Tap secrets of Yale societies

Yale has come a long way since its first secret society, Skull and Bones, was founded in 1832. Back then, what would come to be known as “tap night” — a phrase that can invoke feelings of anticipation, angst, even fear in the hearts of some Yalies — was considerably less conspicuous on the Yale campus. A prospective junior was approached by a member of the society holding a human skull and bone, and simply asked: “Do you accept?” This seems a far cry from the various, often ridiculous, public actions that some societies require of their tapped juniors today at Yale.

We’ve become almost desensitized to nominated pre-taps belting out “Hit me, baby, one more time!” or unabashedly wearing signs with self-deprecating remarks scrawled on them. And by now, hasn’t just about everyone seen someone they know running naked across Old Campus, or in Sterling Memorial Library, or on the Woman’s Table– or at Yorkside? Last night, seniors dressed in dark cloaks and white masks traipsed around campus collecting a fresh group of juniors to take some of the most coveted spots in Yale’s secret societies. Some read aloud from random books at the Women’s Table or in the Commons Rotunda. Others were made to dance and sing on the corner of Broadway and York Street.

It’s that time of year again, and tap-night fever is in the air. It’s a time when, more often than not, Yalies focus their dining hall conversations on the “ancient,” rather than the “elite” eight. The “ancient eight consortium” refers to those eight societies — Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, Wolf’s Head, Book and Snake, Elihu, Berzelius, Mace and Chain, St. Elmo’s– that were first founded at Yale, and that have a consistent understanding about tap night policies. This year is no different than any other, with the induction process being received by the Yale community with mixed emotions.

“I couldn’t care less about being in a secret society — I don’t need people to pick my friends for me,” declared one junior, who declined to give her name.

“The people who have negative feelings about the process and the institutions themselves probably have a very distorted conception of what actually goes on,” said one Griffin society member, who wished to remain anonymous. “Every society is different, so you can’t just watch ‘The Skulls’ and think you know everything.”

Besides Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key, which formed in opposition to Skull and Bones in 1841, there are now over a dozen secret societies at Yale, some with names that you probably have never heard of. Wednesday at 8 p.m. was the official beginning of the tap season, when the ancient eight societies decided to begin handing out “bids” to juniors. These bids are indications of the society’s intent to tap, but a member of the junior class does not have to accept the tap until official tap night, Thursday April 18, 2002.

Each of these institutions will induct somewhere between 14 and 17 new members this year, and each society has a slightly different method of selection. One of the most popular ways to assess a prospective junior’s character is through an interview.

“We interview between 40 and 80 people for the 16 spots we have available,” one society member said.

These interviews are either scheduled, or perhaps inflicted upon an unsuspecting junior without him or her even knowing it. Some of the more prominent societies, like Scroll and Key, are rumored never to hold interviews at all, simply narrowing down their selection through a complex ranking system of the entire junior class.

Today, more than ever, Yale’s secret societies are moving away from the “direct tap” method, which contributes to the generalization that society taps are heavily influenced by social politics and networking.

“We are really making an effort to be more diverse,” said one ancient eight society member beginning to embark on the tapping process. “Society is about meeting people who you probably wouldn’t otherwise at Yale — and that’s what makes it so cool.”

This year, juniors around Yale’s campus are excited, and perhaps a bit confused when it comes to tap-night rituals.

“I’ve gotten some really cryptic messages slipped under my door, and some really short phone messages from blue phones. At first it sort of freaked me out, but now I think it’s kind of cool,” one tap-worthy junior said. “However, when I went down to meet the group, I was a little disappointed when I realized that I had never heard of them.”

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