Senior society displaced from SSS

The Aurelian Honor Society has historically been based in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall’s room 405.
The Aurelian Honor Society has historically been based in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall’s room 405. Photo by Phillipp Arndt.

On the night of April 12, the Aurelian Honor Society — like many other senior societies — initiated its incoming class with traditional Tap Night antics and activities. But soon after, Aurelian was cited by University administrators for serving alcohol to its underage members, and it has since been banned by the Executive Committee from holding regular meetings in its traditional location inside Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.

News of Aurelian’s displacement from SSS spread last week after society president Tim Hillas ’13 sent a Sept. 17 email to Aurelian alumni explaining the situation and soliciting advice and donations. He wrote that the society could not hold its senior graduation reception in SSS 405 during the spring, has not had regular access to its room this semester, and must wait until December to petition ExComm for renewed access.

“We are homeless for the first time since 1932 and it’s our collective belief that we now face forces, increasingly irreconcilable, that pull at the very fabric of our history and threaten its future,” Hillas said in his email. “It has never been more important that we come together now.”

John Meeske, associate dean for student organizations and physical resources, said the University is not typically involved with senior societies, many of which have their own facilities off campus and distinct traditions. While Meeske said he did not know what terms were established when the SSS room was originally assigned to Aurelian, he said societies are still required to comply with undergraduate regulations — even if the administration’s jurisdiction over the group is not always clear.

“It’s not that it’s written down anywhere [that] we have the right to do this and they have the right to do that,” Meeske said. “It’s a tradition that we’ve inherited, but we don’t even know what the story is.”

The decision to cite and penalize Aurelian for facilitating underage drinking comes alongside several other recent University efforts to curb underage drinking among students. Last March, administrators banned freshmen from rushing Greek organizations in the fall, and they have required registration for off-campus parties with more than 50 people since this semester began. In early September, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry sent a lengthy email to Yale College students explaining the new regulations, reinforcing Connecticut’s and Yale’s policies on alcohol, and cautioning students against the harmful effects of excessive drinking.

Two recent Aurelian alumni, Adam Goodrum ’10 and Karan Arakotaram ’10, said they believe the University has not altered its attitude toward underage drinking since they graduated, but has begun enforcing regulations more strictly.

“I do think that if you simply look at the policies the University has enacted over the past few years, [administrators] are taking a more active role to ensure they’re doing everything they can about underage drinking,” Goodrum said.

Members of Aurelian’s class of 2010 never faced disciplinary action from Yale administrators with regard to underage drinking, Goodrum said, and they acted in “complete compliance” with University policy and state law. Goodrum added that the ban has the potential to be “very detrimental” to the society’s long-term morale, and Arakotaram said the society’s room in SSS shaped much of his Yale and senior year experience.

Since the society can no longer meet routinely in SSS, the group has held events at its members’ off-campus housing and in other campus venues. It can still use the SSS space to host speakers and hold special events, current society member Elsie Sowah ’13 said.

Hillas said in his email that Aurelian is also short on funding for this semester and cannot afford to rent a temporary meeting space. The group has already raised member dues in order to continue financing dinner meetings, discussions and activities.

Another senior society — Torch — was banned from its space in SSS in 2005 for damaging University property. Current Torch President Traci Tillman ’13 said the group has settled into a new location and has no immediate plans to move back into SSS.

Aurelian was established in 1910 and is the fifth-oldest landed society at Yale.

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