** Editor’s Note: This statement was previously provided by Phoenix to the News section last week and was partially quoted in this news story. The Michigan Daily is now reprinting Phoenix’s statement regarding the discontinuation of their organization in full so that it is on the public record.
In 1979, Adara, later renamed Phoenix, was founded as a senior-only female secret honor society at the University of Michigan. According to the organization’s documents, Adara was founded after a Title IX complaint was filed against the University’s male-only secret society, Michigamua, who later changed its name to Order of Angell. Founded on principles of “character, achievement, leadership, loyalty and service,” and to give women leaders across campus space for support and empowerment, Adara occupied the upper floors of the Michigan Union’s tower alongside Michigamua in what was later known as the Tower Society.
This past year, the history and practices of secret societies have been top of mind for many students on campus. They have been top of mind for us, too, the Phoenix class of 2021. We were “tapped” for this organization the week that the University switched to virtual classes. We were initiated over the spring and summer through numerous Zoom meetings. Though our class never met in person, Phoenix’s traditions dictate that we “tap” around 25 juniors in “leadership” positions around campus this month to become our organization’s class of 2022.
However, for the first time in our organization’s history, we will not be tapping another Phoenix class. Instead, we are discontinuing our organization’s presence on campus.
When we were first tapped for Phoenix almost a year ago, we were told that “P” was what we made of it. The only purpose of our organization was to anonymously improve campus through our roles as campus leaders. We could launch our own projects and initiatives for the improvement of the University as a whole. We would build friendships throughout the process, taking advantage of relationships that would otherwise not have been formed.
We’ve spent recent months studying our history and debating our future. On Feb. 21, our class voted by an overwhelming majority not to tap another class. We view our vote not as a judgment of the past but as a declaration about the future: Phoenix and other secret honor societies do not belong on our present campus.
This decision was not taken lightly by our class, nor was it made out of convenience. It was not made in connection with — nor was it influenced by — Order’s recently publicized outreach to its alumni regarding its future.
There are many reasons why we have made this decision. We believe that our organization’s mandate of “campus leaders” as a prerequisite for membership is inherently elitist. Leadership roles within this organization are obtained through and sustained by privilege. The meaning of this phrase has never been defined. In reality, each class of Phoenix is tapped mostly by friends in previous classes, compounding issues of elitism and homogeneity that have long plagued our organization.
Twenty-five seniors could never be truly representative of the wealth of cultures, beliefs and experiences that make up a senior class of the University.
We also recognized the cognitive dissonance Black members, Indigenous members and members of color face in secret societies. Our members should never have had to contemplate their relationship to secret societies’ racist history and elitist nature.
Over this past year, we’ve watched members face backlash for their role in these organizations. A number of student groups for students of racial, religious and ethnic minorities have specifically denounced secret societies and forbade their members from participating in these organizations. We believe this is a cycle that will continue if left unchecked. Recruiting a diverse class does nothing to alleviate this structural flaw.
“It is weird and discouraging to have to think, ‘Am I joining a racist club?’ It is even more unnerving to be actively told while being recruited that Phoenix is not racist,” one BIPOC member of our class said. (This member has asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution.) “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.”
This member recalled speaking to another prospective BIPOC member about this dissonance. Ultimately, this member decided not to join after citing similar concerns.
Given these facts, we cannot in good conscience move forward with Phoenix knowing the harm that secret societies have caused and will continue to inflict if still in existence. No amount of rebranding can plaster over the inherently problematic nature of these organizations.
If there was one redeeming quality we found in Phoenix, it was the random friendships that it fostered between our members. Despite our class meeting mostly over Zoom, we recognize and appreciate the value in bringing together people who would likely never otherwise cross paths. We hope that interest in forming new senior-year cross-campus friendships rises from the ashes of our decision, though we believe it needs to be completely separate from the existing constructs of senior secret societies on campus.
Rather than contemplating a year-long “pause,” we urge the current members of Order, and all other secret societies, to discontinue their organizations indefinitely. Beyond discontinuing our own organization, we believe the dissolution of all secret societies to be in the best interest of the U-M community.
The Phoenix Class of 2021 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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