In 1999, when members of the secret Paladin Society dressed in black ninja suits and hoisted tiki torches above their heads in support of an outdoor pep rally, some University officials mistook the pranksters for Ku Klux Klan impersonators.
An alliance of faculty members formed to condemn the society.
“The symbolism and public rituals of the Paladin Society potentially undermine Emory’s commitment to diversity and progressive social change,” the 14 faculty members wrote in a public letter.
In some respects, the misunderstanding was not surprising: Secret societies at Emory don’t enjoy the legacy or cult-like status that they do at schools such as Yale University (Conn.) and the University of Virginia.
But some people are trying to change that. In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of secret society activity on campus. Their anonymous leaders have orchestrated several pranks and challenged one another to boost their presence within the University.
But how they will expand their presence at Emory and what exactly they plan to do remains a mystery.
A tradition of secrecy
Emory’s secret societies include Paladin, the Order of Ammon, Ducemus and D.V.S. Senior Society.
The earliest surviving secret society, D.V.S., was founded in spring 1900, according to University archives.
The first evidence of Ducemus exists in a 1992 Commencement program, and Paladin was established in 1999.
The Order of Ammon would not release any information about its history.
Anonymous representatives from different societies said that each organization stands for dedication to the University and enabling Emory to reach its full potential.
“Paladins have one essential trait, common among them — they value the beauty and the vibrancy of Emory University and have dedicated themselves to its enduring spirit,” Paladin representatives wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel.
Similarly, Ducemus said it promotes “loyalty, integrity, tradition and vision in the life of the University.”
The Order of Ammon said its purpose is to be “the most legitimate and dedicated secret society at Emory.”
Asked specifically what kind of activities they organize, the Order of Ammon said simply, “secret ones.”
D.V.S., which University archives describe as the most exclusive honor society on campus in its selection of members, would not provide any information about its activity or history.
However, D.V.S. wrote in an editorial to the Wheel that its members include Student Government Association presidents, members of the Emory Board of Trustees and other prominent Atlantans.
Rites of passage
Each society boasts a distinct set of rules and principles.
Paladin, for instance, said it selects students with prior leadership experience.
“Paladins are not recruited, they are watched and then they are selected,” the society wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel. “Paladins rise up from every area of campus involvement, every race, religion and creed.”
Paladin maintains a membership of 12 people, based on the original number of knights of Charlemagne.
The 1957 D.V.S. handbook in the University archives indicates that the society’s seven active members are always seniors. Before graduating, these members pick seven replacements from the rising senior class.
Ducemus maintains a membership of five anonymous seniors they characterize as “diverse.”
The society recently recognized the efforts of College senior Marcella Ducca, former president of the Student Programming Council, with a sign in the Dobbs University Center Coca-Cola Commons.
Ducca said she knew nothing about either the society’s plans to recognize her or about the society itself.
“It is a great honor, and I don’t know much about Ducemus except that they are a secret society,” Ducca said. “But I’m still honored by it.”