Ann Arbor's not-so-secret society

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By Margo Levy, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 1, 2014

What do former-President Gerald Ford and Denard Robinson have in common? To start, they both attended the University. While here, they also both played on the football team. Finally, their senior year extracurricular overlapped — they were both members of The Order of Angell.

The Order of Angell is a senior leadership honors society that was created in 1902 by a group of seniors who were in correspondence with James Burrill Angell, the University’s president at the time. One might wonder what type of club would seek out both a public policy major and a football quarterback for its membership. Yet the Order’s members are compromised of a diverse group of campus leaders from a variety of backgrounds.

LSA senior Natasha Dabrowski, a current Order of Angell member, said the group was created to join leaders from across campus, and to provide a community for them to create connections that strengthen and improve organizations and the University.

“Order of Angell strives to advance exceptional leadership through a lifetime loyalty to and engagement with the University of Michigan,” she said.

Yet the history of this organization is surrounded by historical allegations of racist rituals, sexist policies and an elitist selection process. Recently The Order of Angell has done much to rid itself of this controversial legacy. According to a 2012 article published in The Michigan Daily, the organization, originally named Michigamua, changed its name in 2006 to Order of Angell, a symbolic separation from its former controversies. It has also released the list of each year’s members every April. Today, Order of Angell members see themselves as creators of open dialogue rather than an exclusive society, according to Dabrowski.

“Order of Angell seeks to reflect upon the campus climate and engage with students and administrators at the University,” Dabrowski said. “As individual leaders and as an organization, Order of Angell and its members continually strive to positively impact the campus community.”

Each year a new group of incoming seniors are selected by current members to make up the next year’s members.

LSA senior, WOLV-TV Producer and current Order of Angell member Shelby Roberts said there is 100 percent turnover each year, so the group gets brand new members coming into the organization.

Members described their invitation to become a member as very casual. In fact, Dabrowski explained that she was just having coffee with a few of her friends who happened to be members when they asked if she would consider joining.

When juniors are asked to join, they are encouraged to talk to current members in order to receive as much information to make an informed decision.

“Every organization has a past and a future, and of course you have to consider the past,” Dabrowski said, “but you have to focus on the present and the future that you will actually be apart of.

“The Order of Angell is one of the most diverse organizations that I have ever been a part of at the University. We really have members from all over the University from different backgrounds and organizations.”

Like any other organization or group, Order of Angell has to revive certain practices over time in order to improve as a collective and also serve the campus community.

In 2012, The Michigan Daily documented the rumors and hearsay that have spread across campus about a secret room in the attic of the Union where meetings are held. But, a rumor is exactly what it is. According to Roberts, each of The Order of Angell meetings are held at a different location around campus so members can have an opportunity to see parts of the University that they may not have necessarily had a reason to go to otherwise. LSA junior Melissa Weintraub said she saw the 2013 members meeting in the basement of Hillel.

“In the past it seemed like people tend to move around, just to try and get the feel for campus overall because every student leader tends to get caught up in their own personal bubble, so it is nice to see that there is more to central campus than just one aspect,” Roberts said. “It is cool to go to North Campus, go to South Campus, different parts of central, and see what the buildings you pass by every day but don’t even think to go in and step inside.”

According to Roberts and Dabrowski, when meeting, members sit down for a dialogue about the problems they are facing within their own organizations. In the past, Order of Angell has received criticism for their elusive activity since they previously did not publish a list of their members.

But current members deny the secretive nature of the organization. “We’re really not exciting — literally we come together and we just talk about what challenges we are facing in our (organization), we sit down have coffee and we talk.” Roberts said.

“Our programming is transparent, so as an organization we should be transparent.” Dabrowski said.

When members were asked about rituals or traditions, they responded with laughter.

“It seems easier to be public so people can stop asking ridiculous questions ... it is easier to operate and collaborate, and there is less speculation, we’re just sitting down and working together and problem solving together and trying to get different perspectives, rather than just having a bunch of naysayers running around,” said John Borger, current LSA Senior and Order of Angell member.

Dabrowski said that The Order of Angell does not formally give money to or sponsor programs such as Dance Marathon or K-grams, but they started in the past as a result of Order members collaborating with other leaders around campus.

LSA Senior Paola Mendez, executive director of K-grams said she has heard of the Order of Angell but has yet to interact with the organization.

“I really don't know anything about it to be honest ... All I've really heard about it is that it is kind of secretive.” Mendez said.

This year’s members hope that won’t be the case for much longer.