Three prominent multicultural groups — the United Asian American Organizations, La Casa and the Arab Student Association — at the University of Michigan have released statements condemning participation in Order of Angell, an exclusive senior honor society formerly known as Michigamua, due to the organization’s historical exclusivity and past appropriation of Native American culture. The groups announced policies that bar students who accept membership in the society from holding a leadership position within their cultural organization.
Former University President James Angell originally founded Michigamua, now Order of Angell, in 1902 to bring students from different corners of campus together and facilitate “campus synergy.” The current goal of the organization, according to members who spoke with The Daily on Friday afternoon, is to bring a diverse group of up to 25 students with demonstrated leadership on campus together to better the University.
The Order’s reputation has been marred by instances of racism in the past, specifically in regards to its nature of exclusivity and use of Native American rituals. The organization’s meeting space previously exhibited Native American statues and headdresses, and the room itself had a “wigwam-like” interior design. Michigamua also displayed photos of members taking part in Native American-like rituals and gave members derogatory nicknames like “Squaw,” which references female reproductive organs.
The University banned Michigamua from using the seventh floor of the Michigan Union, its historical meeting space, in 2000 after native artifacts were discovered in the space and demonstrators occupied the area for 37 days. The University reinstated the group as a recognized organization in 2007 after losing the distinction in 2000, and the organization renamed itself as Order of Angell the same year.
Historical documents related to the Order are available in the Bentley Historical Library on North Campus. According to its website, the Order “recognizes the hurt” caused by using “co-opted Native American rituals” and noted the group does not partake in any Native American practices currently and “actively condemns” doing so.
The website also mentioned the Order educates new members about the history of the group. Current members are committed to promoting diversity both on campus and within the organization, according to the website.
In an email to The Daily, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said the Order is currently a sponsored student organization and is in good standing with the Center for Campus Involvement. Broekhuizen noted the Order is sponsored by the School of Information and is entitled to benefits — including falling under the University’s tax exempt status, using the “University of Michigan” in its name and being eligible for funding from the University — that accompany its SSO status.
Additionally, Broekhuizen said SSOs are required to abide by a code of conduct set by the University.
“The Center for Campus Involvement regularly works with all sponsored student organizations to ensure the leaders of these groups fully understand and respect both students’ and student organizations’ right to freely associate,” Broekhuizen wrote.
Multicultural groups release statements opposing the Order
Two multicultural organizations on campus released statements last month condemning participation in the Order and requiring leaders in their organizations to forfeit their positions upon accepting membership in the Order. A third organization released a statement aligning with this position directly to The Daily.
The executive board of the United Asian American Organizations, an umbrella organization for Asian and Pacific Islander American groups, published a statement last month calling for dismantling rather than modifying the Order, due to its “indigenous appropriation, elitism and secrecy.” In addition to announcing the new policy requiring those who accept membership in the Order to forfeit any leadership position held within UAAO, the board apologized for board members who held membership in the Order in previous years.
“UAAO does not stand for the exclusionary practices of this organization, James Angell, and the manifestations of what the Order of Angell has done within this campus,” the statement reads. “This group has used indigenous and Native culture under the name of honor and has not advocated for the indigenous struggles within our student community.”
According to the statement, UAAO’s constitution has been updated to reflect its stance. The statement noted UAAO’s advocacy does not exist to “decorate historically racist groups” and their resources would be better used toward assisting the indigenous community and other marginalized groups directly.
UAAO co-chair Dim Mang, LSA senior, clarified in a message to The Daily that the statement applies only to UAAO and not to its 20 member organizations, as UAAO does not hold jurisdiction over them.
Following the publishing of the UAAO’s statement, La Casa, an organization with the goal of supporting the Latinx community on campus, published a statement aligning itself with UAAO’s position. The group wrote that it is against the Order both in its historical and current iterations.
“For over 50 years, students and student organizations extended every opportunity for the organization to change and modify practices that appropriate culture and damage the campus climate for students of color and other communities,” the statement reads. “At each point, Order of Angell (formerly known as Michigamua) have failed to honor those agreements and demonstrate the needed transparency to ensure that their current practices are not equally problematic and damaging.”
Mang and LSA sophomore Julianna Collado, La Casa external director, issued the following joint comment to The Daily when contacted about providing further comment.
“Both La Casa and UAAO decline to comment further on their public statements criticizing the Order of Angell for the following reasons,” the statement reads. “La Casa has no additional comments concerning organizations that historically and currently appropriate and bastardize Native culture. La Casa continues to strive to holistically support the Latinx community and remains aligned with our allies. Our principles and actions remain grounded in the legacy of previous activism on our campus.
“The United Asian American Organizations declines to comment due to the Michigan Daily’s history of misrepresenting our statements. Especially with a delicate matter such as this, we believe that we must decline in order to prevent any possible harm towards our community. La Casa and UAAO stand together on this issue and will continue to work in tandem with each other and other communities against this historically racist organization.”
According to a new statement from the executive board of the Arab Student Association sent to The Daily, the ASA will also be following the UAAO’s position and taking a “formal stance” on membership in the Order. After releasing the statement to The Daily, the ASA posted it to its Facebook page Monday evening.
“We refuse the sentiment that, through the mere participation of our community members, the Order of Angell can evolve into a platform for diversity,” the statement reads. “An honest platform for diversity, inclusion, and transparency cannot be built on a foundation of the oppression of the Native community. We will not be complicit in the tokenization of leaders in our community and others, and oppose all secret societies who have attempted to do so.”
All three statements noted the groups’ positions apply both to the Order and all other “secret societies” at the University.
The statements of the multicultural organizations follow the lead of the Black Student Union, which asked a student to step down from organization leadership in 2011 because of ties to the Order. According to the then-BSU spokeswoman Samantha Martin, holding membership in the Order violates the BSU constitution, meaning any member — not just one holding a leadership position — will no longer claim membership if they accept a spot in the Order.
The Black Student Union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Current Order members respond
In an interview with The Daily, four members of the Order — LSA seniors Roland Amarteifio, Vidur Prasad, Kevin Ashwood and Public Policy senior Hannah Davenport— responded to the statements. They did not speak on behalf of all current 22 members of the Order.
Davenport said the group is different in many ways from when it was founded, including its composition. She said the current group is more than half female and approximately 50 percent people of color.
There are few details about the current selection process available to the public, but Davenport said the Order looks to bring in students from many different areas of campus. Davenport described the Order as being a place where leaders from various corners of campus can collaborate, though they are aware the approximately 25 members selected each year do not represent all students at the University.
“In terms of Michigan, it’s actually one of the most diverse spaces I’ve ever been in,” Davenport said. “I think that moving forward, we’re only trying to continue that and trying to make sure that different corners of campus are represented and different voices are heard. It kind of is like a symbolic ‘table’ that people get to sit at, and getting as many different people to that table I think is a pretty big priority.”
The Order has been criticized for its previous selection process, which barred men of color until the 1940s and women until 2000.
Members rejected the branding of the Order as a secret society — which it was listed as in the statements — though they understand why they could be viewed as such. Amarteifio noted the website lists all members and the goals of the Order, and said if anything, they strive to be the opposite: open to and interested in hearing from other students.
“When I went through the process of being tapped, and then becoming a part of the organization, there was a large focus on really acknowledging the history and not trying to hide it at all,” Amarteifio said. “We don’t try to minimize or not address the fact that this has had this history, but we also don’t believe that that history is a representation of who the organization is now or the current members.”
In their statement about participation in the Order, UAAO said it “condemn(s) all the leaders in the 2019 roster and past alumni, some of whom were on our Board or in our member organizations.”
Ashwood said the Order understands the frustration of the multicultural organizations, but explains the difficulty for those condemned. He speculates that these students feel a loss of community on campus after being barred from groups they were a part of throughout college.
“If we’re set out to be multicultural organizations and to be the voice of those people on campus … we should be that voice for them and be that support system for them,” Ashwood said. “And so, that’s what we would hope would come out of this, is understanding that being a part of (Order of Angell) makes them no less Latinx or no less Asian American and needing of a support system for that.”
Representing minorities on campus is sometimes a blind side of the University, according to Ashwood. He says that being able to be a voice for these students through the Order is an honor for him and a way to make positive change for these communities.
Davenport said a main goal of the Order is to promote campus synergy, which is described on the website as an avenue “to facilitate organizational interaction between student groups and their leaders that may not have existed before; and to enable them to make positive change in the best interest of Michigan, without recognition, either collectively or through their respective organizations.”
Creating this campus synergy may not be seen through specific initiatives, Davenport said. She did not highlight specific initiatives the Order has been pursuing, explaining that humility was one of the group’s pillars.
“As far as specific programming, one of our tenants is really supposed to be humility,” Davenport said. “So with the initiatives we do, we try not to stamp Order of Angell on it, because the goal there is more to quietly serve, not in a way that is really bringing attention to the organization.”
Members of the Order noted they have reached out to La Casa and the UAAO “very recently” and are hoping to start a dialogue.
The question the multicultural groups posed — why the Order is a modified version of Michigamua rather than a completely new organization with no connection to the past — is the same question current order members are asking themselves, Davenport said.
“The present is connected to the past and the present is connected to the future, and we’re in the position where we get to define the future,” Davenport said. “That’s a question that we’re asking and that we really are wrestling with, because that does lie on us.”
Disclaimer: Maya Goldman, Editor-in-Chief of The Michigan Daily, is a member of Order of Angell and played no role in the editing process of this piece.