Phoenix, a co-ed secret society at the University of Michigan, voted to discontinue their organization on Feb. 21, according to a statement by the current Phoenix class obtained by The Daily Monday. The society, which formerly went by the name Adara, has been in existence since 1979.
Senior Phoenix members usually “tap” students in their junior year to join the society for the upcoming academic year. This year, however, they voted “by an overwhelming majority” to forego that responsibility after months of studying the organization’s history and debating its future, according to the statement.
“Though we make no judgments on Adara / Phoenix’s past, we do not believe that we have a future to play on this campus,” the statement reads. “This decision was not taken lightly by our class, nor was it made out of convenience.”
According to their statement, Adara/Phoenix was formed after a Title-IX complaint was filed against Michigamua — now known as Order of Angell — the University’s previously male-only secret society. Phoenix aimed to give women leaders on campus a space for support and empowerment and was founded on principles of “character, achievement, leadership, loyalty and service,” according to the statement, as Order did not accept female members until 2000.
“When we were first tapped for Phoenix almost a year ago, we were told that ‘P’ was what we made of it,” the statement reads. “The only purpose of our organization was to anonymously improve campus through our roles as campus leaders. We were to launch our own projects and initiatives for the improvement of the University as a whole. We were to build friendships in the process, taking advantage of relationships that would otherwise not have been formed.”
In their statement, Phoenix also urged Order and “all other secret societies” at the University to dissolve indefinitely. Phoenix specified that their decision was not made in connection or influenced by Order’s “recently publicized outreach to it’s alumni regarding its future.”
Last week, The Michigan Daily obtained an email from Order’s current class to the group’s alumni saying that the organization is considering disbanding and has already suspended its “tapping” process. The email sought feedback from alumni on the role the organization plays on campus.
A group of Order alumni of color also drafted a letter on Feb. 23 urging the organization either permanently disband or at the very least institute a series of five reforms due to its history of appropriating Native American culture and claims of a continued hostile environment for members of color. According to the letter, “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 extent of Order’s misuse of Indigenous artifacts and culture was brought to light in February 2000 when protestors from the Students of Color Coalition occupied the seventh floor of the Union, the organization’s former meeting place, for more than a month. According to The Daily’s reporting at the time, two other secret societies also met in the tower, and the new Phoenix statement acknowledged that Adara was one of them.
“Adara occupied the upper floors of the Michigan Union’s tower alongside Michigamua in what was known as the Tower Society,” Phoenix’s statement reads.
In 2006, Michigamua went through a series of reforms, including changing its name to Order of Angell, a tribute to the University’s former president James B. Angell. This choice has also been criticized, since it went against the wishes of the Angell family and Angell himself negotiated the Angell Treaty of 1880 that restricted Chinese immigration to the US.
In Fall 2019, racial justice groups at the University — including the United Asian American Organizations, La Casa and the Arab Student Association — released statements condemning Order and all other secret societies at the University. The Michigan Daily voted to prohibit any of its editors from joining Order or any other exclusive senior honor society on Feb. 7 — this vote came before The Daily was aware that Order was considering disbanding.
In their statement, Phoenix pointed to the cognitive dissonance that BIPOC members and potential members feel in joining their organization and discussed what they called “the inherently elitist” nature of all secret societies on campus.
“We believe that our organization’s mandate of ‘campus leaders’ as a prerequisite for membership is inherently elitist,” the statement reads. “Leadership roles are obtained through and sustained by privilege. The meaning of this phrase has never been defined. In reality, each class of Phoenix is tapped by friends in previous classes, compounding issues of elitism and homogeneity that have long plagued our organization.”
A BIPOC Phoenix member of the class of 2021 — who remains anonymous in the statement for fear of professional retribution — wrote that joining the club raised ethical concerns for them and made them question their place in the organization.
“It is weird and discouraging to have to think, ‘Am I joining a racist club?’” they wrote. “It is even more unnerving to be actively told while being recruited that Phoenix is not racist. I did and still do believe that Phoenix is not a racist society. However, it is modeled after one and I think that it is time to realize that distinction.”
Suzanne Saunders Hecker, a 1989 University and Phoenix alum, wrote in an email to The Daily that Phoenix alumni are “deeply saddened” upon learning that the current class has decided to disband the organization.
“Adara/Phoenix has helped the leadership path of many underserved and underrepresented constituencies at the University of Michigan,” Hecker wrote. “The current classes of students on campus are struggling with enormous social upheavals in our nation and world and are trying to be as responsible as possible in this environment. We respect the time and care that these seniors took in making their decision. We look forward to reflecting on our experiences within the organization. We will strive to listen and continually learn to better understand the University of Michigan students, leaders, and community.”
Daily Staff Reporter Brooke Van Horne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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