Order of Angell, an exclusive senior honor society oft-criticized for its legacy of racism and its elitism, is considering disbanding, according to an email sent to the society’s alumni obtained by The Michigan Daily. The email, sent by the current 2021 class of members on Feb. 17, says Order is seeking feedback from alumni on its value to campus, its changes over time and the ramifications of “sunsetting” the organization by not selecting another class.
Order has suspended the process of tapping potential new members while it considers its future, according to the email.
Order’s Class of 2021 — known as the “Pride” of 2021 — cites reasons “beyond their control” for “not start(ing) on a solid footing,” such as their smallest size relative to past classes, complications from the pandemic and being called racist over social media.
“The conditions on campus have been difficult,” the email reads. “For example, dealing with being labeled as racists on social media, the internal push for further reforms, and the inability to engage in oral and in-person traditions have eroded confidence in selecting another Pride. Further volatility around campus standing, sponsor units, programs, agendas, and alumni engagement over our recent history also led to organizational fatigue.”
Alumni were asked in a Google form how Order has positively impacted campus or their lives, as well as what they had done to improve campus relations and promote a “more accurate narrative” of the organization.
Finally, they were asked: “What are your reactions, advice, or final Wise Words to the potential Last Pride Ever?”
On Tuesday morning, Order alumni of color released a letter to the current class calling on the group to disband or, alternatively, implement five main reforms. These reforms include making Order’s history known through “public truth-telling,” requiring racial justice education for current members and alumni and holding a “restorative-justice” process with Indigenous community members to mend the damage done by Order’s past appropriation of Native American symbols and traditions.
The other reforms include having a transparent nomination and selection process, as well as developing organizational measures to limit or end engagement with alumni, particularly those before the 2006 name change from Michigamua.
The letter, which has 21 signatures from current members, alumni and allies as of Tuesday afternoon, says both Order’s racist past and current treatment of members of color makes it necessary for the group to disband. The letter says that though Order claims to champion diversity and inclusion on the surface, “being a person of color in the organization was both laborious and harmful.”
“At the table on Monday nights, students of color often faced a hostile environment riddled with microaggressions and tokenism,” the letter reads. “Attempts to address these inequities were often met with silence at best and silencing at worst. The power within the organization was always with white students, backed by a powerful cadre of alumni who pulled strings within the Pride. Race-based aggression was assumed to have been limited to ‘the past,’ even while racialized power dynamics continued to shape the day-to-day of the organization.”
The letter also says that students of color had to cross higher thresholds to be considered for acceptance into the society.
“Students of color have had to be exceptional in their leadership, while many non-marginalized students are granted seemingly automatic memberships due to their association with so-called ‘legacy’ organizations,” the letter reads. “Although diversity membership, including the membership of women, increased, students of color remained tokens for the legitimacy of the organization and its value to the University community at large.”
According to the letter, many Order alumni “continue to use inappropriate and culturally-appropriative terms on private forums, including the organization’s Facebook page.” It also writes that it is often much harder for alumni of color to engage with other white Order alumni, causing alumni of color to feel shut out from the organization.
Current Order members signed onto the letter include LSA seniors Tiffany Harris, Alex Johnson and Isabel Zúñiga and Public Policy senior Daphne Kreiger. They collectively declined to comment for this story.
Order alumna Eman Abdelhadi, now a professor at The University of Chicago, signed onto the letter. In an interview with The Daily, she said that while she occasionally spoke with friends about Order’s problematic role on campus, she had never seen a large group of alumni and current students of color discuss the possibility of disbanding. This changed, Abdelhadi said, when they received the mid-February email from Order’s current class seeking feedback.
“A lot of us had been over the years processing our own experiences as people of color within the organization and then also processing whether the organization should exist, what it means for this organization to exist and have so much power,” Abdelhadi said.
Abdelhadi said that disbanding Order could give U-M students the opportunity to create an open and welcoming society that is not connected to an explicitly racist past.
“A space can exist for leadership on campus that is not secret and that is not tied to this racist history,” Abdelhadi said. “I trust that if folks on campus feel the need for that space, they can create it without problematic elements, and a lot of us feel like Order itself cannot be redeemed.”
Order, formerly known as Michigamua from its founding in 1902 until its name change in 2006, has a controversial history of appropriating Native American culture.
The organization’s old meeting space in the tower of the Michigan Union previously exhibited Native American statues and headdresses, and the room itself had a “wigwam-like” interior design as late as 2000. 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.
Order’s website states that the organization should have stopped these traditions before the issue was publicly raised in the 1970s.
“We, as an organization, recognize the hurt caused by these and other actions of past members and are committed to repairing relationships with those harmed,” the website reads. “Furthermore, we think it is important to note that we no longer participate in such rituals and actively condemn the practice.”
The Michigan Daily’s Management Desk voted to prohibit its editors from joining Order or any other such society on Feb. 7, announcing this publicly Feb. 22. The Daily first learned about Order’s Feb. 17 email to all alumni about potentially disbanding and the Feb. 22 alumni of color letter the morning of Feb. 23.
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