The Scarabbean Senior Society has worked for the betterment of UT, often from behind the scenes, without trying to take credit, so its impact here at the university is largely unknown.
Elliot Park Frost, George Herbert Clarke and John Ayres founded the Society in 1915 and based it on a secret society at another school.
"The Scarabbean Society was based on the Seven Society at the University of Virginia," said Bruce Wheeler, director emeritus of the Chancellor's Honors Program.
From the start, the group focused on the betterment of the university through service. Males were chosen for selection based on a point system for activities, awards, honors and positions in their junior year.
James Montgomery, in his "Threshold of a New Day: The University of Tennessee, 1919-1946," said of the Society in its early years that "handpicked leaders discussed ways to improve campus spirit or conditions and then planted the ideas within other organized groups."
Throughout its existence, the Scarabbean Senior Society undertook many projects for the university. It was one of the lead organizations that pushed for bowling alleys inside the new UC. The Society led to the implementation of the student activities fee and also helped start The Daily Beacon, both in 1965. Revitalizing the Aloha Oe ceremony by moving it to immediately before commencement and strengthening Torch Night were also Society projects from the same general period.
In addition to overall campus projects, society members also worked on improving specific groups and organizations, like Omicron Delta Kappa. In recent years, the Society worked on the creation of the Senior Gift Committee and also pushed for the current Ambassador Scholars program. In 1982, Scarabbean alumni startead the L.R. Hesler Award. It also had its own loan fund at one point, the E.P. Frost Memorial Fund.
While the Scarabbean Senior Society has maintained some level of secrecy throughout its entire history, even going so far as to meet in caves, it still had a visible presence as it was mentioned in some way, usually by a membership page, in every year from 1920 through 1969 in the Volunteer yearbook.
One reason for its increased secrecy at the end of the 1960s was the increased hostility on campus because of the anti-Vietnam War sentiment. The group's current projects remain unknown or unverified because of its secrecy oath.
"(Secrecy) was valuable at a time of serious polarization of views at the time with the anti-Vietnam war debate then raging and dramatic cultural change among the campus population," Frank Gibson said in an e-mail.
Most alleged society members contacted for comment offered responses of neither confirmation or denial of the group's existence.
"I am a proud member of the Society and was actively involved during my undergraduate study at Tennessee; however, I'm afraid my vow of silence regarding its activity extends far beyond my matriculation," Caleb Riser said in an e-mail.
The group, contrary to popular belief, does not initiate members based on positions held. Previous SGA President Tommy Jervis said he is not a member of the group. The Society selects an array of students including but not limited to resident assistants, orientation leaders and Student Alumni Associate members.
The group is reported to have met in Hopecote about once per month, call fellow members "comrades," have a directory of all members, living and deceased, called "The Blackbook," and call its best members "Worthy Osiris," "Henry Morgan," "Edward Davis" and "Amenophis III." Through at least the mid-1990s, the usual tapping spot for new members was at the Torchbearer statue.
The Scarabbean Senior Society remains clear on its mission and purpose, stating in its own newsletter from either 1998 or 1999, "Our Society has long been a catalyst for change at the University of Tennessee, and today this tradition continues ... And our commitment to cooperate and 'plan, initiate, and unostentatiously support' positive change is reflected in the many activities we involve ourselves with each day."