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Secret Societies Of America's Elite: From The K...

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Secret Societies Of America's Elite: From The K...

There are many collegiate secret societies in North America. They vary greatly in their level of secrecy and the degree of independence from their universities. A collegiate secret society makes a significant effort to keep affairs, membership rolls, signs of recognition, initiation, or other aspects secret from the public.

Some collegiate secret societies are referred to as "class societies", which restrict membership to one class year. Most class societies are restricted to the senior class and are therefore also called senior societies on many campuses.

There is no strict rule on the categorization of secret societies. Secret societies can have ceremonial initiations, secret signs of recognition (gestures, handshakes, passwords), formal secrets, (the 'true' name of the society, a motto, or society history); but, college fraternities or "social fraternities" have the same, and some of these elements can also be a part of literary societies, singing groups, editorial boards, and honorary and pre-professional groups. Some secret societies have kept their membership secret, for example Seven Society and Gridiron, and some have not, like Skull and Bones (the Yale societies had published their membership lists in the yearbooks and the Yale Daily News).

One key concept in distinguishing secret societies from fraternities is that, on campuses that have both kinds of organizations, one can be a member of both (that is, membership is not mutually exclusive). Usually, being a member of more than one fraternity is not considered appropriate, because that member would have divided loyalties; however, typically, there is no issue with being a member of a secret society and a fraternity, because they are not considered similar organizations or competing organizations.[1]

Many secret societies exist as honoraries on one campus and may have been actual meeting societies at one time, kept alive by one or two dedicated local alumni or an alumni affairs or Dean's office person, who see to it that an annual initiation is held every year. Some of these state that they are honoraries; others seek to perpetuate the image of a continuing active society where there is none.

While there are some guideline criteria for the neutral observer to understand what sort of society any given organization is, much of the analysis reverts to what any one society has been traditionally understood to be. There are additional means, such as societies that were more or less explicitly established in emulation of some previous secret society, or using historical records to show that society X was created out of society Y.

There are several common traits among these societies. For example, many societies have two-part names, such as Skull and Bones or Scroll and Key. Many societies also limit their membership to a specific numerical limit in a class year. Extensive mortuary imagery is associated with many secret societies, maintaining a pretense of great seriousness, and clubhouses are often called "tombs".

The archetypical selection process for entry into a collegiate secret society began at Yale University by a process called tapping.[1] On a publicly announced evening, Yale undergraduates would assemble informally in the College Yard. Current members of Yale's secret societies would walk through the crowd and literally tap a prospective member on the shoulder and then walk with him up to the tapped man's dorm room. There, in private, they would ask him to become a member of their secret society; the inductee had the choice of accepting or rejecting the offer of membership. During this process, it was publicly known who was being tapped for the coming year. Today, the selection process is not quite as formal but is in some ways still public.[2] Now, many societies slip seal-stamped letters under the doors of expecting Juniors, and send cryptic emails to students' inboxes, inviting them to rush parties.[3] F


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