According to the handbook, Greek life on campus violates a kind of agreement that the college made with past, present and future students in order to protect important, iconic values of the community.
Maryville does not subscribe to social organizations that are selective in determining their members on the grounds that it could possibly detract from the experience of a student by refusing them access to a group or series of experiences.
In the spring of 2001, a series of forums were put together that encouraged students, faculty and staff to speak openly on their opinions of Greek life’s role on campus – which directly led to the ruling made by the Board of Directors in 2002.
Last semester, after almost 12 years, a committee was formed to address the rising concerns of selective social organizations and Greek life on campus.
According to Assistant Dean Allison Norris’, who served as the presidentially appointed chair on the task force, the committee’s main purpose “was to facilitate meaningful discussion among the Maryville College community about whether or not introducing these types of organization would improve the student experience.”
To clarify, the handbook specifically includes language that refers to both secret societies as well as Greek life, but according to Senior David Sturchio, who spent the last two years co-chairing the Campus Life committee within Student Government Association (SGA), most students are talking about secret societies and not Greek life.
Sturchio served on the task force and commented that the discussion about Greek life and secret societies was open to a possible future of Greek life on campus, which was echoed by Norris’ comments that the conversation was “very open, honest, and at times heated, but it was a good start to addressing the need/or lack of need to add Greek life to MC.”
The task force also conducted a poll last year asking students about their opinions of having Greek life and secret societies on campus but concluded with split results regarding the addition of Greek life to campus.
Norris commented on the survey results: “We also learned from this survey that secret societies are not secret, and that the student population is split on their existence of these societies.”
The presence of such secret societies is thought to be responsible for the periodic disappearance of letters from the Maryville College entrance signs or the appearance of colored glitter that adorns the steps of buildings around campus.
Sturchio dealt with the controversy of secret societies within his role as co-chair of Campus Life and admitted that issues concerning glitter on the steps or missing entrance sign letters are not new concerns.
“These problems are prevalent in many different forms through the years it seems. As Co-Chair of Campus Life we had to deal with the ‘graffiti scandals’ of 2013 and letter stealing all the same.”
Additionally, the rise of a popular anonymous app Yik Yak played a role in elevating the conversation of secret societies by offering students a place to rant or simply divulge their thoughts about the Court Street entrance sign reading “aryville ollege” week after week, among other things.
“Yik Yak is a safe place for students to speak openly about their views on the secret societies, which I think is healthy,” Norris said.
Sturchio also gave his thoughts on the app’s role within this issue.
“Yes, the anonymous nature of Yik Yak has made it easy for students to share their opinions on highly opinionated topics. Altogether I feel that the amount of talk has remained the same as Yik Yak just makes public what was previously talked about in private.”
Due to the frequency of opinions expressed about these secret organizations on social media, current SGA President Cole Burns recently entered into this discussion about Greek life.
Burns agreed with the view of many students who recently became vocal about secret societies on social media, stating “I think everyone’s biggest complaint is when the glitter comes up or the letters go missing from the sign – when people feel like it’s affecting the campus atmosphere.”
According to the general opinions Burns receives from student input, the vandalism attributed to secret societies is regarded as contributing to a bad image for the college and affects the perspective of prospective students.
There is a distinction to be made between the known groups of secret societies and Burns echoed this sentiment. There is, according to social knowledge, a kind of divide between these organizations that leaves groups that are more mischievous and party-oriented as compared to some societies that tend to be more nominal and based around friend groups.
When the glitter appeared on the steps of various buildings around campus earlier this year, Burns said he saw a litany of Sutton faculty/staff expressing their opinions about students cleaning up the mess left behind.
“I do know, from talking to staff, that cleaning up the glitter does put a huge stress on the cleaning crew. It makes it that our resources are going to places they don’t need to go,” Burns said.
When asked about his personal opinions of this issue, Burns referenced constituents that he had lengthy conversations with regarding secret societies and sided with their general opinion that “[secret societies] do kind of take away from what our school is about – we’re about diversity and inclusion.”
But Burns made it clear that his role as SGA President allows him to take on a organizer/facilitator position within this issue and that he considers many different opinions when trying to make sense of this topic.
He referenced a conversation with an unnamed faculty member who had graduated from MC after spending time in a secret society that, for them, had represented a place for them to belong as a student outside of the athletic and academic niches on campus.
The school has introduced the thought of having 2 official sororities and fraternities, but that is still in discussion. The idea is that regulation with supervision could provide students with a comfortable atmosphere to choose to participate in the societies, while limiting the vandalism and negative effects of such groups.
Regardless of Burns’ opinion, SGA does not have the power to make a decision on this issue. The Board of Directors regulates a chain of command that SGA does participate in, which means that a formal resolution submitted by the members of SGA could hold a great deal of weight in future discussions about secret societies on campus.
Norris explained, “If the students want to address the secret societies or bring Greek life to MC, then the students need to take the initiative to make this happen. SGA is the outlet for students to make this happen.”
Most recently, SGA allotted 30 minutes out of their regular meeting times to go out to constituents directly in order to poll them about issues they wanted to see addressed on campus. Greek life and secret societies did not come up.
More students voiced opinions about programs like recycling or adding more work study positions, but Greek life is not the top priority for the student body.
Norris concluded her remarks by summarizing, “The task force recommended that the college continue to openly acknowledge the existence of these societies while being very clear that these are not college approved or regulated organizations.”
The college has endeavored to address this issue with mindfulness and careful research, but if students want change, they must ask for it.
Any concerns regarding these issues should be addressed to the Campus Life committee within SGA. The committee is co-chaired by Camille Loggins and Ryan Delicato. They hold open meetings in the Student Development office within Bartlett every Tuesday at 12:30 pm.