I’m a senior. I’m not in a secret society. Given this, I can’t speak first-hand to the society experience. But I can speak to what it’s like to experience the tap process because I — like every other member of my class — did not have a choice in participating.
I’ve heard some well-reasoned defenses of secret societies (always from those who have benefited from them, never from those left out), but I’ve never heard anyone defend the tap process. Society tap may be fun for some people, but, if not outright mean, it is certainly not kind.
I decided before the tap process began last spring that I would not join a secret society on principle. I wrote an op-ed for this newspaper that I hope you’ll read about why I made that decision. Nevertheless, I still found the tap process to be painful, as did many of my friends.
Even though I did not want to join a secret society, I wanted to be wanted. I think this is a natural and universal human feeling. I wish I could tell you honestly that I was too consumed with bigger and bolder things to think twice last spring about societies and that I couldn’t care less if my peers wanted me in their groups enough to trudge through the snow to slip a wax-sealed envelope under my door. But I did care. Even though I intended to turn any tap offers down, I still wanted to be considered “worth getting to know” enough to be selected by my peers in the first place.
I wanted nothing to do with them — and yet, secret societies held power over me!
I’m not alone in feeling this way. It goes without saying that secret societies hold a lot of power over juniors each spring. This power derives largely from the fact that all juniors are, in theory, eligible for consideration by societies.
Effectively, all juniors are automatically entered into a selection process that some, who do not want to be evaluated for membership by or participate in societies — like me last year — would rather not be part of at all.
Therefore, I think eligibility in the society selection process should be voluntary, rather than involuntary as it is today. Certainly this would help many juniors have happier spring semesters. The change would be simple for societies to implement.
Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, Wolf’s Head, Book and Snake, Manuscript, other tombsmen and tombswomen — it would be so, so easy for you to make this important change to the tap process. Here’s one quick way to do it: First, announce publicly that you will only consider juniors who choose to put their names up for consideration. You can do this by emailing the junior class or by taking out an ad in the Yale Daily News, as societies do every spring to announce the date of tap night. Second, email a Google form to the junior class. Juniors who want to be considered for secret societies can use the form to “opt-in” to the selection process by a set date. Juniors who choose not to “opt in” will not be considered. After the deadline, share the list of interested juniors with all of the societies that have committed to this kinder tap process. Then only interview and tap people who are on the list.
This small change to societies’ tap process would eliminate a lot of the pain caused by the current system, while maintaining all the supposed benefits.
To go one step further, if societies are truly about making new friends with students from diverse backgrounds, just randomly divide the list of interested juniors. This would also ensure that everyone who wants to be in a society could be in one.
Being in a senior society is optional. Being part of the junior year tap year process should be optional too.
So I call upon the members of the class of 2015 in secret societies — who surely remember the anxiety that the tap process may have caused them or their friends — to pledge to one another this spring to implement this change.
Come March, the class of 2015 will wield the power of selecting society members from the class of 2016. With power comes responsibility. As Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The secret society members of the class of 2015 should not waste the power they have been granted. They should use it for good to make the system better for everyone.
Seniors in societies: When you come together tonight for your weekly Thursday meeting, be it in a tomb or in a bar or in a common room, I hope you’ll bring this idea up and take action. Consider it a charge.
Viveca Morris is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at email@example.com.