Yale is brimming with murmured secrets. According to tour guides and campus lore, the CIA once crept onto Old Campus in the middle of the night to take the exact measurements of the Nathan Hale statue. Some students swear Skull and Bones houses the stolen skulls of Geronimo, Pancho Villa and former President Martin van Buren. One club, the Yale Society for the Exploration of Campus Secrets, is trying to find out about the college’s little-known truths.
At 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, a widely publicized “secret” meeting occurred. Around 150 people squeezed into a room in Street Hall to learn about the Yale Society for the Exploration of Campus Secrets. YSECS is a semi-secret society that explores the Yale Campus looking for unknown pieces of Yale history, architecture and lore.
The meeting was led by five sophomores, who refused to give their names or any of the real details concerning YSECS, including the number of people involved, what secrets they had uncovered, or the details of their exploratory missions.
When asked the age of the group, one member responded, “More than one year old, but less than 1,000.” One freshman who attended the meeting said a member at the booth the group set up for the freshman bazaar said the organization started last year.
Another member was willing to discuss the group’s mission.
“We are a confederation of explorers,” she said. “We try to find hidden rooms and other interesting things.”
YSECS is run by the Chief Exploration Officer, or CEO, and the Chief Information Officer, or CIO. Throughout the week, fact-finding missions are conducted both as a group and individually, leaders said. During meetings, members discuss discoveries and new leads.
The organization considers itself a semi-secret society because any Yale undergraduate can apply to join, but only those most dedicated to the YSECS mission are ultimately tapped. Once a student is tapped, members said, he or she is entrusted with all the secrets that have been uncovered so far and will be included in all future discoveries. For this reason, the process is selective, a YSECS member said.
“All the information we collect is kept within the group because if it weren’t, then it would no longer be a secret and thus ceases to be interesting,” a female member said.
To be tapped into YSECS, an individual must explore the campus and then meet with members to discuss what was found. Members of YSECS said they would be surprised if more than 50 people were dedicated enough to continue through with the process.
While the group shrouds itself in mystery, it does not take itself completely seriously.
“Just say [the acronym of] our name out loud. Clearly there is a joking aspect,” one member said.
The organization is Dean’s-Office Approved and receives Yale funding.
YSECS members must abide by strict rules, members said. The group has stringent guidelines against trespassing, and often times, members said, it works with Yale security to get private tours, and is encouraged to confine explorations to campus so that they are under the auspices of Yale Police and not New Haven authorities.
“We don’t go into the steam tunnels,” one member said. “We don’t break into the art gallery, and we are never allowed to steal books.”
Members in the past have been kicked out for breaking the rules and breaking the bond of secrecy, another member said.
The YSECS members at the informational meeting said they were excited by the large turnout, but not surprised. They said that this year yielded the highest interest ever, but that is because they put forth their greatest publicity effort. The group put up posters and set up a booth at the freshman bazaar.
Some of the students present were more drawn into the YSECS mystique than others. Mike Hergenhan ’07 said the thought of discovering secrets was alluring.
“I like the opportunity for a good photo, a good view, or both,” he said.
But Jonny Dach ’08 said he is unsure whether he is interested in becoming a YSECS member.
“It seems like a — kill-you-if-you-quit kind of thing, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to sign myself up yet,” Dach said.
Some students have already gone on discovery missions since the informational meeting, such as Rachel Mathis ’08 who explored Jonathan Edwards College and Battel Chapel. She said Yale is the perfect place for a club like YSECS.
“Yale looks like one of those places that would have hidden rooms, secret stairwells and moving bookcases,” she said. “I really want to join. I hope they tap me.”