Column: GW's Secret Society

by L. Asher Corson

It's not that they don't like you, you just aren't invited. It's not that they don't trust you, you just aren't special. Special students at GW get to be members of the Order of the Hippo, our very own secret society. Although the nature of such an organization makes it hard to gather reliable information about it, I can tell you that the Order of the Hippos exists. Many old and new student leaders are members. It is documented that University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg started the group and runs the entire operation. With so little time to meet with students, I wonder how he has time be a part of a secret organization.

Although certain prestigious Universities are known for their secret societies, the Order of the Hippo is a recent creation. The underground organization serves as an avenue for him to control student access to himself. Anyone that has ever tried to meet with him can tell you that the ability to talk to President Trachtenberg is one of most guarded and valuable assets on campus. It is hard to sit down and get a meeting with the most powerful man in Foggy Bottom. Each student is only allowed to visit his office hours one time while attending GW. Trachtenberg only holds office hours a few times a year. He flatly rejects student representation on the Board of Trustees. It may not look like it, but Trachtenberg does have time to listen to students. He finds time to meet with his secret society.

The concept of a secret society does seem creepy to me. I don't blame the Order of the Hippo for being creepy - they can't help it. My problem is that the University President runs this secret organization. I would question any students that form secret societies. What am I missing that is so much fun about hiding things from people? The answer is that it is not about fun, it is about influence. Administrators in positions of extreme power should not be creating secret exclusionary institutions. The practical effect of how Trachtenberg does business is that he cuts himself off from the vast majority of the student body. He tightly controls access to himself. The Order of the Hippo represents Trachtenberg's most substantive effort to interact with the students. It's sad that it has to be in secret.

I know that this is an exciting development for much of the GW community. At first I was excited to find out about the Order of the Hippo. Because secret societies seem to play such an important role in national politics, the Order of the Hippo could be your ticket to the White House. Now that I know a little more about GW's secret society, my advice is: don't count on it. This secret organization does not exist to get politicians elected or take over the world, it exists to help Trachtenberg influence student affairs by not listening to regular students.

Don't be surprised, secrecy is the GW way. Important campus matters are decided by a closed and secretive organization, the Board of Trustees. Student leaders don't need to be as accountable if their negotiations with administrators are taking place secretly. More importantly, President Trachtenberg has more freedom to make decisions if his influence over the Board of Trustees and student leaders remains a secret. But that is what is so cool about the University not telling students things; we don't even have the information to criticize them. We are better off just sitting in the dark keeping our mouths closed. I trust that my student leaders will represent me to Trachtenberg in their secret meetings with him. Because now I know that nothing shady ever happens in secret.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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