Green Key Society redefines its role

by Scott Anthony | 5/13/93 10:00pm

Since its creation 72 years ago as a hosting group designed to welcome visiting athletic teams, the Green Key Society has undergone dramatic changes, and is still struggling to fully define its new role.

The junior class honor society now dedicates itself to providing services to the College, but to do so effectively it must be able to make its true purpose clear.

The History of the Society

Green Key originated in response to an experience Dartmouth football players had when they went to Seattle in 1920.

When the football team went to play the University of Washington that year, students of the University's service organization, the Knights of the Hook, greeted them at the train station.

The group provided transportation to the football players' lodgings, served as guides and, according to later reports by the players, introduced them to several Washington-area women.

"Six of the seats in each car were filled with the prettiest co-eds a bunch of clunks from a men's college could honestly say they'd ever seen," football player William Cunninghman '21 wrote when recalling the game in an article for The Boston Herald in 1951.

The next year Dartmouth announced the creation of the Green Key Society, composed of about 50 sophomores.

The society had three responsibilities: to entertain guests of other institutions, to act as a permanent "vigilance committee" to keep freshmen in line, and to select men to act as cheerleaders and ushers.

The day after its birth, the editors of The Dartmouth called Green Key a "rather striking innovation, the worth of which must wait upon time to tell."

The society chose Green Key as their name because "it symbolizes Dartmouth in the word Green, and hospitality in the word Key," The Dartmouth reported.

Two years later, the society's membership became all juniors, and the society was responsible solely for meeting visiting athletic teams.

In the next 20 years, Green Key, while retaining its primary function as a welcoming group, became more service oriented. It began producing a freshman handbook to explain College organizations and activities to incoming students on campus.

Standards for entry into Green Key rose during that time period, and members became more representative of organizations on College.

This was done in response to what the society perceived as "the death of the service ideal in favor of prestige," said a history published by the Green Key in 1965.

The Society also began helping the College during freshman orientation and Commencement activities by serving as ushers.

And in 1929 the Green Key Society first sponsored the Green Key Spring Prom, which would remain a tradition for more than 30 years before turning into Green Key Weekend.

Cunningham described the origin of the Green Key Prom in the article in the Boston Herald.

"Instead of soft lights, hot music and gentle dabbles in romance, it came straight out of a he-man's world of blood, sweat and leather," he wrote.

During World War II, Green Key suspended normal operations for two years, and according to Green Key advisor and Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia, served as the student government during that time.

The society began taking on even more services after the war, including the publication of the picture desk calendar and date book still entitled "Day by Day."

A Change in Focus

As sports teams began to grow, the Dartmouth College Athletic Council took over Green Key's role in meeting visiting teams, leaving the society's primary role as a service organization of ushers.

During the late-1980s, the society was struggling to define itself. Alexander McCormick, who was then the assistant dean of the College and the Green Key advisor to the 1987-88 society, said the Society needed to change its focus.

"Green Key has to do some soul-searching about its role and purpose," he said. "Its major functions no longer exist."

Green Key Today and Tomorrow

Now the Society's primary functions are to publish Day by Day and to help the College during Freshman Orientation week, Commencement and Reunion weekend, and with student elections.

But Green Key does not limit itself to these activities.

"Basically anyone who needs any sort of help doing anything can contact us," says Jen Suhie '94, Green Key President.

Suhie said the Hopkins Center asked for the Green Key's help in ushering during Freshman Orientation, and Blunt Alumni Center requested help ushering for former President John Kemeny's funeral in January.

The College asks for other kinds of help as well, Suhie said. "Dick's House called on us because a woman was extremely ill and couldn't get her books," she said.

According to Suhie, the society has taken a more active role on campus in recent years.

She said this year Green Key coordinated visits to sick students at Dick's House, worked on admissions tours and receptions for transfer students and raised money for charities like the United Way.

She said although the focus of Green Key has changed radically since its beginning, it has not changed significantly in the last couple of years, and said she thinks there will be few changes in Green Key's primary purpose in the future.

"I really can't see any huge changes. Nicole Hager was the president two years ago and she helped me in setting guidelines," Suhie said. "The '93s helped us a lot, and next year we'll be passing it down."

Sateia said although Green Key has changed over the years, its basic function hasn't changed.

"It's continuing with a service aspect on campus," she said. "It helps to usher in new students and say goodbye to old ones."

According to Sateia, 35 to 40 students stay each year to usher for commencement.

Coordinator of Student Programs Linda Kennedy had high words for those students. "They're supposed to find the bodies and keep a smile on no matter what happens," she said.

Sateia says that Green Key "gives students an opportunity to serve Dartmouth, and helps those who need help."

The current constitution of the Green Key Society calls for 65 members: 20 elected by the student body, the junior class president and 44 representatives of student organizations on campus.

Student interest in participating on Green Key has been waning in recent years. This year only 16 students from the Class of '95 ran for the 20 at-large Green Key positions, with the other four elected seats filled by write-in candidates.

In 1985, 72 sophomores ran for the 20 seats.

Suhie said that she has had to fight apathy as president. "Membership has been dwindling," she said.

At the beginning of Fall term, Suhie said Green Key mailed out forms to the organizations that have seats on Green Key, telling them what would be expected of them. Of the 44 possible seats, Suhie said only about 30 responded.

"Maybe it's because we are upping the status of the Green Key Society. Now you have to be willing to participate."

Sateia said Green Key still serves a very important role on campus. "I think it's still needed, I don't know where all the things they do would be covered," she said.

Weekly meetings are generally only attended by about 15 members, Suhie said. "As of now people are having trouble making meetings," she said. "People always have so much to do here."

She said she does not consider this an insurmountable problem, because members are always willing to work on projects.

She said she hopes to revise the constitution of the Society to lower the numbers and get better representation from student organizations, and to hopefully raise interest in the organization.

"I'm hoping that with revisions in the constitution people will take it more seriously," she said.

Suhie said overall, she is pleased with what Green Key has accomplished this year. "I'm very happy with what we've done," she said. "I hope next year's delegation continues it."