Senior societies navigate challenges as winter tapping proceeds virtually

by Sydney Wuu | 1/12/21 2:00am

1-11-21-sphinx-nainabhalla
by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth’s 14 recognized senior societies and various unrecognized ones are gearing up to pass the torches on to the next senior class in a process known as “tapping.” This winter’s fully remote tapping process, which will embrace text messages, emails and Zoom calls, comes nearly a year after many current members of senior societies themselves underwent tapping virtually.

This winter’s official tapping period — commencing on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. and ending at midnight on Feb. 20 — will see members of Abaris, Andromeda, Atlas, Casque and Gauntlet, Chimera, Cobra, Dragon, Fire and Skoal, Griffin, Olympus, Order of the Sirens, Phoenix, Pyxis and Sphinx select their membership from the Class of 2022. Current society members will anonymously reach out to juniors at the start of the week, then reveal themselves by the final day of the tapping period. Juniors will decide whether or not to accept their offers, or which offer to accept should they have multiple, on “decision day,” Feb. 21.

Office of Greek Life director Brian Joyce noted that as with last spring, COVID-19 safety guidelines will restrict how senior societies can approach the tapping process.

“[Societies] can be creative in how they tap an individual, but they can’t do it in person,” he said.

While all senior societies must choose potential members remotely, exact tapping protocols differ from society to society. Many senior society members have had limited face-to-face interactions with the Class of 2022, posing a challenge in deciding between members.

One president of a recognized secret society said that last year, his virtual tapping experience involved receiving an anonymous email encouraging him to complete tasks like writing a poem and creating a collage about himself. At the end of the tapping week, all new members joined a Zoom call in which current society members had their cameras off before revealing themselves to the group. A president of a different society, who was tapped in person last winter prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that her tapping experience involved a series of mysterious emails, ultimately leading to a group scavenger hunt around campus.

Each society must submit a list of potential tappees to the Office of Greek Life by Jan. 16. To prepare for the upcoming deadline, at least one society has organized an online survey for current members to submit as many names as they want to be potentially tapped.

The Office of Greek Life will then organize the taps into “single taps” and “multi-taps” — where “multi-taps” appear on more than one society’s list — and ensure every potential member is of good academic standing. They then send the lists back for each senior society to finalize. The process varies by society, but some societies operate such that each member is allowed to tap one or multiple members. One president also described a full-society deliberation process for each potential member in the period before Feb. 16.

This year’s tapping process will face another unique factor, as many current senior society members were tapped remotely. One president said this year’s society members have experienced their secret societies entirely differently and may find it difficult to imagine in-person events and tapping.

“I was a spring tap, which means I was tapped when things were already virtual,” the president said. “All I know from societies is what it’s like to be tapped virtually, and so as I’m going into being on the other end of choosing to tap people, I sort of feel as if nothing’s different.”

Another president explained that this year’s leadership will rely on knowledge from both those tapped in person and those tapped virtually.

“[Members who were tapped in person are important] in keeping traditions alive and making sure that the ’22s will know how to tap people in person for next year, if in-person tapping is happening,” she said. “But also, the people who were tapped in the spring virtually are going to be really helpful because those of us tapped in person don’t exactly know how the virtual tapping process went.”

Joyce added that a recent meeting with leadership from each society brought in members of the Class of 2020 who went through the initial shift to virtual tapping and programming in March. Joyce said they talked about what parts of virtual tapping were successful.

“We’re going to lean on the students who’ve done it to help us figure out ways that were successful,” Joyce said.