’s police department over excessive force, he said

“It’s hard to say why this is happening now,” Carreathers said. “Whatever the reason, they are here and that’s what matters.”