Op-eds about secret societies generally agree that the tap process is terrible. It “made me anxious beyond belief,” wrote Nate Zelinsky, DC ’13, in a YDN piece entitled “The Need for Reassurance.” “Tap is ugly,” said Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, BR ’12, the year before. Cecilia Xie, TC ’13, described tap as “crazy, hectic, and flat-out stressful.” Teo Soares, SM ’13, opted for stronger words: “protracted,” “untransparent,” “arbitrary,” “gossipy,” and “sucks.”
Duh. If you’re a junior, you’ve either gotten at least one letter slipped under your door—in which case you’ve begun the two- month-long process of waiting, interviewing, waiting, interviewing, waiting, and then, hopefully, finally, getting tapped—or you haven’t, in which case you’re maybe wondering if/why you’re “not good enough” to experience said terrible process. (Of course, you specifically might be one of those people for whom the tap process is entirely chill—maybe your sports team or a cappella group has a guaranteed spot somewhere— in which case this article might not resonate with you.) The senior class went through this last year; Zelinsky, Soares and Xie the year before that; Kress-Tompkins the year before them.
The problem is that people seem to take tap as a given, as if we, the societied seniors, have no control—as if we have summoned a monster without accepting responsibility for its actions. But the truth is that the tap process is created anew by the senior class each year, and we inflict it upon the juniors because it’s a total power trip.
Don’t believe me? Take another look at your (or your suitemate’s) letter, the one with the wax seal and ornate lettering, printed on cardstock and riddled with symbols. It probably says something like “tell no one” and/or “we are watching.” It probably does not identify which society it came from.
All of these elements conspire to remind you that you’re an outsider. You can meet with us, but you’re not one of us. You don’t know our code. You don’t even know who we are.
And what about the letter’s delivery? We went door to door in the freezing cold when we could have emailed you instead. We did so because, when you came home to an envelope with your name on it, you were made to feel like we really are watching you, and that our gaze is panoptic—it even penetrates the walls of your home, which you made the mistake of believing to be private.
From there, it gets worse. We tell you to meet us at 5:28, 7:34, 11:13. Some societies will then make your blindness literal, covering your eyes with a tie or scarf and making you walk in silence; spin around; “watch your step.” You might be interviewed by candlelight, or with a lamp shining in your face so you can’t see us. Some societies will ask you questions that are exploitative (“Which of our members would you most want to hook up with?”) or that give the impression that you’re being judged by your deepest character (“Do you believe in God?”).
If this is the impression you have been given—and it was certainly the impression I had last year—then we’ve fucked up, because the reality is far less sexy: by the time we’re done sorting through tap lines, ensuring “diversity,” and confirming that we’re not also tapping your ex-boyfriend, etc., etc., there’s not much room to consider your eschatology.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The class of 2013 failed my class, and we in turn have failed you. We forgot what this process did to us last year, and we did not anticipate that our fun—our collective exercise of secrecy and power—would make you worry that you aren’t smart enough, talented enough, or popular enough in the eyes of the people you thought were your friends at the school you thought was your home. We willingly summoned the monster.
So. Should you be angry? Absolutely. But please don’t resign yourself to “the tap process.” Next year, when you’re on the other side of this one-way mirror, remember what it felt like to be “watched.” Remember the ugly, crazy, hectic, protracted, untranspar- ent, arbitrary, gossipy, sucky, anxiety-induc- ing process you suffered. And then do we we did not: change it.
I know I would have preferred to receive the following email last year instead of those bogus letters:
“Hi Jesse! My name is [name], and I’m coordinating tap for [society]. One of our members, [name of member], thinks you’d be a good fit, and we’d love to meet with you! Are you free on [date] at [normal time]?
“This process is stressful, but please don’t see it as a measure of your worth. There are so many variables at play that, to be totally honest, your interview won’t even matter all that much. Like I said, we just want to meet you.
“If tap is causing you undue anxiety, then I’m sorry. Hopefully your class will do better. After all, it will be your job to create the process, so it will be within your power to change it.”