A black-clad person, equipped with a cellphone and a voice manipulator, took to Twitter on Feb. 8 to urge members of Georgetown University’s secret societies to reveal their identities. The unknown person claims to be a member of the anonymous group “The White Rose.”
The group has been targeting supposed members of the Society of the Stewards by revealing their identities and personal information on its public Twitter account. Over the past two weeks, the group has posted a number of masked, voice-modulated videos, as well as released a portion of a tax return document from an organization called the Stewards Charitable Trust. The Hoya was unable to independently verify the claims made by The White Rose.
The Society of the Stewards is a long-standing, all-male Georgetown secret society. While few details are known to the general public, the group is believed to have a large graduate network and a six-figure endowment.
The White Rose seeks to hold powerful groups on campus, like the Stewards, accountable, according to The White Rose.
“Primarily, the White Rose exists to raise awareness of some of the more nefarious aspects of secret society culture at Georgetown,” The White Rose wrote in a statement to The Hoya through Twitter. “We asked for further transparency from an organization with hidden membership and a secret agenda attempting to wield influence in all corners of Georgetown life. When the Stewards failed to compromise we decided to continue releasing names again to further raise awareness among the Georgetown community.”
The White Rose’s claims about the Stewards’ membership and activities have no factual grounding, according to Adam Carter, a spokesperson for The Steward Society.
“I have looked at the White Rose Twitter account and it is full of misinformation and false rumors, and mockery rather than satire,” the spokesperson wrote in a Feb. 21 email to The Hoya. “It is a jambalaya of old paranoia and distorted stories at the end of a game of Chinese Whispers. Mostly it is just a regurgitation of untrue conspiracy nonsense aiming at the gullible.”
The White Roses’ tweets break Washington, D.C. law and university standards, according to the spokesperson.
“At a much more serious level, the Twitter account bears a malicious and, I believe, a sufficiently criminal intent,” the spokesperson wrote. “The account and its makers are, in my view, in violation of DC criminal law concerning cyberstalking and harassment, and so I am preparing to file charges with the University’s protective services and the DC Metro Police.”
On Thursday, a chalk drawing of a rose, as well as the message “We are coming for you” was also left in Red Square.
D.C. statute defines stalking as purposefully engaging in conduct with the intent to cause a specific individual to fear for their safety or the safety of another person, feel seriously frightened, alarmed or disturbed, or suffer emotional distress. The perpetrator must know or should have known that their behavior could reasonably cause such harm, according to the Code of the District of Columbia.
Harassment and bullying is defined as an act that may place an individual in reasonable fear of physical harm, cause a substantial detrimental effect on an individual’s physical or mental health, or one which otherwise creates an intimidating or hostile environment that interferes with an individual’s work or academic pursuit, according to the Georgetown Code of Student Conduct.
Since The White Rose has broken Georgetown’s conduct standards, the university should take disciplinary action against the group, according to the spokesperson.
“I would hope that the University will also act, given the harassment and bullying of any students who are entitled under the contract made by accepting their tuition dollars, if not by common decency, to peace of mind and freedom from mockery, fear, and the impugnation of their character,” the spokesperson wrote.
The university did not have a comment regarding the activity of The White Rose as of Feb. 19.
On Feb. 4, two days before the Georgetown University Student Association Executive elections, The White Rose sent an email to members of the GUSA Senate and campus publications, claiming a GUSA Executive candidate and a senator are Stewards. The sender signed off on the email as “The White Rose,” but the email account was under the name “Ann Hutchinson,” an apparent reference to the Puritan reformer Anne Hutchinson.
In subsequent tweets, The White Rose released the names of another GUSA senator and three other student leaders on campus as alleged Stewards.
GUSA members have been connected to the Stewards in previous years. In 2013, a separate anonymous organization, known by its Facebook profile “StewardThroat Hoya,” released documents and photographs implicating that year’s GUSA presidential runner-up as a Steward. In 2014, four of the eight candidates running for GUSA Executive office were confirmed to be Stewards.
The White Rose has membership in the double digits and formed on campus in the spring of 2019, according to the anonymous member. One of the group’s main aims is to have the GUSA Senate pass legislation regulating the activity of secret societies on campus, according to the anonymous member.
“Releasing names will not be enough because this action alone will not end the Stewards’ constant pursuit for power under the veil of secrecy. Therefore, we are pursuing action in GUSA to introduce an amendment to ban those with secret agendae from running for public office within their organization,” The White Rose wrote. “An alternative, and perhaps more realistic amendment, would involve forcing those in secret societies to declare their allegiances upon deciding to run for student government.”
If these options fail, The White Rose will pursue a referendum to coincide with the April GUSA Senate elections to introduce a total ban on secret societies, according to the member.
GUSA does not currently intend to take up legislation on secret societies, according to Senator Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22).
“Neither the White Rose nor the Stewards have any real power or influence in GUSA at the moment. Not to mention, if the person behind the White Rose truly wanted to improve the exclusive culture of our university, they would not hide behind a mask,” Sanchez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Instead, they would reach out to those in GUSA with their true identity to work with us on real solutions rather than threatening us.”
While the intentions of the group may be positive, the method by which the group is pursuing its goals is questionable, according to GUSA Senator Leo Teixeira (COL ’21).
“In theory, the prospect of an unaccountable society seeking to covertly seek to influence and push an agenda is unacceptable, so one can understand why the White Rose is doing what they’re doing,” Texiera wrote in an email to The Hoya. “At the same time, however, since they have to maintain privacy for obvious reasons, its difficult to judge their legitimacy or credibility.”
The White Rose reached out to “The Hilltop Show,” a student-led online political comedy group, to organize an in-person interview Feb. 15, but subsequently canceled it, according to Alexandra Bowman (COL ’22), president of “The Hilltop Show.” (Full disclosure: Bowman formerly served as a staff writer and a cartoonist for The Hoya.)
“We then responded by offering to do a ‘live video interview’ with the White Rose,” Bowman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The White Rose responded, ‘This is something we can do.’ Some time later, they said that they had ‘chosen a representative and are willing to go live.’ Then, on Friday night at 12:48 a.m. before the day of the interview, the White Rose contacted us and said that, for private reasons, they wanted to cancel the interview.”
The White Rose will remain anonymous because of fears of possible retribution, according to the member.
“Yes, retribution is a possibility. We know of examples where previous individuals who have attempted to expose their behavior have faced attack,” The White Rose wrote. “Furthermore, it is easier to conduct operations without facing a repeating barrage of questions from others. Despite this, we have considered going fully public before, because unlike others, we have nothing to hide.”
Hoya Staff Writer Jaime Moore-Carrillo contributed reporting.
This article has been updated Feb. 21 to include a response from the Stewards and Feb. 23 to include the spokesperson’s name.