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Episkopon (Greek: Επισκοπῶν, "bishop") is a controversial secret society at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, which has been active since 1858 when its male branch was founded. The 225th reading was held in 2011. A female branch of Episkopon has been active since 1899, holding their 150th Reading in 2009. . Prominent alumni of the Episkopon include Former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham, noted filmmaker Atom Egoyan, and Former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
In 1992, Episkopon was censured and forcibly disassociated by the Trinity College Council following allegations of racism and homophobia. Despite policies prohibiting Episkopon from engaging in any activities on College property, the society continues to play a significant role in undergraduate life at Trinity. The male and female branches both present three annual Readings during which gossip is disseminated and students are criticized through a wide range of formats of jokes, songs, and poems delivered mostly by the branch's leader, the Scribe. The society's mythological premise is to deliver "gentle chastisement" on behalf of the Venerable Father (or Mother) Episkopon, a spirit who supposedly resides at Trinity and who is represented at Readings by a human skull. Described in the media as a "self-perpetuating board of directors", the clandestine group of former Scribes and their assisting editors style themselves as the Order of the Golden Key. The motto of the organization is from Horace: Notandi Sunt Tibi Mores (Latin: "The manners of men are to be carefully observed").
Episkopon has existed since 1858, when it was announced that the first Scribe was Pakenham Edward Stewart, later an Anglican priest. Episkopon began as a student newspaper, developed into a form in which only one copy of each edition was created, to be read aloud by the Scribe. Episkopon provides insight into College history, through the keeping of archives dating back to 1879.[when?] A poster by artist Roloff Beny advertising a Reading from 1945 is in possession of the National Archives of Canada. Also in the National Archives is a film about the former Trinity College campus on Queen Street West, made by Gordon Sparling, in which Episkopon's traditions feature prominently. A board listing the names of female Scribes once hung in Trinity's St. Hilda's College, but was removed upon the group's decision to disassociate from the College, a show of solidarity with the male branch in the 1990s.[when?]
One attempted student suicide was linked to a 1985 reading, although the circumstances of the connection were not reported. In October 1991, following accusations[by whom?] of racism, sexism, and homophobia in Episkopon, a task force was formed to investigate it and Trinity College at large. When the male Scribe of the 1992-1993 academic year refused to draft a constitution that was consistent with the task force's recommendations, the Trinity College Council voted unanimously to sever all ties with the organization. Investigative journalist Declan Hill, a Trinity alumnus, in a 1993 documentary broadcast on the CBC Radio program Ideas, claimed that Episkopon's Readings tended to ridicule certain groups and actions as a form of social control. The article cited student objections to the singling out of individuals for public shaming. In 2008, a prospective male member of Episkopon sustained head injuries while being hazed during an initiation ritual.
In September 2015, a group of Trinity College students created a satirical club entitled "Episkopositive," to bring attention to perceived negative attitudes of Episkopon and to offer a positive atmosphere for students who were not comfortable with attending Episkopon readings. Episkopositive holds its events on the same days and at the same times as Episkopon, and is officially affiliated with Trinity College.
- Trinity, 1852-1952: Published as a special centennial issue of the Trinity Review.[verification needed]
- Mitchell, Alanna (1992-09-05). "Is the student society at venerable Trinity College guilty of offensive human-rights abuses? Or is this another sanctimonious outcry from the prissy ranks of the politically correct?". The Globe and Mail: D1.
- Talaga, Tanya (1999-03-27). "Secret student group divides U of T's Trinity College; Once banned from campus, society returns". The Toronto Star: 1.
- Hill, Declan. "The Tempest at Trinity". Ideas, 1993. Toronto: CBC Radio
- National Archives of Canada
- Grant, Donald (1992-10-06). "Toronto Live: Links to Episkopon Cut". Globe and Mail: 1.
- Declan Hill's resume on his personal website
- Black, Shannon. "Juvenile jokes or cruel cuts? Episkopon, the 140-year-old vehicle of public shaming at U of T's Trinity College". National Post 1 (129): B12.
- Marlow, Iain (2009-05-25). "U of T's Trinity College Tainted by Secret Society: Ritualized Debauchery, Hazing Tarnish Venerable College's Traditions". The Toronto Star: 2.