Yale Bans Secret Society From Meeting Space Over ‘Exclusivity’ and ‘Privilege’

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 11:18 pm, February 18, 2017
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Yale University has banned the Aurelian Honor Society, one of the University’s oldest secret societies, from its longtime, on-campus meeting rooms because the organization is “exclusive,” and that giving it the space “privileged” it over other organizations.

Yale College Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar cited exclusivity as a primary reason for removing Aurelian from its traditionally designated space. Unlike most other Yale secret societies, the insular group holds its meetings in a Yale-owned building.

Aurelian Honor Society

Lizarribar said that the ban was also based on “events that transpired” on one of the days preceding Tap Night, the evening where members of Yale’s secret societies roam the campus in masks and ritual robes, inducting new members.

“[A] concerning factor was that it was the second incident of a similar, dangerous nature to occur within a short time span (and after a previous admonishment and prohibition of use),” stated Lizarribar in an e-mail to Brian Mitchell, the chairman of Aurelian’s board of trustees.

“Despite the tradition of the room’s use by Aurelian, given these incidents and the changing purpose of the society, the College can no longer justify designating space for an exclusive senior society on Yale property, nor sustain the liability incurred with the unregulated and destructive use of the room,” she added.

Lizarribar also cited “cyclical problematic conduct” by Aurelian, which still calls itself “an honor society”.

The Yale Daily News reported that the “incident of a similar, dangerous nature” probably involved serving alcohol to minors. The News quoted an anonymous member suggesting that Aurelian’s expulsion may also have resulted from a janitor’s complaint that the secret society had “trashed” its quarters.

Aurelian, Yale’s fifth oldest secret society, has long used its lavish on campus quarters, known as “The Rooms” or “Room 405” — in gothic Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall — to gather and perform its secret rituals. Yale’s other oldest secret societies, such as the world famous Skull and Bones organization, meet in their own locked “tombs” around campus, shielded from the scrutiny of campus administrators, where they can do as they please.

In 2012, Aurelian was temporarily banned from using the space for serving alcohol to underage members, forcing them to move off campus. None of the members involved faced disciplinary action and were said to have acted in “complete compliance” with University and state law by Yale administrators.

As for the new ban, The Yale Daily News reports that Mitchell, a 1972 Yale graduate, responded to Lizarribar rejecting her description of the secret society. He stated that membership of Aurelian is “exceptionally diverse, and not an exclusive senior society,” adding that Aurelian’s purpose had not changed from its original mission of helping students in need and putting forward the University’s values.

Mitchell expressed his disappointment with the Dean of Student Affairs, and stated that it felt like she had already made the decision to ban Aurelian without first meeting with him.

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway cited the same reasons for Aurelian’s eviction.

“Yale College does not provide campus spaces to senior societies, even those that originated as honor societies,” Holloway told The Yale Daily News. “In the end, Yale College could not justify giving exclusive use of a space in SSS to one senior society, privileging it over all the others that would like similar accommodations.”

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.