Scarabbean Senior Society

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The Scarabbean Secret Society, with members known as “Scarabs,” is an honor society at the University of Tennessee. The group, established in 1915, has operated largely in secrecy despite being either wholly or partly responsible for many events, traditions, and activities in student life, athletics, and academics. The group’s motto is “To Be Nameless in Worthy Deeds.”[1]

Scarabbean Senior Society brick on UT campus

History and past contributions[edit]

The idea of the group first came to John Ayres (’15), the son of the University President Brown Ayres. He desired to form a group that could incorporate leaders in various campus organizations to better work together and coordinate on improving student life. He approached two faculty members for help, Elliot Park Frost and George Hebert Clarke, and the group was formed.[2] The Scarabbean Senior Secret Society looked at many different areas in the University and then sought ways to improve conditions.

It created, influenced, and encouraged the formation/construction of many features of student life, most of which are still felt today. The group established All-Students Club, now called the Student Government Association, in 1919. It started both Carnicus and the All-Sing Competition. The Society also created the predecessor the University’s Interfraternity Council, the Fraternity Relations Board.

After its early years, the group continued its impact at the school. It strongly supported the formation of the University Center and spiritual retreats. It also started, both in 1965, the school’s current student newspaper, The Daily Beacon, and the student activities fee to help pay for it and other endeavors.[3] The group is also responsible for several University traditions, such as the Alma Mater, the Torchbearer symbol, Aloha Oe, and Torch Night.[2] In recent years, little is known about what the group has been involved in although a few things are known. It launched the Honors Ambassador’s Program to better recruit students[4] and the Student Gift Committee,[5] leading to the addition of University history onto the pedestrian walkway and the clock tower near the main library, among other things. It also used its alumni to set up a teaching award at the university, the L.R. Hesler Award.[6]

Perhaps its most visible contribution to the university from its early years is Neyland Stadium. When the University started to build a new athletic field, the school ran out of money and could not finish the project. However, during a Society meeting, it was decided that the students and faculty could help finish the construction. So in the Spring of 1921, students and faculty leveled the field, dug drainage ditches, and added other improvements. Thus the new athletic field, Shields-Watkins Field, was now finished.[2]

Beliefs, traditions, and membership[edit]

As stated earlier, the group’s motto is “To Be Nameless in Worthy Deeds.” It forms the basis of the group’s ideals. More can be accomplished by working behind the scenes on campus improvements with members unable to take credit. However, the group’s longtime faculty advisor, LR Hesler, in his history of the Society, said there is another quote that the group accepts which is Johann Goethe’s “Where there is much light, the shadows are deepest.”

A large part of the group that continues today includes an Egyptian and pirate culture. The emphasis on ancient Egyptian culture can be traced to the use of the scarab beetle. It has had a place in most of the group’s history. A student’s time at the University and in the Society could be, “an experience where he can activate his spirit in he direction of improving his moral and emotional nature; where he can learn something from the stout-bodied scarab beetle – a symbol of his own resurrection.” The use of the scarab beetle is also used as part of the society’s logo, along with crossed swords. Other references to ancient Egypt include invoking “Bubastis” and the titles “Worthy Osiris” and "Amenophis III," which are leadership positions within the society.[5]

The other theme used heavily in the Society is the pirate culture. In its early years in the yearbook, a boat was used as the group’s symbol instead the scarab beetle and then it was used together with the scarab beetle before being dropped. The name of the group’s newsletter for most of its history was The Pirate[1] until the name changed to Orange Slices.[7] In addition to the two Egyptian-named leadership titles, the group also has two pirate-named titles, “Henry Morgan” and “Edward Davis.”[8]

While there are several other traditions, they do not really use any Egyptian or pirate themes. Fellow members are called “comrades” and there is an annual meeting with current and past members every homecoming. The group still maintains a directory of all members called The Blackbook. The Society also flies a flag for every graduation to congratulate its graduates though no names are listed, only “Nameless.” The Society used to publish all members in the Volunteer yearbook but stopped after 1969, with the exception of 1981. Since 1969, very few new members are known.

Initiation and membership is closely guarded. In years past, the typical tapping ground for new initiates was at the University’s Torchbearer statue. But the current method is not confirmed although tapping students in the library and asking, “Are you ready?” is one of the current rumors concerning initiation.[9] For most of its history, the group initiated members based on positions held. For example, the SGA President was always inducted along with the Vice President and the SGA Election Commissioner.[1] But in recent years, it is possible the group has stopped adding members based on positions held.[10] For a majority of its history, membership was restricted to only white males but that policy has changed in recent decades.


There has been plenty of criticism of the Scarabbean Senior Secret Society but most of it has been within the past two decades. Due to the strength of its secrecy, the group was largely anonymous and nearly all students were unaware of its existence. But the group connected student leaders and mid-to-high level university administrators. Even in its early years, administrators handpicked members to discuss possible improvements and then those students would feed the information back to their respective groups and increase student support for these endeavors.[11] The closeness of students to administrators has led to beliefs that such student members have been compromised and no longer represent the interests of the student body but rather the administrators and that they have a severe conflict of interest. The secrecy could allow members to act in their own interests instead without having to worry about an outcry from other students.[12]

Other student leaders have occasionally decried the group for its influence on campus and ability to quash rival ideas that may not sync up with the group’s own ideas. In one letter to the editor in 1991 from several SGA executives and Torchbearer Award recipients, they point out how the group’s existence undermines SGA as the Scarabbean Senior Secret Society is where the real interaction between students and administrators are located and where the implementation of ideas become a reality.[13]

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, controversy concerning the group reached its loudest point. On the SGA discussion page, students continually posted about the Scarabs and how it was a major conspiracy.[14] It was not until an expose by the school newspaper in November 1999 that the controversy was campus-wide. Students blasted the secrecy while outed members defended themselves by saying students should want top leaders to work in secret with the administration or blasted student ignorance.[12][15] Allegations of rigging SGA elections followed and students became distrustful of especially the top SGA executives.[16] The controversy followed into the next SGA election as flyers were posted around campus claiming that one of the candidates for president was a Scarab.[17] While the candidate did confirm during a debate that he was a Scarab, he still won the election.[18][19]

See Party Of Darkness (PoD)

Notable Members[edit]

  • Bill Johnson,[22] 1957 All-American guard in football

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Secret campus group surfaces | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  2. ^ a b c “Scarabbean Senior Secret Society at the University of Tennessee: Its Origin, Purpose, Methods of Operation, and Achievements,” L.R. Hesler, University of Tennessee Libraries, Special Collections, unlisted student affairs box
  3. ^ September 1965 edition of The Pirate, University of Tennessee Libraries, Special Collections, AR.0499, box 1, folder 1
  4. ^ "New ambassador program begins | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  5. ^ a b Summer 1994 edition of The Pirate, University of Tennessee Libraries, Special Collections, AR.0499, box 1, folder 1
  6. ^ University Faculty Senate meeting minutes from February 11th meeting,
  7. ^ "New ambassador program begins | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  8. ^ Summer 1994 edition of The Pirate, University of Tennessee Libraries, Special Collections, AR.0499, box 1, folder 1
  9. ^ "Our View: 'Caribs' society pokes fun at real secret society | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  10. ^ "Secret society leaves mark in unexpected ways | The Daily Beacon". 2011-04-29. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  11. ^ Montgomery, James Riley. Threshold of a New Day: The University of Tennessee 1919-1946. (The University of Tennessee Record, 1974), 311.
  12. ^ a b "Our View: Self-importance | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  13. ^ “Leaders Allege Secret Society Undermined SGA,” The Daily Beacon, April 20s, 1991.
  14. ^ "Don't Vote, Don't Gripe | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Our View: Mudslinging | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  18. ^ "Debate focuses on funding, fun | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  19. ^ "Our View: Ups | The Daily Beacon". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  20. ^ a b 1924 edition of the Volunteer yearbook, page 211
  21. ^ 1948 edition of the Volunteer yearbook, page 341
  22. ^ 1958 edition of the Volunteer yearbook, page 218
  23. ^ 1956 edition of the Volunteer yearbook, page 118
  24. ^ "Bugged: Scarabs infest campus | The Daily Beacon". 2005-04-15. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  25. ^ Alice Howell, Lucile Deaderick (ed.), Heart of the Valley: A History of Knoxville, Tennessee (East Tennessee Historical Society, 1976), pp. 582.
  26. ^ 1969 edition of the Volunteer yearbook, page 82

External links[edit]