This isn’t a column about why you should join a senior society. This isn’t a column about why you shouldn’t join a senior society (though if you want to read a great one on that subject, I refer you to ASLAM: Societal delusions). This column is about why, if you’ve received a letter or three or absolutely none at all under your door in recent weeks, you should keep it to yourself. You should keep it, in a word, secret.
Don’t close Safari. Don’t put down the paper. Don’t close the Twitter link and rush to condemn me to your tens of followers (please, I’m asking nicely). Allow me to explain.
We live in a world that prioritizes the public airing of our discontent. I’ve been a News columnist for three years and was an editor for one — I understand this fact better than anybody. We write op-eds, Facebook posts, comments, tweets, that critique, that attack, that judge. We do these things because we should. There’s a lot in the world that deserves to be critiqued, to be attacked, to be judged.
We live in a world, too, that accepts at the very least and encourages at the most a kind of self-promotion and congratulation that verges on the masturbatory (would I be a writer of opinion columns if I didn’t use the word “masturbatory” at least once over the course of my tenure?). We post about our successes on LinkedIn and Facebook, we tell just the one friend in the hopes that they’ll send a message of congratulations in the group chat, we humble-brag or couch our successes in complaints (“Yeah, I’m working at Facebook this summer — housing in SF is just SO expensive!”) over dinner. We do these things because they feel good, because we all have egos, whether they be big or small or significantly diminished after that guided acid trip in the Netherlands. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do these things. There’s a lot that we deserve to be proud of.
These criticisms and judgements, these instances of pride and ego, deserved or otherwise, can often be abstracted away to the point of near irrelevance. They don’t feel personal. Someone writes a column in support of Pete Buttegieg. I know I’m not voting for him in the primary and can’t be convinced otherwise, so I don’t care. Someone posts that they’ve just been awarded a Fulbright to study the tensile strength of fur coming from short-haired Yaks in Northern Mongolia. Seems lit. Good for that person.
Conversations surrounding senior societies, however, are always personal to members of the junior class. Here’s why. If someone knows they’re being considered for a society — they’ve received a letter, or an email, or a senior friend has winked at them after asking if they’ve received a letter or an email from an anonymous sender — the society process is already personal. If somebody hasn’t received a letter or an email but they want to, the society process is already personal. These facts seem self-evident to me.
But what is not self-evident is the fact that the process is personal, too, for those members of the junior class who started this year completely disinterested toward, or even ignorant of, senior societies.
Picture this. One day, you walk into your suite and see that everybody’s room has had a letter placed in front of it. Except for yours. Then at dinner, your friends debate the ethics of joining a society. You contribute nothing — you hadn’t really thought about it because you hadn’t really thought about joining a society. Later, walking home from Bass at 11:07 p.m. you run into a friend awkwardly standing at the corner of Broadway and York. The crosswalk signs say go. Your friend does not go. Why do you not go, you ask your friend. Then that senior you once had section with swoops in and scurries away with your friend. Society interview, your friend tells you telepathically. I haven’t been a gambling man since ’08, but I’d be willing to bet that if you didn’t care about society before, you care about it now.
You care because you love your friends. If they’re excited about society, why aren’t you? If they’re critical of society, why aren’t you? You care because you feel left out. Why aren’t you receiving any letters and your friends are receiving more than they know what to do with? Why didn’t your senior friends tap you? Did you not spend enough time making friends a year older than you? Why are you suddenly thinking about friends as means rather than ends? And you care because you didn’t care and now you do — are you mentally weak? Are you ethically weak? What’s wrong with you?
Here’s the things about senior societies. You shouldn’t care. Nobody cares after junior spring. If you’re in one, cool. If you’re not in one, cool. If you’re not in a landed one, cool. If you’re in a landed one, can I see the inside of it? (haha, jk. Unless?). But the society system is designed to make you care. It’s designed to make you care so that people in senior societies feel important. It’s designed to make you care so that people in senior societies feel powerful.
It’s easy for me, for people, to say that you shouldn’t care. It’s understandable, however, if you do. If you can emerge from the barrage of talk, positive and negative, letters, lack of letters, emails, lack of emails, without caring, I’m happy for you. But I couldn’t, and I know a lot of people who can’t.
Juniors can cut off a lot of oxygen from the fervor by simply keeping quiet about their own individual experiences with society. If you want information about why you shouldn’t do it or why you should do it, read old columns (Google) and talk to senior friends that you trust. Seniors, be honest but be mindful of how miserable this time was for us last year. And slip those letters under the door fully — or better yet, just send an email.
Some will say that I’m circumventing the real issue, that we should question why it is that societies have such a hold on our imagination, on our self-esteem in the first place. I’m interested in these questions, but the fact remains: senior societies exist and will continue to exist. Alas I ran out of torches last week and I lent my pitchfork to a friend, but maybe by getting people to pay them less mind, senior societies will slip into the irrelevance some people think they deserve.
People should be empowered to make their own decisions about society without the outside influence of the peers they’re closest to. It’s one thing to read a column criticizing society, it’s another to have your best friend brag that she’s been tapped by Skull and Bones but is turning them down to join the Illuminati. Keep on critiquing all the things that deserve to be critiqued, keep on being proud of the things you’re proud of, but if you’re a junior, try to talk about something other than tap. I’m not asking you to suffer in silence — I’m asking you to stay silent on this one thing in the hope that there’s less suffering over something that doesn’t warrant any at all.
ADRIAN J. RIVERA is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs every other week. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .