Rutgers seniors shed light on secret honor society
In the basement of the Chi Psi Lodge on Jan. 18, 1900, 10 Rutgers seniors gathered to create Cap and Skull, a once secret society that aims to unite the top leaders of each graduating class.
Inspired by other secret societies such as Quill and Dagger at Cornell University and Skull and Bones at Yale University, Cap and Skull is highly selective and accepts 18 members each year. Although its existence and members are now publicly known, there are still traditions within Cap and Skull that are under wraps.
Alumni of the society have gone on to achieve many things. One notable alumnus is , valedictorian of his graduating class in 1919 and the University’s third Black student and its first Black football player. He went on to become both a celebrated performer and political activist.
According to legend, Robeson said his greatest achievement at Rutgers was not his athletic or academic achievements, but instead being tapped by Cap and Skull.
Robeson’s involvement in the society was how Chanel Jordan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, first heard about Cap and Skull.
After Jordan applied and was accepted, she and the other new members were initiated to the society and made known to the public through a formal ceremony known as Tap Day, a Cap and Skull tradition.
At the ceremony, inductees wear robes and sign a book with signatures from all the previous Cap and Skull members. It evolved from the practice of the graduating senior class physically tapping seniors into the society, and now stands as a symbolic day for new members, she said.
Jordan is involved in the Residence Hall Association and the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA), and also helped to run the Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb STEAM Women's Empowerment Conference, an event that supports women in the arts and sciences.
“I think that I was accepted because, through these roles, I was able to find my love for growing as a leader and helping Rutgers grow as well,” she said.
Patrick Phillips, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, is also in this year’s Cap and Skull class.
He said that music was always a big part of his life since he started playing the piano at 6 years old, and decided to also major in political science because he was interested in public service and helping others.
He heard about Cap and Skull during his junior year.
“I thought it was interesting how it was one of the most prestigious honor societies on campus,” he said.
Phillips credited following his passions as one reason why he was selected by the club.
Among those passions his commitment to Rutgers shows, as he is a Scarlet Ambassador, business manager of the Glee Club, member of the co-educational service fraternity Alpha Psi Omega and executive board member of RUSA.
“If you love it enough, you’ll find a way to do it,” he said.
Cap and Skull member Alex Rosado, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said that he was studying abroad in South Africa the night before the Cap and Skull application was due.
“The application was open on my laptop,” he said. “I decided that either I apply or I don’t, and I would be okay with whatever decision I was going to make.”
Rosado is currently a resident advisor at the Honors College, and also worked on the Scarlet in Black project with the Department of History.
While there is no set criteria for admission to Cap and Skull, Rosado said his unique perspective as a first-generation college student and Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) scholar may have contributed to his acceptance.
“We all come from different walks of life, different majors, different involvements, different passions and commitments,” he said.
Every Cap and Skull class also has the potential to present an independent project to Rutgers, Rosado said.
Many years ago, a Cap and Skull class put R’s on the windows where residence advisors lived to raise excitement about the University. More recently, the Class of 2017 created the five values of the Knight’s Call: authenticity, inclusivity, responsibility, resilience and engagement.
As for this year’s project, Rosado said it is a secret for now.
“All I can say is we want to continue raising awareness about history and tradition,” he said.