About this time last year, a small task force of faculty joined together to consider the effect of faculty involvement with secret societies.
This past Thursday, English professor Robin Inboden, religion professor Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, political science professor Robert Baker and several others hosted a forum during which they relayed the results of their secret society research to the Wittenberg community.
Oldstone-Moore discussed both positive and negative aspects of the secret societies during her presentation. Positive effects of membership of a secret society include not having to pay dues unlike Greek organizations on campus, an enriching social experience and an expansion of the members’ friend base.
“While we did find several positive characteristics, we also found that there is significantly more drinking in secret societies than in Greek life and we’ve had several reports of bullying to non-members,” Oldstone-Moore said.
The main focus of the study was the effect it would have on a student/staff relationship.
“The membership of a faculty member in a [secret] society creates a certain level of favoritism in the classroom,” Oldstone-Moore said. “Students are more likely to be uncomfortable coming to their professors for help if they know that they (the faculty members) are in a different society than the (the students) are.”
During their research, the task force found that nearly a third of students surveyed felt this sense of favoritism.
The task force’s underlying concern involves the fact that secret societies aren’t registered as official student organizations. Because of this, the task force concluded, secrete societies cannot be held accountable for their actions because they technically don’t exist on campus, despite their immense and ongoing presence.
“Secret societies should not be given status that allows them to participate as a registered group unless they are actually registered,” Oldstone-Moore said.
After the task force presented their findings and concerns, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the student audience. One attendee asked how the task force found Greek organizations to be inclusive, but not secret societies.
“There are rules for how the fraternities choose and initiate them, but the secret societies don’t have those rules because again, they are unregistered,” Oldstone-Moore said.
A turning point in the meeting came when talk turned to the presence of a paper clip, a well-known symbol of the Shifters, a secret society, in the stained glass seal in Hollenbeck Hall.
Task force members argued that because the seal represents the university, a symbol of an organization with no formal ties to the university is improper and represents secret societies’ undue influence.
Students were clearly agitated at the suggestion.
“I don’t see why a group of students … should be disregarded” just because they are part of a secret society, one student said.
The argumentative nature of the conversation between students and staff continued when Oldstone-Moore mentioned faculty wearing secret society flares during graduation.
“It’s not right for professors to wear these pins that represent an exclusive group during a time when the community is gathered to celebrate learning and education,” she said.
Again, this argument was countered by students saying that those faculty members who choose to wear flares to boast about their membership of a secret group but because they’re proud to be a part of that organization, which is a part of the university community.
To conclude the meeting, the task force members emphasized that the formation and goal of the task force wasn’t to end or expose secret societies, but to analyze staff involvement and start a conversation about secret societies and their impact on Wittenberg’s campus and community.