“The secret society idea at its core, runs counter to most of the ideals of the school. They are eating away at the fabric of this place, which is an inclusive place not an exclusive place.” Unfortunately, Dean Murphy’s words are in blatant contrast to many students’ conceptions about Phillips Academy. When I read “Student Secret Society AUV Vandalizes School Property around Campus” by Jessica Lee in The Phillipian two weeks ago, I chuckled ruefully at the notion that Phillips Academy is the idyllic utopia of inclusiveness for which the institution strive. In my opinion, this is an unrealistic portrayal of the Academy.
Andover’s diversity gives it life and vibrancy. Here, there is in fact “youth from every quarter.” Our school’s biggest asset is its plurality of ideas, religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations. But although Andover is diverse and inclusive of different identity groups, it remains selective and exclusive of the general population. And that is a good thing.
Andover is an exclusive place, attracting students from all over the world and choosing its entering classes with care. The school chooses its students to create a dynamic and vibrant community. Our academic, athletic and musical talents are collectively, and individually, remarkable. Our admissions department is picky because it wants this school to perform to its fullest potential. Exclusivity, in this respect, presents no problems.
How can we claim to be truly inclusive when our athletic teams are determined by a rigorous set of cuts and tryouts? Or when the Music Department decides who can be a member of Fidelio, Jazz Band or the Chamber Orchestra? Or when our courses bear titles such as “Advanced Placement” or “Honors”? Exclusivity builds the school’s culture and reputation. We pretentiously sport our apparel and relish the raised eyebrows which come our way. These raised eyebrows are a result of the long-lasting legacy we’ve built on success, high achievement and scholarship.
I would go as far to say that Andover resembles a secret society itself. Aside from parents, students, faculty, administration and alumni, who actually knows what goes on inside the Andover Bubble? We must come to terms with the fact that our institution is shrouded in secrecy. Though vandalism and hazing are heinous and immature, secret societies are merely extensions of the culture of Phillips Academy. The core values of the societies reflect those of the larger reality of ours: to create a sense of community through exclusiveness. Do club boards not behave like exclusive “secret societies,” with their respective presidents, directors and coordinators? And what about student leadership organizations? Do these not come close to conducting themselves like “secret societies”?
It is striking that when exclusivity is practiced by the institution, it is endorsed, but when practiced by student organizations, it is frowned upon. This double-standard is overwhelmingly hypocritical. The secret societies that the Blue Book eschews are merely extensions of the community-at-large. Moreover it is unfair to assume that these organizations have malignant motives on the mind. Rather, these secret societies are merely organized social groups which need not be frowned upon.
Everyone is not and cannot be good at everything. However all of us have special qualities which distinguish us from those who are not here. We are not better than other people, nor are we endowed with more rights. But we have been chosen—chosen—to be members of this community. The administration, in creating a policy in regards to secret societies, must first reflect on the exclusive nature of the Academy itself. To avoid hypocrisy, the institution should realize that secret societies are merely extensions of Phillips Academy’s culture and microcosms of the hierarchal organization structure practiced regularly. So why not allow secret societies and embrace exclusivity?
Junius Williams is a two-year Lower from Newark, N.J.