Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Historical Legacy of a Secret Society at Duke University (1913-1971): Cultural Hegemony and the Tenacious Ideals of the "Big Man on Campus"
by Barr, Krispin Wagoner, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, 2013, 376; 3575890
Abstract (Summary)

Collegiate secret societies, as distinguished from Greek-letter fraternal organizations, enjoyed prominence within many American campus communities from the early nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century (Baird, 1879; Hitchcock, 1863; Slosson, 1910; Veysey, 1965). The establishment of these elite groups preceded the maturation of university administrative structures responsible for managing students’ extracurricular life, as well as the mass democratization of American higher education which occurred after World War II (Rudolph, 1990; Cohen, 2010). The presence of prestigious secret societies is documented and celebrated in college yearbooks and newspapers, reflecting a period in higher education's past when the hegemony of the white, male prevailed in student culture and fostered the composite ideal of the “Big Man on Campus” (“B.M.O.C.”) – the handsome varsity athlete, fraternity man, and club president destined for success in American public life.

Although collegiate secret societies “disappeared” on many campuses in the Civil Rights Era amidst accusations of elitism and reactions against established white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant norms, their legacy lingers into the twenty-first century, along with many unanswered questions about their historical role as a source of student power on campus. Their roots can be traced to the prestigious all-male boarding schools of the Northeastern United States in the late nineteenth century where patterns of upper-class masculine socialization developed. Due to a dearth of historical research on this topic, however, institutional leaders are challenged to understand the origins, purpose, and legacy of this type of student association that still holds meaning for students and other stakeholders in some campus communities.

This study utilized critical social theory from Bourdieu and Gramsci and the emerging scholarship of whiteness studies to provide an historical analysis of the rise and fall of the Order of Red Friars senior class secret society that was active at Duke University (Trinity College prior to 1924) between 1913 and 1971. Student leaders who manifested the “B.M.O.C.” ideal were tapped for membership in this group and collaborated with presidents, trustees, administrators, and select faculty on an agenda for student life (Durden, 1993). Utilizing archival research methods and oral history interviews, I was able to explore the involvement of the Order of Red Friars in the administration of student affairs at Duke University for sixty years during the twentieth century. This study provided basic knowledge about the phenomenon of the collegiate secret society and a deeper understanding of the cultural hegemony from which they emerged that continues to influence campus cultures today.

The history of American higher education literature documents how faculty discarded their in loco parentis responsibilities for managing student behavior as their field professionalized in the late nineteenth century (Rudolph, 1990; Thelin, 2011; Veysey, 1965) and how specialization of the student affairs profession coalesced four decades later in the 1930s (ACE, 1937; Biddix & Schwartz, 2012; Lloyd-Jones, 1934; Schwartz, 2003). Yet, the historical role of students in the campus power structure of the early twentieth century, and particularly their role in sustaining their extracurricular affairs during this period, has been largely unexamined. This study addresses the gap that exists in the history of higher education literature about collegiate culture in the early twentieth century in the South, as well as the phenomenon of the collegiate secret society as a source of power on campus. (Thelin, 1982; Veysey, 1965).

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jaeger, Audrey
Commitee: Dixon, Karrie, Prosterman, Daniel, Rockenbach, Alyssa, Umbach, Paul
School: North Carolina State University
Department: Educational Research and Policy Analysis
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 75/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Higher Education Administration, Education Policy, Education history
Keywords: Duke University, Higher education governance, Secret societies, Student culture, “Big Man on Campus”
Publication Number: 3575890
ISBN: 978-1-303-54904-5
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