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March 17, 1988 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-03-17

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For the chosen few, 'a place to go and feel
superior': Two of Yale's imposing tombs
around the New Haven campus, including
Book and Snake's Parthenon look-alike
and Skull and Bones's monolithic mausole-
um. Some of their occultish initiation rites
sound as if they had come straight out of
the Eleusinian mysteries. Jeff, a member
of Yale's Berzelius society, recalls being
greeted at the tomb's door on initiation
night by a pair of black-hooded members.
"One was rattling a chain. The other was
holding an enormous leather book about
two feet long," Jeff says. "They read me
some ornate prose and asked me to accept
membership." The rites are supposed to be
hush-hush, yet rumors abound that some
initiates must wrestle in mud, stretch out
in a coffin waiting to be "reborn" or discuss
their sexual experiences in graphic detail.
The rite stuff: Many clubs guard them-
selves with a consuming paranoia, fearing
their precious rites may be compromised if
revealed to lesser mortals. All references to
Yale's 156-year-old Skull and Bones, which
considers itself the ultimate secret society,
are torn out of the card catalogs at the
college library, and magazine articles
about the group have been ripped from
bound volumes. Those nosing around the
Skull and Bones tomb may be followed or
even threatened.
In contrast to such secrecy, prominent
clubs at Virginia, such as the Seven, Z and
IMP societies, flaunt their logos every-
where, from staircases to the football sta-
dium. In a final indignity, the Sevens used
a statue of UVa founder Thomas Jefferson
as a message drop, tucking a note at the
base when they wanted to communicate
with the administration. Members of the
philanthropic Sevens are revealed only
when word of their death is sent to the

the group. But activism isn't always so self-
centered. The Texas Friars hold an annual
civil-rights symposium and helped get a
site on campus renamed for Heman
Sweatt, the first black student admitted to
the Texas School of Law.
Troubled times: There are signs of growing
problems for secret societies. UVa recent-
ly inspected society accounts and now re-
quires positive balances after a former
student was convicted of taking the uni-
versity for $61,000 by posing as a repre-
sentative of a mythical Council of the
Stone Table. (The authentic groups have
passed muster.) And in February the
Stewards of Georgetc*n disbanded itself
after complaints that the group controlled
leadership positions and excluded blacks
and women.
Two clubs at Berkeley with contrasting
styles are facing harder times.
The Order of the Golden Bear
was once a powerful group
of students who met with top
university administrators to
voice student concerns. After
the school's student govern-
ment turned activist in the
'60s, however, OGB's prestige
waned. Now meetings in the
little log cabin built in 1906 be-
hind the faculty club take
place "between many unin-
formed students and middle- to
low-level bureaucrats," says
senior Chris Krueger, a mem-
ber of OGB. "I don't think the
order gets much done in influ-
encing university policy."
Berkeley's Skull and Keys,
on the other hand, is a social
club-or antisocial, in the eyes
of some. Kicked off campus in 1967 after
some particularly raucous events, it con-
tinues to occupy a nearby house. In 1986
Skull and Keys drew much unwanted at-
tention after hazing incidents in which
pledges were allegedly forced to vomit and
urinate on each other. Last year campus
police surrounded the clubhouse to prevent
any public goings-on. Despite their dam-
aged reputation, Skull and Keys members
seem unrepentant. "We want guys that are
responsible drinkers and can drink with
the next guy and not make a fool of him-
self," says Chris Kinney, who presides as
"uncle" of the group, adding, "People think
it's really neat that you are in it because
they think there is so much secrecy ...
They look at you a little differently." As
long as children build tree houses with
"Keep Out" signs and adults give special
handshakes, secret societies will doubtless
endure in some form.
JULIE HELLER in New Haven,
WAYNE RUTMAN in Charlottesville,
in Berkeley and bureau reports

university, along with a request to toll sev-
en bells of the chapel carillon seven times.
Subtlety is not the Sevens' strong suit: they
helped purchase the carillon in 1957 with a
$9,777.77 donation and dedicated it with a
performance of Chopin's Prelude No. 7. Re-
cently, the group left a $1,777.77 donation
buried seven inches below the turf of Scott
Stadium-at the seven-yard line, of course.
Of perhaps more consequence is the vise-
like grip that some organizations exert on
campus affairs. At the University of Ala-
bama, the group called the Machine func-
tions as exactly that: a political coalition of
Greeks which critics contend uses strong-
arm tactics to influence voters. About 25
fraternities and sororities pay a reported
$300 per semester for membership and en-
courage bloc voting. Endorsement carries
financial support and a base of at least
2,000 votes. Only six non-Machine candi-
dates for student-body president have ever
been elected, although independents out-
number Machine members by 5 to 1. "A lot
of [Machine support] isn't based on creden-
tials," admits one officeholder backed by


APRIL 1988

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