Order of Angell, a controversial exclusive society for seniors at the University of Michigan, announced on March 12 their vote to officially disband in a letter signed by Order’s class of 2021. Order — previously an all-male secret society known as Michiguama — is often criticized for its elitist behavior and past appropriation of Native American culture.
In the letter, the class said its decision to disband, which the organization says occurred on Feb. 22, came after months of discussion and reflection on the society’s history of harm, racism and elitism.
“Order of Angell was founded on the mission to make the Michigan campus a better place for students,” the letter reads. “We realized that any actions we could take would not be adequate in healing the past and improving the future of the organization. Ultimately, the historical lack of transparency and sufficient action prevent the achievement of this core mission.”
The letter said the organization’s class of 2021 learned about Order’s past “misappropriation of Indigenous cultures, exclusion of certain social identities, and perpetuation of white patriarchal structures of power” upon being initiated and looked to reform the society. However, the class of 2021 wrote they recognize their complacency in joining and continuing Order caused further harm.
“In the strongest terms possible, we condemn any attempts to keep the organization alive in secret, restart the group, or build a new one that seeks to erase the history of the Order of Angell,” the letter reads.
The announcement of Order’s vote to disband comes after the current 2021 class sent an email to the society’s alumni on Feb. 17 asking for feedback on Order’s value to the University and on if Order should continue on campus. According to the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Michigan Daily, Order’s class of 2021 did not start “on a solid footing” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, small class size and being perceived as racist, among other reasons.
“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,” the email read. “Further volatility around campus standing, sponsor units, programs, agendas, and alumni engagement over our recent history also led to organizational fatigue.”
Order alumni of color also released a letter, dated Feb. 22, on Feb. 23 alleging a hostile climate for members of color within the organization. The alumni letter also called on Order to disband or, alternatively, implement five reforms including requiring racial justice education for current members, making Order’s history known through a public “truth-telling” and holding a restorative justice process with Indigenous community members.
The letter, which was signed by 26 current members, alumni and allies, condemned both Order’s racist past and current mistreatment of members of color. According to the letter, being a person of color in Order was “laborious and harmful,” and students of color had to pass higher thresholds for being admitted into the society.
“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.”
Order’s problematic and racist history dates back to its founding in 1902. The organization is frequently criticized for appropriating Native American culture — its old meeting space in the Michigan Union exhibited Native American statues and was designed to look like a “wigwam” until as recently as 2000, whenthe Students of Color Coalition occupied the union tower for 37 days. In 2006, Michigamua renamed itself to Order of Angell, started publicizing its member lists in The Daily and registered as an official student organization.
A statement on the Order’s website acknowledges that Order was “too slow in changing these deep seated traditions which should have been stopped well before when the issue was first publicly raised in the 1970’s.” But the statement also says that Native American themes were common among social clubs in the mid to late 20th century.
In 2019, several racial justice organizations — including the United Asian American Organizations, La Casa and the Arab Student Association — released a statement condemning Order, apologizing for past involvement and prohibiting its future leadership from joining such societies.
Order’s decision to dissolve also comes after Phoenix, another secret society at the University, announced their vote to disband on March 1. Phoenix, which previously went by the name Adara and served as Michigamua’s all-female counterpart, said in a statement from the current class that the society no longer had a role at the University. Adara also used the Union tower meeting space alongside Michigamua.
According to Phoenix, their organization’s vote to disband occurred Feb. 21.
“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.”
In their statement, Phoenix also urged all secret societies on campus, including Order, to disband permanently. They stressed their decision was not influenced by Order’s choice to reexamine its role at the University.
The Daily voted to prohibit all editors from joining Order or any similar exclusive senior honor society on campus on Feb. 7, without knowing of conversations within these societies about possible dissolvement. The Daily publicly announced this decision and apologized for its past involvement in Order in a statement on Feb. 22.
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