Dean of Students Addresses Complaint of Secret Societies

In light of a complaint raised by a student who recently was invited to a campus secret society, Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, reminded students and faculty that secret societies were not allowed at Andover, in an email sent last Friday.

This is not the first instance that a secret society’s presence has been discovered on campus. A rule forbidding secret societies was added to the Blue Book a few years ago in the wake of a student’s allegation that there had been something hurtful about the selection process for a secret society she had been invited into.

The Blue Book says: “given our diversity and the value we place on inclusivity and fairness amongst all members of our community, exclusive or secret societies are not permitted.”

Murphy said that before the incident, most faculty members had dismissed secret societies as “benign.” With the growing emphasis, however, on hazing and bullying on school campuses, faculty became more aware of the possibility of hazing being prevalent at Andover, particularly in secret societies. The faculty-student dialogue would eventually lead to the addition of the rule to the Blue Book.

“All of a sudden, someone sent up an anonymous list of all the kids in it. And we thought, ‘this seems like something we should talk to [students] about and tell them this doesn’t fit in the school,’ which then created an interesting conversation among some faculty and students,” Murphy said.

The root of the problem, Murphy said, lies in the obscurity of the selection process. He differentiated secret societies from organizations on campus that require application by their accessibility to the student body.

“Think about The Phillipian, it’s an open process, anyone can apply, it’s clear what the guidelines are. Having this all be quiet and behind the scenes start to feel like, isn’t this against what we’re trying to promote?” said Murphy.

At the same time, however, Murphy said that he understood why students may gravitate toward joining a secret society, mentioning the sense of belonging to a group as one of the driving causes. “An argument could be made that having a secret group that makes people feel like they’re part of something bigger is an uplifting thing,” he said.

“I can see the attraction for [secret societies], but I just think it takes a stronger person to say, ‘This might be good for me, but it’s not good for the community, and therefore, I’m not going to participate,” Murphy said.

In the end, Murphy hopes that students will realize the problem with joining a secret society and take it upon themselves not to join. He urged students to uphold community values and think about their impact on the school.

“Civil discourse, friendliness, ‘we’re all in this together,’ ‘this is our school’: those values have to be held up higher than ‘what’s in it for me.’ I think that’s something that most people need to have,” Murphy said.