Yale-NUS has inherited from Yale its grass-filled courtyards, its late-night butteries, its seminar-style classrooms — and its secret societies.
But unlike its counterparts in New Haven, the lone secret society at Yale-NUS has a more public presence on campus, with members sometimes engaging in highly visible acts of philanthropy. For Christmas in 2014, it bought an 11-foot Nordmann fir Christmas tree and hung ornaments marked with every student’s name. Earlier this year, it laid out around 500 brown packages across the dining hall tables one morning, each containing a Penguin Classics book with a personal message for every student and the mysterious letters “LL.”
The society — called Leones Luminantes for Singapore’s nickname, “the Lion City”— just concluded its fall recruitment cycle. Several Yale-NUS students spoke to the News about the society’s function and reputation, on the condition of anonymity. They described a group that is focused more on building community than developing closed-off circles, but that also perhaps does not carry the same prestige as a result. The News confirmed three student members, none of whom could be reached for comment, but was not able to obtain a total number of members.
“I know there are some people who don’t appreciate their presence because of the connotation — eliteness, exclusivity — but most people just don’t care that they are there,” a Yale-NUS student familiar with the society said.
During recruitment, the student recounted, the society leaves a letter, with the student’s name written in an elaborate font and a seal at the back, in the potential member’s room. After a few email exchanges, the prospective “tap” will complete an essay to be considered for induction. New members are required to sign a contract that forbids them from leaking any information about the society.
Although the entire recruitment process involves zero in-person meetings, many Yale-NUS students already know the membership of the society, given the small size of the school, the student said.
“At Yale-NUS they’re exclusive not because they’re elite, but because of their demographic. They’re all jock-and-bro type guys,” said an anonymous student familiar with members in the society. “We don’t really have a social hierarchy that places these people at the top.”
The student added that they did not think the society would give members the same social capital as would a fraternity or sorority.
All five Yale-NUS students interviewed said they do not see the society as an elite group, the connotation that secret societies often invoke at Yale. Rather, the group has become better known for its philanthropy.
Its generosity has even led to some confusion. After the anonymous book gifts, some Yale-NUS students thought the group was funded by the school’s Dean of Students Office — a myth Yale-NUS Dean of Students Christopher Bridges quickly dispelled to the News. The group is not a recognized club or organization, he said.
Bosen Xia YNUS ’19, who received a copy of “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield inscribed with his name and a note congratulating him on his recent performance with the ballroom dancing club, said he initially thought the Dean of Students Office was pretending to be the society in order to form bonds with students.
The society’s kind acts have also raised some privacy concerns. The Yale-NUS Student Government sent an open letter to the society in April 2015, relating several students’ worries about the society possessing their private information, such as phone numbers, and using that for future activities.
The society also differs from those at Yale in its lack of an established alumni base. One student said that because the members of the society’s inaugural class are only in their senior year, the society does not have any alumni network that will connect them to particularly powerful figures. The group does not have a tomb either, as property in Singapore is expensive and costs a life’s earnings.
The student added that knowing the membership of the society strips away its “secretness.”
“Knowing that you are able to put a face to these people and sleep with these people in the same suite doesn’t hit you as hard when you don’t get selected,” the student said.