June 18, 2024

After a lengthy year of the Faculty Task Force investigating secret societies, announcing their report with allegations of bullying and students reporting fearfulness of secret societies, interviews with students did not find that fear. Many Witt students said that they are not uncomfortable with or threatened by the presence of secret societies on campus.

At a faculty meeting in April, The Task Force asked the administration to enact regulations that do not allow faculty and staff to participate in secret societies. The Task Force also recommended that secret societies have no ties to the university. Those topics are to be voted on the next meeting.

Out of the 10 unaffiliated people interviewed, each person said that they were relatively comfortable with secret societies on campus. When each student rated on a scale of one to ten how comfortable they are with secret societies on campus (1 being uncomfortable, 10 being comfortable), the answers ranged from five to nine, and averaged out to about a 7.

Many Wittenberg students not affiliated with any secret societies, said that they knew of five main secret societies: Shifters, Wizards, Gnomes, Jesters and Bells. However, in addition to those, there was mention of Pirates, Paladins, Keys, Crows, Knights, Five Fingers, The Night Owls, Aliens and “Weebers” (an “anti-secret-society-secret-society”).

Along with the people that wanted to remain anonymous, a sophomore refused to be interviewed because of concerns that it would interfere with his or her possible future membership in one. There were comments from some unaffiliated people that said that they thought secret societies were “only exclusive drinking groups” and that they did not see the point.

“I feel pretty comfortable with secret societies because I’ve been on campus for so long that I know some of their ‘secrets,’” Katie Andrulis, ‘18, said. “They become less intimidating the more you know about them.”

“I’m just kind of indifferent,” a source that was not affiliated with a secret society, but wanted to be anonymous, said. “They’re fine. I don’t feel very strongly about them either way.”

“I’m pretty alright with what they do. It’s not a hazard to people that I know,” Brandon Dlabik, ‘20, who rated how comfortable he is with secret societies on campus at a seven, said.

“I think, especially with certain societies, there is a sort of mythos to make people feel intimidated by them, which over time, I’ve come to not buy into,” a senior “Weeber” that wanted to remain anonymous, said. “Because they’re just an organization doing their thing, but at the same time, since they’re so highly organized, I’m cautious to not get on their collective bad side, just in case.”

“I feel fine with them. When you’re in one, you get it; you get each other,” a senior Wizard said. “They might be known differently, but we’re basically all the same.”

“I feel like some are different than others,” a junior member of the Bells said. “I’d support some, but not others.”

That same member of the Bells said that it is less like a secret society and equated the Bells to a support system, while saying that the secret societies that revolve mostly around drinking were the ones that he or she did not support.

There was an overwhelming number of non-affiliated students that said that it is inappropriate for faculty and staff to be secret society members, while only one non-affiliated student said that it was okay.

“That’s not appropriate at all. They should not be doing that,” Andrulis said.

One of the main points of the study done by the Faculty Task Force targets the membership of faculty and staff in secret societies. The study found that most students that responded to the survey sent out last year by Adam Barstow, ‘17, was that students were uncomfortable with faculty and staff being allowed in secret societies in fear of favoritism.

However, secret society members that were interviewed had opposing views on faculty and staff being involved to those that were not part of secret societies.

“I’m for the involvement under certain circumstances as long as staff is limited to what they’re involved in, but there is an acknowledgement of no special treatment,” a senior Shifter said.

“I’ve never been treated special other than a hi in the hallway,” a junior involved with both Shifters and Bells said.

“The more the merrier, I think,” a senior Wizard said. “No professor is a Wizard, though.”

“It doesn’t really bother me. I get the appearance of conflict of interest is a big thing, but I generally have faith in Wittenberg faculty to be impartial on things that matter,” a junior Gnome said.

Members from five different secret societies that were interviewed all said that students should not be afraid or intimidated by secret societies.

“The goal is to never make people uncomfortable and there is no danger,” a senior Shifter said.

“They’re honestly just like glorified drinking clubs. They’re all about just having fun so there is nothing to be intimidated about them,” a senior Wizard said.

“I think that a lot of that [fear] comes from an overactive imagination,” a junior Gnome said. “People are worried about retaliation for even talking about secret societies and that’s silly. What do people think we’re going to do to them? This isn’t the mafia.”

“I think they add to the identity. I don’t know if I’d say it enhances the campus,” a junior Jester said. “But it was one of the first things I heard during OA days, so I think it’s definitely a big part of Witt’s campus.”

4 thoughts on “What Students Think of Secret Societies on Campus

  1. When I was tapped into the Shifters at Witt, it literally saved my life. I was in a very dark place and the positivity and love I received from the other members was exactly what I needed. I hope the faculty aren’t removed from the process because they were the ones that often provided the most support. I’m sure that things have changed since I’ve let Witt, however the good that at least the Shifters do shouldn’t be ignored. C/o 03

  2. I have a couple of issues with a conclusion drawn in this article. In paragraph three, 10 unaffiliated people are reported as scoring their comfortability with secret societies on campus with a range of responses from 5 to 9, with an average of 7, where 10 is “comfortable.” The standard deviation is missing, though perhaps that is unnecessary with a sample size of only 10 people. The conclusion from these statistics is that each person is “relatively comfortable.” That is not a good response, as the article seems to imply. As an exercise, let’s consider the same question and scale applied to another topic, say purified water. If I were to ask 10 people how comfortable they were with the existence of purified water on campus, I would expect every response to be a 10 out of 10. I would expect everyone in the sample group to be totally comfortable with the concept of purified water, and if someone scored their comfort with purified water as less than 10, that is immediately worth investigating. Not a single person answered that they were entirely “comfortable” with secret societies, and that’s an issue. I would not say that each person was “relatively comfortable,” especially when at least 10% of people rated their comfort as 5. Instead, the clear conclusion to me is that none of those interviewed are comfortable with secret societies. In fact, all of them report moderate to significant levels of discomfort due to secret societies.
    I would also like to analyze the comments of the interviewees. First, it is worth reading a little deeper into the comments made by Katie Andrulis, ’18. She comments that she feels “pretty comfortable with secret societies because [she’s] been on campus for so long that I know some of their ‘secrets.’” This implies that at least for some time, she was not comfortable with secret societies, and this is backed up by her stating that they became “less intimidating.” Even if there is not fear and intimidation felt by Katie now, she clearly did feel that at some point in her academic career. Stories of intimidation and fearmongering by secret societies is something I have personally heard about and a topic that is acknowledged in the first paragraph of this article, before being dismissed by saying that the 10 “interviews with students did not find that fear,” which as I discussed in the previous paragraph is not the correct conclusion based on the data provided.
    Another comment worth analyzing is one by Brandon Dlabik, ’20. He states that secret societies are “not a hazard to people that I know,” implying that the secret societies could be a hazard to people that he does not know. It is evident from his score of 7 that secret societies do induce some discomfort in him.
    The anonymous senior “Weeber” has some very interesting comments. “There is a sort of mythos to make people feel intimidated by” secret societies. This statement is true in my experience, and this sense of mystery is not something that I personally believe belongs at our university. As a commenter on the Torch website said humans “tend to fear the unknown.” I agree in the context of secret societies, and I believe this fear, which the secret societies are certainly aware they are propagating, is reason enough to pursue the removal of secret societies entirely. If a university allows a group to exist on campus that induces fear in its students, it is the obligation of the university to remove the source of fear. This is not to say that a university should remove things from a campus that cause students discomfort, but there is a major difference between a course that makes a student uncomfortable and a secret society, and that is consent. I can consent to take a course on a difficult topic, or attend a seminar on an uncomfortable subject. I cannot choose another place to eat to avoid the shifters, at least as an underclassman. It is not possible to avoid secret societies on this campus, and I for one, am rendered uncomfortable, and extremely annoyed by their presence. My annoyance at the activities of secret societies outweigh my fear however, so unlike the anonymous “Weeber,” I will gladly proclaim my name is Xavier Davenport. If the secret societies have a bad side to show, they will only be proving my point that at least one part of their philosophy is fearmongering, or at the very least harassment. If I am personally harassed or made to feel unsafe, then I will gladly report to the city police.
    To those who feel that secret societies provide a support system, these organizations are not an appropriate place to receive this support. There are organizations in place at Wittenberg that are there to support you, and if you don’t find those are appropriate, Wittenberg is always open to helping its students in unusual ways, and you could even form a new group that does conform to Wittenberg’s regulations. I have already stated that I do not believe that secret societies should exist on Wittenberg’s campus. The only interactions I’ve had with them have been negative. They have on several occasions kept me up at night with screaming, woken me up with screaming, startled me on the way to class with screaming, and obstructed me from getting food. I am not personally afraid of them, but I am incredibly annoyed by their existence. I came here to Wittenberg to receive the best education that I could here. Because of the activities of secret societies, I have missed out on a significant amount of sleep, and hence my academics have taken a blow as well. I feel personally offended that the students in these organizations so undervalue education that they would take away from mine, and people’s like mine. The only reason that I have signed my name here is that I am graduating and I no longer need to fear that my sleep will be disrupted by secret society members who might target me for speaking against them. I can guarantee that I will never give money to Wittenberg until secret societies are actively fought against by the university, and I would encourage others to do the same. Secret societies serve no purpose beneficial to this university, and I fully believe they have taken away from both my education and the education of others. Needless to say, I really don’t think faculty should be involved in these societies. Their involvement encourages the continued existence of secret societies.
    There’s always the possibility that secret societies do more good than bad at this university. If that’s the case, stop being secretive about it. Let the world know you can be trusted, because I certainly don’t trust secret societies, and I can’t so long as they’re secret. That’s kind of the point.

  3. I’ve always found it interesting that the “secret” societies would parade publicly down major walks at dusk and through common eating areas at dinner in their lines whistling obscure melodies. As I reflect back on the members that I knew on campus many years ago, I search their names and see intriguing similaries in their current occupations of prestige and influence. A random Wittenberg connection, or something bound by more deliberate ties, I wonder.

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