Hannah Christine Patterson was elected president of Sigma Delta Tau Wednesday, Nov. 6, making her the first black president of a Panhellenic sorority in the history of The University of Alabama. Patterson, originally from Pittsburgh, Penn., said she came to the University to have an adventure.
“I wanted the college experience of something different,” Patterson said. “Something adventurous, not like my hometown.”
But even before Patterson came to the University, she had already been on a number of adventures.
When she was young, she became involved in competitive horseback riding. The experience taught her to stay organized and focused, but Patterson also learned not to let her skin color affect her performance.
“I did competitive horseback riding since I was 7,” she said. “That prepared me because you have to stay organized and on top of things. In the riding community, there wasn’t a lot of diversity. I didn’t stick out, but, in other words, I did stick out when I went to riding competitions. I just wanted to be proud of who I am and where I came from.”
When Patterson came to the University in fall 2012 as a transfer from the University of Dayton, she participated in formal recruitment but found Sigma Delta Tau to be the better fit for her. Sigma Delta Tau has not participated in formal recruitment in the past, although it participated in the first two days last year. Patterson said the informal recruitment process lets Sigma Delta Tau get to know potential members better.
“It’s more laid back,” Patterson said. “You get to have a longer conversation than you would in regular recruitment with the girls. It’s about an hour long in the house. It’s a more one-on-one basis.”
In a new town, where Patterson had only a few friends, the sorority helped make her feel welcomed.
“Throughout that week, everyone was so caring and genuine,” Patterson said. “It was also my 21st birthday, and I didn’t have any friends here, so on the night of one of the informal events I walked in to Mellow Mushroom, and they had a sign up on the wall saying ‘Happy 21st Birthday,’ and everyone came up and said happy birthday to me.”
Regina Broda, a senior majoring in political science and American studies, was president of Sigma Delta Tau before Patterson. Broda said she recognized Patterson’s potential immediately.
“From the moment I met her, before we even gave her a bid, I knew that she had the potential to do wonderful things for our chapter,” Broda said.
Sigma Delta Tau accepted its first black member in spring 2011 as Courtney White was initiated into the sorority. To date, Sigma Delta Tau has initiated three black sisters, with one additional recruit who transferred before being officially initiated.
Although Sigma Delta Tau is a historically Jewish sorority, the organization accepts people of all colors and creeds.
“We’re welcoming of any girl that wants to join our chapter and best fits our chapter,” Broda said. “We were founded by seven Jewish women because they, in 1917, couldn’t find a home. They were discriminated against. They weren’t allowed into sororities. Sigma Delta Tau nationally does not discriminate because it goes completely against our founding principles.”
After a year as a member of the sorority, Patterson decided to run for president of Sigma Delta Tau. Members interested in running for an elected position must submit a letter of intent to a slate board composed of three representatives from the national organization.
Once everyone who intends to run has submitted their letters, the slate board creates a list of candidates whom they feel would be the best choices for the chapter, and then the chapter votes on the nominees.
Members of Sigma Delta Tau agreed that choosing Patterson as president was based more on her qualifications than a desire to make history.
“It had nothing to do with what statement it could make,” Broda said. “Over the past year and a half, as I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve seen the leadership skills that she has. She served as our Panhellenic delegate, so she was on [executive] board with me, and she was a person that I leaned on constantly. I know that a lot of members of our chapter saw that she had those leadership abilities, and that’s why the chapter elected her. She has the abilities to take our chapter to the place that it needs to be and to continue moving us forwards.”
Patterson said being a “first” never crossed her mind.
“I’m very honored,” Patterson said. “This first week as being president has been a lot of work so far. But I guess I never saw color or race or ethnicity. It’s never been in the front of my mind. I tried to never let it hinder anything I did or judge people on that. I guess I never really thought about, ‘Oh, I’m the first African-American that has been president.’ I’m just excited for my term and to see where my chapter has gone and where it is going to go.”
Members of Sigma Delta Tau said they were glad to be a part of the change coming to the University’s sororities but said their primary motivation was doing what was best for their sorority.
“We were doing this for the betterment of our chapter. And it’s just awesome that it is such a big deal,” said Erinn Forbes, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies and the standards and risk management chair of Sigma Delta Tau. “We know that Hannah is going to be the best for the future of our chapter at this time. That has nothing to do with her ethnicity, but it is definitely a really cool thing. I think our chapter is happy to be a part of the change that’s going to be happening here.”