The words “We are Watching” may stand as the most memorable part of the September 6 club fair. They were written in a picture frame placed at a conspicuously unattended table with a banner reading “Claw and Compass.” This cryptic message at the club fair is more than just a practical joke. A secret society in the tradition of Yale’s Skull and Bones has formed at RIT and is beginning to make its presence known.
Present at the club fair was Student Government (SG) President Matt Danna. Thinking back to the event, he said, “I saw people taking papers and writing their contact information down ... I think it’s by invitation only.”
Danna previously dodged association to the group in a September 6 tweet reply to BookMaid stating, “I never remember approving a Claw and Compass club in the past three years…” Danna now claims he was approached by students interested in creating this society, not as a club, but an independent organization recognized by the school. Once recognized, they would not be responsible to SG or any organization below SG.
“Secret societies” are known for their exclusive membership and exist as a way for peers to honor each other for outstanding academics, service and leadership. These traditions are often found in colleges with a rich history. In fact, secret societies have been practically synonymous with the establishment of higher education in the United States. The Skull and Bones society of Yale is probably the most infamous example, with former President George W. Bush, Senator John Kerry and Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in membership.
Dr. Heath Boice-Pardee, RIT’s associate vice president for Student Affairs, previously worked as Rutgers’s Dean of Students and has researched the various roles that secret societies have played in campus life. While at Rutgers, Boice-Pardee experienced this dynamic with the Cap and Skull, a secret honor society created in 1900.
While working with the Cap and Skull, Boice-Pardee observed that “many of the activities that the students engaged in, [while in the Cap and Skull] they didn’t engage in as a society. They engaged in them through ... their leadership positions within the university.” Students will often convene and make decisions about how best to use their talents to influence the school.
Boice-Pardee has been in contact with the students who have created the society and sees their role as a way to establish tradition at RIT. “I think traditions help people connect to their school … a community, a family.
Forging a new tradition, he says, could also benefit RIT financially. “The people [who] are typically associated with secret societies are very successful and very successful with giving back to the university.”
An immediate expectation for this kind of presence on campus is a way to get students excited about being part of the RIT community, despite diverse interests. “I think it’s a grass-roots way to bring about school spirit,” commented Danna.
For now, the Claw and Compass Society remains as mysterious as it did on club day. With no major public appearance, it has yet to be determined what the society’s tangible goals are or what they expect to do as a group. The few who know about the group have expressed little concern for a co-ed society with an agenda that is not necessarily in public record. When asked whom he expected to be picked by the Claw and Compass, Danna commented: “I hope the people they choose are true leaders.”