From the Editor: The Michigan Daily votes to prohibit editors from joining Order of Angell, other exclusive senior honor societies

Monday, February 22, 2021 - 9:02pm

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Courtesy of Bentley Historical Library, with edits by Madison Grosvenor

Editor's Note: This letter from the editor was not published in anticipation of the Feb. 22 letter from Order of Angell alumni of color. The Michigan Daily first learned of Order's Feb. 17 email to all alumni about potentially disbanding and the alumni of color letter the morning of Feb. 23.

The Michigan Daily’s 2021 Management Desk voted Feb. 7 to prohibit any of The Daily’s editors from holding membership in Order of Angell, an exclusive senior honor society formerly known as Michigamua, or any similar society at the University of Michigan. This decision was made after recognizing that Order’s nature and those of other such societies goes against the mission and ethos of The Daily, as well as to denounce Order’s egregiously racist past.

As a news organization, The Daily aims for transparency and accountability of all public institutions. Order and other organizations like it, which bring together powerful student leaders from across campus and do not publicize their actions, are the antithesis of that.

Order’s “About Us” page and its members have always been vague about its activities, which the group’s members have previously attributed to the organization’s historical pillar of “humility in secrecy.” What this really means is that those outside the organization do not know what the group does and therefore are unaware of the true breadth of its influence. 

Despite former members’ denial of the organization’s secrecy and sway, it is clear that Order holds power on campus. By its own account, Order was significantly involved in the creation of the Michigan Union and continues “to lead many vital projects that have made the University of Michigan the great public institution that it is today.” Prominent faculty and administration members have “occasionally” been invited to join the organization as honorary members, including an administrator in the Office of Institutional Equity in 2007. Many administrators have spoken at Order’s Leaders for Life conference, including University President Mark Schlissel and at least two regents. One former Daily staffer who was in Order cited the organization as a way to be privy to otherwise inaccessible information.

The Daily believes it is important to remain distinct from organizations friendly with the University’s administration, and Order fits this description. In this way, having a clear separation from Order and other such organizations aligns with The Daily’s existing policy prohibiting Daily staffers from holding membership in Central Student Government.

Furthermore, per The Daily’s bylaws and code of ethics, Daily staffers must “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” Past Daily staffers have debated whether being a part of Order is a conflict of interest for the closeness that Order fosters between The Daily’s editors and student leaders of organizations that The Daily is supposed to report on. This year’s Management Desk has decided that it is. 

Membership in societies like Order places The Daily amid ongoing controversy and erodes our integrity. In the past, at least one Daily staffer has stepped down due to concerns over another’s membership in Order. Previous Daily editors who’ve held membership in Order have deferred editorial oversight of all articles relating to Order or naming members of Order. However, there is still unresolved gray area as The Daily publishes numerous articles on prominent student organizations, many of which have individuals who carry membership in the society. 

Additionally, separating Order membership from editing responsibility still hurts our ability to report on Order, as groups opposed to Order will nonetheless decline to talk to Daily reporters who are not in Order, which The Daily experienced as recently as 2019.

Importantly, knowing that journalism aims to “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable,” Daily membership in Order hurts our ability to build trust with and amplify the perspectives of marginalized communities. This is given Order’s history of racism and harm, specifically in regards to its misuse of Indigenous rituals, language and artifacts.

The organization, previously named Michigamua, had exclusive access to the tower of the Michigan Union, a privilege unlike those given to any other student group. Since at least the 1970s, some U-M students have pushed back against Michigamua’s appropriation of Indigenous culture, and in 1989, the group agreed to eliminate all references to Indigenous culture except in its name.

But in 2000, activists in the Students of Color Coalition occupied Michigamua’s tower space for 37 days, finding that Michigamua’s meeting space had a “wigwam-like” design and exhibited Indigenous statues, headdresses and instruments. Michigamua also displayed photos of members taking part in initiation rites based on Indigenous rituals and gave members nicknames disrespecting Indigenous language. Past Michigamua/Order members well into 2012 have accused SCC of setting them up, despite extensive records suggesting the contrary. After sustained SCC protest, the University’s administration removed Michigamua from the Union tower. 

In 2007, Michigamua went through a series of reforms: it registered as an official student organization through the University, began to release its list of members and renamed itself as Order of Angell in honor of former University President James Burrill Angell — who founded the group in 1902 — against the Angell family’s wishes. Even today, though Order writes on its website that members “no longer participate in (Indigenous) rituals and actively condemn the practice,” the organization partially excuses its past as Michigamua by writing that “(a Native American theme) was a very common theme for many social clubs and literally millions of their members across the country” at the beginning of the 20th century. 

It is also noteworthy that during his tenure as University president, Angell negotiated the treaty that was the predecessor to the Chinese Exclusion Act and believed Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were inherently foreign and unassimilable.

In 2019, multiple campus organizations condemned participation in Order due to the organization’s past appropriation of Indigenous culture and its elitism. These groups — including the United Asian American Organizations, La Casa and the Arab Student Association — announced policies that bar students who accept membership in the society from holding leadership positions within their organizations.

The Daily’s current leadership acknowledges and apologizes for our organization’s past involvement in Order. Since 1930, at least 58 Daily staffers have been a part of Order, very often The Daily’s Editor-in-Chief or other high-ranking leaders. And since renaming itself as Order of Angell and attempting to distance itself from the term “secret society” in 2007, Order has also used The Daily as a platform to publicize its member list, as recently as 2017

Though unable to make up for over 90 years of complicity with one letter from the editor or one Management Desk vote, The Daily’s current leadership wants to begin rectifying damage by dissociating formally from Order and other exclusive senior honor societies on campus. We believe The Daily’s platform should not be used to further the agendas of already-powerful, historically problematic organizations such as Order.

This year’s leadership also recognizes that Michigan in Color, a section within The Daily by and for students of color, was the first entity within The Daily to condemn Order and “all other secret societies,” doing so in 2019. 

On Feb. 7, 2021, The Daily’s Management Desk approved the following provisional amendment to The Daily’s bylaws:

Because The Michigan Daily is committed to accountability and transparency, MDesk members will not join Order of Angell or any other exclusive senior honor society on campus or participate in programming run by these societies (i.e. Leaders for Life). A leader within The Daily partaking in a secretive group with a history of harm, including in any of their programming, does not align with our mission and core values. Participation in these societies, which value non-transparency over open engagement, directly goes against The Daily’s goal of being an organization that holds power responsible and elevates diverse narratives.

A staff-wide vote to confirm the provisional amendment will be held at the next all-staff assembly in April, per bylaw procedure.

Claire Hao is the 2021 Editor-in-Chief of The Michigan Daily and can be reached at cmhao@michigandaily.com. John Grieve is the 2021 Digital Managing Editor and can be reached at jgrieve@michigandaily.com. Brittany Bowman is the 2021 Managing Editor and can be reached at babowm@michigandaily.com


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