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December 11, 1998 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1998-12-11

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14 The Michigan Dlaily - Irir4ia, flw~mhtpr 11 1 OQR


The members seldom disclose their affiliation and they keep business under wraps,
shrouded in the shadows of the Michigan Union. The history of the Tower Society the
Universit's version of the "secret" societies that inhabit campuses nationwide - is seldom
openly iscussed. Outside scrutiny has challenged the group to make changes. Now, the
society must make a decision that will change years of traditions.


Early origins
Every few years, whispered rumors about the cam-
pus' senior honor societies surface, causing a stir
among members and arousing curiosity from all sec-
tors of the University community about the groups and
their practices.
Each year, up to 50 campus leaders are invited to
participate in the all-female Adara and all-male
The members work together to foster friendships
and serve the University and surrounding community.
In the late 1970s, Michigamua was challenged to
include women in its membership. Women's groups
upset with the exclusion of females from the organiza-
tion used Title IX, a law that enforces gender equity, to
give strength to their argument.
Adara spawned from the issue of female represen-
tation and seemingly put an end to questions .
But only a few years after the Tower Society - the
umbrella organization including Adara and
Michigamua - was formed in 1979, the groups fell
under more scrutiny.
Hushed acknowledgment
It is humbleness and modesty that Vice President
for Student Affairs Maureen Hartford said character-
izes the Tower Society, which aims to bring students
"They are supposed to take modesty as a value and
are not supposed to brag about being in an organiza-
tion," Hartford said.
Michigamua and Adara members chose not to
comment for this article.
Copies of the Michiganensian yearbook docu-
ment the pride of Michigamua and Adara mem-
bers, with smiling faces of members peering out
of the pages in pictures depicting them splashing
each other with paint, leaning on trees outside of
Angell Hall and posed in formal dress.
Michigamua was founded in 1902 with the
help of former University President James
Angell and comprised of 25 male student
leaders. Members included seniors who
demonstrated high levels of leadership in
campus activities.
The Tribe of Michigamua, as it was then
called, had an elite all-male membership and held its
meetings in the top floor ofthe Michigan Union, stress-
ing "friendship among the members and a better under-
standing of their respective activities at the University
of Michigan."
But despite its carefully chosen members, it has
never been officially considered a secret society.
"Michigamua has never been listed as secret," Hartford
Adara, formed officially in January 1980, stresses
that its women serve as strong leaders in the campus
Members of the collective Tower Society are mem-
bers for life, but Hartford said the groups should be
looked upon as honoraries, similar to the University's
Engineering Honor Society Tau Beta Pi.
"If you view them as an honor society, they are by
definition elite, but elite based on some sort of criteri-
on that we regard as legitimate," Hartford said.
Another turning point
Recently, the Tower Society has come to another
pivotal point in its history. The females of Adara and
the males of Michigamua are again facing the trend of
change that confronted them in the early 1980s when
the issue of gender equity was brought to the fore-
Earlier this semester, University administrators
told members of the Tower Society that the organiza-
tion must comply with gender equity regulations by
the start of next school year or lose its long-standing
affiliation with the University.
"At this point I have basically said to both groups
that they must comply with federal law," Hartford
said. "This spring, when they tap new members, they
must be co-educational"
Hartford said she didn't know how the groups
would choose to be co-educational - whether they
would join together or each separately recruit mem-
bers of the opposite sex.
The other option - moving off campus and con-
sequently severing its link to the University -- would
mean moving out of the rooms high in the sixth and
seventh floors in the tower of the Michigan Union.
Open access to this area is allowed only to this small
group of University senior campus leaders each year.
The society would also lose the privileges that
come from being associated with the University.
"We would not recognize them as a University or
Michigan organization," Hartford said. Currently, the

societies are like other student organizations in that
they receive support from the University - office
space, students account services and internal mail. In
addition, they are assured University space every year
without filing for renewal, just like the WCBN radio
station and the Michigan Student Assembly.
Title IX, formally known as an Education
Amendment of 1972 under the Civil Rights Act of
1964, is the same federally-enforced law that makes

Sports Law Institute,
who specializes in Title IX
"The law has to do with anything receiving feder-
al funding," Anderson said. Failure to comply could
result in federal funding cuts and other penalties.
"It has nothing to do with the numbers of people
in the groups," Anderson said, explaining that the
actual percentages of representation and the exclu-
siveness is what matters. "If you have a campus
enrollment of 10,000, you have to match the propor-
tion of men and women in student groups with the
number of men and women on campus," Anderson
Although the Tower Society is the umbrella group
for the all-male Michigamua and the all-female
Adara, the University says it breaks the Title IX doc-
trine because having one male sub-group and one
female sub-group does not create a solution, as many
members once thought it might do.
Changing tradition
In the late 1980s, campus groups protested the use
of Native American traditional symbols in
Michigamua's initiation ceremonies and general prac-
tices. The anger escalated to a filing of a charge by the
Minority Affairs Commission of the Michigan Student
Assembly for violations against a 1973 ruling of the
Civil Rights Commission.
"Michigamua is formed on the idea of being a lost
Indian tribe," said SNRE junior Joe Reilly, a member
of the Native American Student Association. "Initiation
ceremonies have always involved using drums and
pipes which are very sacred to Native American peo-
In April 1989, some campus groups reported see-
ing members imitating Native American behavior.
Since that time, the society has eliminated a totem pole
associated with the organization.
"On the surface and in interactions with the rest
of the University, things have changed," Reilly said.
"But in reality, their whole existence really hasn't
But the struggle, largely behind closed doors, con-
tinues. NASA members have presented their concerns
to Hartford and University President Lee Bollinger
during the past few years. Reilly said it is not only the
negative reflection on Native American culture -
members of NASA have been asked to join
Michigamua but have refused - but also the overall
elitism that is questionable.
"Basically, they have no right at this public
University," Reilly said. "They get exclusive rights ...
which we feel is offensive, racist."
Reilly cited the secretive aura that surrounds the old
chants and customs stemming from the organization's
formation in 1902.

Imagine a uni-
versity whose lone
secret society is so
secretive its mem-
bers wear a disguise
in the school's year-
book - and stand
perched high on a hill
while the photograph-
er shoots from the val-
ley below. "It was just
eerie; they wore white
hoods," said University
of Kansas graduate stu-
dent Partha Mazumdar,
who has researched the
destruction of his school's
secret society, Pachacamac.
The group, formed in the
early 1900s as an all-male
and all-white elitist organiza-
cOrO tion, remained that way
through the civil rights battles of the 1960s - only to
be shut down completely in 1992.
"I think of the (Ku Klux) Klan when I see their pic-
ture" Mazumdar said, adding that the group went
"above and beyond" the stereotype of fraternity mem-
bers that characterized its formation.
"It was the big shooters from the big houses ... and
people would find out who the seniors were at gradu-
ation," Mazumdar said.
Forty years later, one member joined with the sole
purpose of destroying the "elitist" group and succeed-
ed by gaining power in the student government while
being a member of the organization and exposing
some of its secrets to the students and administrators.
But Mazumdar said elitist organizations may still
"Are there other secret societies? Maybe,"
Mazumdar said. "They're secret, so I
don't know. But I doubt there are any
with any power."
As University of Virginia
administrators gathered for
an on-campus recruiting"
meeting several years ago
four men in hoods and
robes joined them at
their table.
Their solemn pres-
ence spawned letters
from individuals
angry about their
cloaked and secretive
appearance at what
should have been an
optimistic recruiting
opportunity for Virginia.
The robed individuals
were members of the
Society of Purple Shadows,
one of the elite and shrouded
organizations at the university.
"We got some pretty scathing let-
ters about them," said University o
Virginia Dean of Students Bob Canevari,
recalling the incident that highlights his memories o
interaction with one of the school's seven secret soci-
But despite the negative feelings toward the
presence of the society's members, the secret soci-
eties at Virginia - six of which do not wish to be
named - continue to be groups of notable campus

The words secret society bring voices to a whisper
at Virginia -as they do at other universities. Canevari
said it is the organizations themselves, not the mem-
bers they seek, that stimulate the doubts and questions
about these university-independent groups.
"Their mere existence merits questioning,"
Canevari said. "Given the issues on college campuses,
the last thing you need is secret organizations under
the cloak of anonymity."
At Virginia, old yearbooks reveal lists of the names
of involved students. Now, involvement is kept under-
cover until death announcements are released, at
which time the university administration acknowl-
edges who the members were and when their mem-
bership expired.
"Based on the obituaries I have seen, these people
are definitely student leaders with a strong interest in
campus leadership and honor," said Wayne Cozart, the
associate director of the Virginia alumni association.
"Usually there is honor wrapped up in it; they are
interested in maintaining a concept of honor."
Cozart has spent time tracking various secret soci-
eties across the nation, and labeled his school's soci-
eties "extremely" secretive when compared to others
he has witnessed nationwide.
Although he has invested personal time in the sub-
ject, he has not been able to compile a complete list of
members. "I've been around long enough to say who
might be a member, but I still can't say for certain,"
Cozart said.
Hartford called places like Virginia "way more
secretive" than the University's Tower Society.
A way out
At Penn State University, a past member of the
prestigious Parmi Nous society explained how the
membership of his group avoided Title IX complica-
tions currently facing similar groups at other col-
"I've never thought about operating a society of just
men or just women," said former Parmi Nous President
Scott Nycum, adding that PSU's several societies are
all co-educational. "I never thought about it as bringing
genders together. The bigger focus is bringing people
together who would not normally meet."
Like the Tower Society, Parmi Nous unites
leaders from all parts of campus life. Formed in
1904, when it was originally all-male, the group
became co-ed in the mid 1970s, when civil rights
causes were reaching their peak. "There was a
need at that time to recognize women in leader-
ship; there was no mandate handed down," Nycum
He called the society, which exists on campus with
the Lion's Paw and Skull and Bones - also a society
at Yale University - subtly secret.
"It is up to each individual whether they want to
explain their membership," Nycum said. "You can
make it whatever you want'
Societies like the Iron Cross at the University of
Wisconsin promote an exclusive co-ed learning
atmosphere that current member Samir Murty said
combats many "secret society" stereotypes.
"We meet in a very public place," Murty said. "We
take on a student issue and try to address it the best
way we can,"
Despite the concerns of minorities and the
gender equity issues facing
Michigamua and Adara mem-
bers today, Hartford said,
there should not be a
problem with their
existence on a
diverse campus.
"These were
founded as
senior hono-
rares," Hartford
said. The term
elitism' does-
't apply."
But others
ay continue
o display feel-
ngs from the

"We're will-
img to do whatev-
er it takes to get
them out of here,"
eilly said. "If that
involves legal mea-
sures a
resources to do that, I
wouldn't count that out."
P4 ~Amidst the mixed feelings,
boxes of old Michigamua and Adara
documents sit at the Bentley Library, slowly col-
lecting dust.
"Foundations of this tribe shall be to foster a loy-
alty for our Alma Mater," an old pact of Michigamua
reads. Together, its promises fit with those of Adara,
handed to new members each year.




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