The Trust and Trade, or Fumbling Through the Tomb, 2019
Excerpt of a 25min slideshow lecture
A few pictures have been blacked out for the safety of parties involved.
This is a picture of a utility closet in one of Yale’s secret societies. This is where I hid, when two members returned to the building earlier than I had predicted. This society holds a strict no-visitor, no-camera policy, and here I was—not only an outsider, but one with a digital camera around the neck, a strobe in one hand, and a view camera in the other.
One of its current members snuck me into the building during a break, when the other members would be out of town. Yale University holds several secret societies, which were originally started as elite invite-only undergraduate clubs. The three wealthiest, earliest secret societies have been dubbed “The Big Three,” and this is one of them.
Two locked doors make the front entrance into the windowless building. The first uses a generic key, which each member holds. The second is a combination lock built into the center of the original 19th century door.
How it works is that the current members, all senior undergrads, select a few juniors to “tap” (or invite) into joining their secret society. This particular one taps 15 per year.
The group is funded by a trust that has been started since it’s founding, in the mid-1800s. It’s in the society’s best interest to ”tap” the students they think will be most successful after graduation, so that the network of alumni continues to feed the trust.
In this particular secret society, I learned that each member can access a grant of $15,000 each year for a decade after they’ve graduated. So potentially, each member has access to about $150,000 just for being part of the society.
Most of the older secret societies are technically categorized as debate teams, and they still do debate. Here is the debate room, you can see the patina on the headboards where many sweaty heads have rested during debates.
A few topics include:
Does capitalism promote altruism?
Can a dog truly be a man’s best friend?
These are the cloaks that they wear during the debates.
This is one of the walls in their dining room, where three times a week, members gather for dinner cooked and served by a team of private chefs and servers.
This is the bathroom of the facility workers, you can see the servers' uniforms hanging and the cleaning supplies for the janitors who maintain the space throughout the week. You can see the coat hanging on the towel rack—they’re required to dress in uniform when members are present.
Here, in the men's room, the urina
There’s three stories to the building. This is on the second story where they hold their archive of stolen objects from other societies or things around campus that may be culturally valuable. Down in the basement, they have a commercial grade kitchen in the and its fully stocked of every drink and snack requested by the members.
I’m headed towards the kitchen for some water when I hear two members enter through the main entrance right above me.
I run into the kitchen and through this door. I hear them coming down the stairs into the basement, and I make it into the nearest closet with all my equipment.
I’m standing behind the ladder with all my equipment, and remember, these are undergrads—I'm not so scared of what would happen to me if I were caught, but I’m terrified of what I'd be taking from my friend who had given me access—I'd be costing that person their seat in the society along with $150,000, a very real thing.
So I'm staying as quiet as possible, and I hear the members enter the kitchen, and they’re getting into the snacks.
The two are talking about one of the member's problem with their current roommate, and how they're going to move out the dorms during break and into the Winchester Lofts.