The mysterious e-mails started arriving in the inbox of Linnea Duvall ’05 about a month ago. Soon after, she began interviewing for an unsolicited position with an unnamed organization. And if all goes as planned, on April 15 Duvall will be summoned into the night by a group of cloaked and masked figures.
In such circumstances, anyone else might already have called the police or at least bought a can of mace. But not at Yale, where anonymous messages and cloaks tend to signal one thing: secret-society tap season.
For juniors, late March and early April can mean the elucidation of all the stories they have heard since freshman year — or disappointment when the mysterious world of Skull and Bones calls for a roommate, but not for you.
Although most Yalies play it cool when it comes to secret societies, around April their presence on campus becomes hard to ignore, especially for juniors. Dinnertime conversations not infrequently turn to snakes, scrolls, skulls, saints and various other Gothic paraphernalia. There is a buzz in the air, to the annoyance of some and to the amusement of others.
“I had a few friends that took every opportunity to talk about it, that felt that the Yale experience wouldn’t be the same without it,” current society member Douglas Hausladen ’04 said, recalling the spring of his junior year.
Although there is no definite formula that determines which juniors get tapped, involvement in extracurriculars, social connections and legacy all appear to be strong factors in the decision process.
Duvall said most of her friends have been contacted by one or two societies, and she does not think the process is at all competitive.
“I haven’t even fully decided whether or not I am going to do it,” she said.
But the majority of the junior class will not be tapped, a fact which can cause some tension and nervousness.
“Some of my friends definitely want to be in them and haven’t had any contact at all and are feeling a little distraught,” Bryan Galipeau ’05 said.
As the weeks pass and the e-mail in box remains untouched, the quiet anxiety mounts. Most students do not like to admit their frustration. On tap night, when cloaked figures bang on the doors of suites and strange antics can be seen all over campus, the division between the tapped and the untapped is the strongest.
Brittany Craiglow ’04, a current society member, said those feelings “definitely” die down by the end of junior year but are undoubtedly present at first.
“I think, unfortunately, it causes a little bit of tension among people that are tapped and people that aren’t,” she said. “I kind of wish everyone got to do it.”
Of course, not all Yale students dream of spending their Thursday and Sunday nights in a tomb.
Among some students, secret societies seem like an elitist relic from a bygone era, and therefore evoke ambivalent feelings.
Josh Bendor ’05 said he thinks secret societies are “ridiculous” but appealing nonetheless.
“Anything that’s selective is therefore exciting if you’re chosen,” he said. “But at the same time we all like to think of ourselves as not elitist. I wouldn’t call it hypocritical; it’s just two sides of human desire.”
Other juniors are glad to escape the hazing and said they have too much on their plates to devote two nights a week to a new activity.
Kristin Anderson ’05 said she will be relieved if tap night comes and goes without knocking at her door.
“The other day I saw three people duct-taped together and covered in chocolate sauce,” she said. “It made me glad I wasn’t them. I also always have class Friday mornings, so the idea of having something Thursday night never appealed to me.”
Whether a student is tapped or not, current seniors say that by the next year, society loses some of its mystique.
Craiglow said most students who are upset about not being tapped soon recover, and from the inside, the societies become more like social clubs than any Joshua Jackson action movie. Society is “glorified,” she said.
“People even talk about what society they are in,” said a senior in Silliman College who is not a society member and declined to give her name. “Some people have even expressed disinterest in their society as the year wore on. It’s become a sort of social burden.”
Hausladen said he does not think senior-year happiness hinges on being in a society. Many people want to be in societies for the wrong reasons, he said.
“I don’t think societies are meant for everyone,” Hausladen said.