As the warm weather makes its long-awaited return to New Haven, students wandering around late at night will observe the arrival of another familiar sight: juniors, often disguised or totally naked, participating in bizarre and mysterious senior society tap rituals.
But during this undeniably unnerving time, a handful of juniors will be sleeping soundly in their beds, without fear of interruption, society rejection or long black cloaks. These juniors are already members of Yale’s only three-year society: St. Anthony Hall.
While St. Anthony’s started at Columbia University as a fraternity and intellectual society, its development on College Street has been colored by some distinctly Yale traditions. Though not entirely secret, the society intentionally preserves an aura of mystery that Yalies often confront with skepticism. It remains open to debate whether St. Anthony’s has evolved from a national boys club into yet another bastion of “God, Country, Yale” elitism, or if it offers a unique intellectual and social opportunity.
The Hall, located at 483 College St. and adjacent to Silliman College, was founded as the Fraternity of Delta Psi on Jan. 17, 1847. According to the national chapter’s Web site, “It began as a true fraternity dedicated to the love of education and the well being of its members. … We remain to this day a group of college students interested in the bonds of fraternity and sharing a common passion for the love of learning and the appreciation of a well-rounded education.” At Columbia, where the society’s founding chapter remains extant, St. Anthony Hall often connotes blue-blooded aristocracy and professionally-catered tailgates.
“Every year, at Homecoming,” current Columbia junior Jessica Glavin said, “they square off a portion of the tailgating area and — outfitted in blazers and monogrammed oxfords — sip champagne and nibble on aged cheeses served to them by uniformed caterers. While most Columbia students spend their time shotgunning beers and fielding hot dog mustard bombs from detonating all over their Columbia T-shirts, Mr. and Mrs. St. A. spend their time trying to navigate the muddy field in their Tod’s loafers.”
Needless to say, to the average Columbia student, St. A’s members seem, per Glavin, “ostentatious, ridiculous and pretentious.” But St. A’s elitist persona at Columbia — according to Glavin, rumors circulate about “initiation rituals where members are required to buy extravagant items and then throw them away to prove that they have the money” — doesn’t seem to jive with the Yale chapter’s image.
Perhaps it is best, then, that the Yale chapter has generally cut ties with its national organization.
The Yale chapter was established in 1868 as one of several “Sheff clubs” established by members of the Sheffield Scientific School who were excluded from other societies when Yale College was split into two parts. St. Anthony’s started as a “final club” — one’s final social destination, after being tapped as a sophomore or junior — and an intellectual society, hoping to attract the best and brightest of the student body. Through its development alongside other Yale societies, St. Anthony’s became secret, although only in part.
“Other chapters have a range of degrees of secrecy,” current president Eli Luberoff ’08 said. “Our structure and image is no doubt influenced by the senior society culture here, though we’ve purposefully avoided emulating them in many particulars.”
While the society maintained its affiliation for more than a century, they broke with the national fraternity in 1970 after accepting women. St. Anthony’s was the first Yale society to tap women, a decision its members describe as representative of St. A’s progressive nature.
“It’s always been a forward-thinking society, and we were missing out by cutting off half of the population,” Luberoff said.
The same year, St. Anthony’s invested a large portion of its endowment to fund a scholarship for women at Yale. Interestingly, the national organization proudly touts such progressivism — the Web site proclaims, “St. Anthony Hall became one of the first fraternal organizations to accept women, beginning at Yale in the late 1960’s” — but does not list Yale among its undergraduate chapters.
In the 19th century, St. Anthony’s was one of several three-year societies at Yale. But as trends have moved toward senior societies, it is the last of the societies to continue tapping sophomores.
“We have identical origins to most of the senior societies that are around now but didn’t take the path of becoming a one-year senior society and stuck with the three-year model,” former St. A’s President Philip Levin ’06 said. “I think that if you asked someone in the organization, they would say it’s their secret society.”
Current members find that the three-year model carries many advantages.
“A three-year society allows for continuity of tradition because people learn from more senior members over a long period of time about the society itself,” St. Anthony’s alum Justin Zaremby ’03 GRD ’09 said. “And the ability to get to know people over the course of three years is also extremely valuable.”
Among the many societies at Yale, St. A’s distinguishes itself as the only one to tap sophomores. While St. A’s might risk losing potential members who hope to join other societies, member Kaitlyn Trigger ’06 said “that happens pretty rarely.”
According to one senior in another Yale society, senior societies refuse to admit underclassmen in St. Anthony’s.
“My society doesn’t tap anyone who’s an active member of St. A’s because we respect the contract they sign to stay with it for the next three years,” she said. “There are things you’re supposed to do as a senior, and if everybody bails then that’s a detriment to their society.”
Although it is perhaps best known as the only remaining three-year society, St. Anthony’s also breaks the Yale society mold by being the only group to host events open to the public. It is one of the only societies with a public side, including a lecture series in which notable people — often, but not exclusively, St. Anthony’s alums — speak on a variety of topics, including recent talks on biotechnology and history, and a poetry reading. Although the lecture series is not heavily publicized, it is open to nonmembers and is held in the hall’s spacious meeting room (furnished with standard-issue Yale decor: mounted animal heads and waxy leather chairs).
“St. A’s offers a relaxed approach to the intellectual rigor,” current member Sam Kahn ’08 said. “But at the same time it does what the residential colleges are supposed to do, but don’t succeed in doing for a lot of people. It helps to fuel people’s intellectual growth, and the lectures make for a much more interactive, open environment with distinguished speakers than you’d get in a normal class.”
The hall also hosts a weekly Tuesday morning breakfast (with notoriously delicious pancakes) to which members can bring guests, it held a Tangled Up In Blue concert earlier this year, and it will field a Relay for Life team this spring. But the Hall’s most prestigious public event is an annual black tie dance with a name — Pump and Slipper — curiously evocative of the titles of Yale’s secret societies. This year’s Pump and Slipper will commemorate the dance’s 95th Anniversary.
“It’s really a wonderfully classy event,” Trigger said. “It’s a chance for Yalies to play up on the legacy of the 1920s. We have a band that has been playing for 30 years, that plays really great old music, and it’s a really classy affair.”
Despite the society’s more open events, members are tight-lipped about many of the society’s activities. While it is not strictly secret nor entirely public, Luberoff said finding a definitive description for St. Anthony’s is not difficult.
“Our secret aspects are truly secret, and our non-secret aspects are
truly non-secret,” he said. “It’s rarely been a problem for us.”
For example, the contents of the society’s weekly Thursday meetings aren’t revealed. Such meetings, according to Luberoff, are “dictated by tradition and what the members want.” Trigger added that the meetings were “longer than most of the other societies’.”
St. A’s tap process is also shrouded in mystery. In the fall, the society taps sophomores who, like regular visitors, are shown only the public spaces in the hall. Although there is no mold for the ideal St. Anthony’s candidate, Luberoff said members are “supposed to want to have a good time, get to know people and add to the place.”
When selecting the next batch of St. A’s members, Trigger said, “We look at everybody, and look for the people that stand out in some way. Just like Yale admissions, there’s no one way to get into Yale and there’s no one way to get into St. A’s.”
For some students, though, St. A’s self-professed intellectualism is a turnoff.
“St. A’s is this hyper-intellectual, or rather psuedo-intellectual, society for people who loves extreme amounts of detail to analyze academic things like literature and philosophy,” Sean Pool ’08 said. “If I didn’t have so many other commitments on Thursday and Sunday nights then maybe I might think it were a good deal.”
But St. A’s members stand by their society.
“What attracted me to St. A’s had nothing to do with the tap process; it wasn’t the mystique or the secrecy or anything that’s usually associated with an institution like this,” said Shalini Uppu ’06, a senior St. Anthony’s member. “I think that aspect is actually sort of exaggerated. It would be a mistake for people to dismiss St. A’s at Yale as a snobby elitist institution, because once you scratch the surface it’s not really like that at all.”