Our democracy is a system of governance where citizens elect representatives to make decisions regarding our country. But democracy runs much deeper: it lives within the hearts and the actions of each citizen.
Democracy functions only when citizens develop their personal voice and agency to make change in their community at and beyond the voting booth. It functions only when citizens engage in conversations as equals about how to move forward, recognizing their interdependence and the value of their differences. Democracy is an ideal America strives for where power is shared, not hoarded by the elite. The Penn State secret societies (Lion’s Paw, Skull & Bones, and Parmi Nous) are undemocratic and undermine this democracy. The members of these societies hold leadership positions across prominent Penn State student organizations, collectively amassing unprecedented, unchecked power over the entire community. Members are internally selected and secretly recruited with no representation from the wider student body. Their existence creates a culture where power is in the hands of the students at the top, rather than shared by all. These institutions shape student’s understanding of our own ability to make change, ultimately disempowering us to engage as citizens of this democracy. These societies are undemocratic because their power is unchecked due to secrecy. These societies have power because their members are the leaders of student government, THON, Homecoming, Greek life, and other notable student organizations that shape student life. How can we be sure they are acting for the greater good of the Penn State community if their actions are secret? Transparency allows for critique from all members of the community, so ignored or excluded voices can speak up in an open deliberation about how to improve Penn State given our differences and our interdependence. Decisions made behind closed doors bar the general student body from participation.
Furthermore, the internal selection of members undemocratically denies the general student body the power to elect our own leaders responsible for shaping our community. Only those already present in the societies get to decide which PSU leaders will be recruited next, so they have the power to continually exclude certain groups. This system maintains power within the organizations represented, rather than sharing it with the greater student body and new student organizations. These actions collectively disempower the general student body by shaping our perception of our own power. The exclusive, obscure nature of these programs perpetuates the notion that power only lies with the chosen few who make the cut, rather than in our individual and collective voices as members of this community and democracy. As students, we are molded by our experiences at Penn State. The on-campus environment shapes our level of civic engagement for the rest of our lives. Therefore, the culture perpetuated by these secret societies threatens our democracy by communicating the message that only the elite few part of groups already in power have the ability to affect change. Source: https://www.psuunderground.com/2018/04/17/psu-secret-societies-threaten-our-democracy/