Thursday, March 04, 2004Here's some anonymous historical commentary on Michigamua I received:
"Now a few years removed from Ann Arbor and from the 2000 Michigamua tower occupation, I look back and have to laugh at the state of Michigamua. Sure, the multi-week occupation gave the organization and the University a black eye, but even more so, exposed what a sorry state the student elite of the University community was and, I'm afraid still is. And I'm sure that the community of the student elite will continue to languish, whither and perhaps die on the Michigamua vine.
I don't claim to be a Michigamua historian, but I have a unique perspective on the whole matter. I first saw the inside of the Michigamua tower way back around 1993 or '94, when I was a freshmen in high school oddly enough. I was given a tour by a Michigamua member who was dating my sister, who in her words "was trying to impress" us by having keys to the tower. While he was giving us a tour, I remember that he said something to the effect of: "Yeah, 'Gama used to do stuff. All we do are service projects now. I guess that's cool." Deep thoughts, aint it?
I of course was too young to really understand the symbolism of the artifacts in the tower space. I guess I thought it was cool to be part of a secret society. You at least got a cool view of State Street.
Later on, my sister told me about witnessing a Michigamua initiation ceremony/banquet at some decrepit suburban hotel, where there were all sorts of cheesy initiation phrases, ridiculous nicknames, etc. "Onward Lone Wolf! Welcome to the brotherhood." or something ridiculous like that. But the food was horrid. My sister said that for an elite society, they could have at least had some decent food. It was a let down I guess. For the student elite, hand-picked from the leading Greek organizations, student groups, etc., it was telltale sign that the organization wasn't all that elite.
If I remember correctly, it was a long standing tradition for Michigama to tap the top editors at the Daily. But then sometime in the late 1990s, even the Daily started to wisen up. While I'm not sure of the whole story, a top Daily sports editor (who now works for a top metropolitan daily) had to resign over something Gama related. The top management at the Daily realized the being part of Gama was a major conflict of interest and it became unofficial policy at the management desk that if you were at the Daily, the tower was off limits. (In the wake of the tower occupation, the Daily editors fired a reporter for dating a high-profile Michigamua member.) As it was told to me by an editor at the time, Michigamua was becoming a pathetic organization, that didn't do anything, and had a more-than-suspicious past. It was a recipe for public relations disaster: Do-nothing student leaders dressing up in headdresses (or what ever they did in the tower) getting drunk and calling eachother insensitive or stupid nicknames. Fortunately for the Daily, the editors abandoned the organization before the fallout. Some Michigan Student Assembly executives, of course didn't, only to meet the wrath of an incensed student body at public meetings. They found out the hard way that getting yelled at by a more-than-normally-agitated Jessica Curtin was a bad thing.
So when lists of Michigamua members were released and more details about the organization became known, the true picture of the University's secret student elite came into focus. So how do you put together a Michigamua class, or for Phoenix for that matter? First, find student leaders from warm and cuddly community service projects (Detroit Project, K Grams, etc.). Second, add some well-rounded athletes, preferably from some second- and third-tier sports. Third, find your racial and religious diversity. Fourth: How about some MSA people? They're always upstanding and fun to be around. Fifth, mix any random stragglers that somehow got accepted to Eunice Royster Harper's LeaderShape program. But wait, we're an elite organization, we need some exclusivity! How 'bout the Greek system? They seem to know a bit about initiations and social exclusionary tactics. Let's get some one from the Pan-Hellenic board. Bam, we have the University's student elite! Boy, that was easy.
So what does a secret society do besides sit in a room being secret and exclusive? They already represent a wide variety of student activities, so they can't duplicate their campus efforts through their coordinating "pow wows." So they do something that cuts across campus. What about a huge community service project that raises money for a good cause? Sounds great. Some other universities are doing Dance Marathon, why isn't U-M? That sounds like a great idea! Bam! Now they're raising a lot of money for childhood cancer.
I'm sorry if I sound like I'm disparaging community service projects. That is not my intent. They are worthwhile. But for a legendary organization that got Crisler Arena and the Union built, a simple fundraising event seems to demean the existence of an organization that has done quite a bit for the University historically ... sans its insensitivities of its name, customs, etc.
When I look at the lists of people who are/have been in the secret societies the past few years, I snarl at their fusion in an exclusive society. I know a lot of them, and they are good people. They mean well, but many are just a bit too vaccuous to avoid tripping over their good intentions to actaully live up to Michigamua's goal of building a better University. There are greater issues facing the student community that the exclusive coalition of student leaders could be working on. We can only hope that they can build greater than they are. In the meantime, hundreds of other student leaders who aren't in the special club are pushing to make their corner of campus better for everyone else. Imagine if Michigamua could actually secretly coordinate everyone's efforts for the greater good (Of course, putting its troublesome past in a dusty closet in the annals of University history would be a good first step ...I'm afraid changing the name to "Michigamua: New Traditions for a New Millenium" isn't going to cut it.)
(In a semi-related note, when Bush and Kerry debate later this year, if a journalist asks a question about Skull and Bones and one of them begins to answer, they both have to walk off stage, according to tradition, orso I've heard. Now there's a secret society. Barb the Younger didn't get in though.)"
> Who's in Michigamua?
Posted by Rob at 1:23 AM