None of the 10 candidates running for Georgetown University Student Association executive office hold membership in a secret society, compared to four of eight candidates in last year’s election.
Secret societies dominated media coverage of the 2013 GUSA executive race, with the discovery of leaked emails revealing the identities of several members of the Second Society of Stewards, including one GUSA executive candidate and the current GUSA chief of staff. Last year, four candidates running for executive office confirmed involvement in secret societies. The Stewards and an offshoot known as the Thirds are the main secret societies on campus.
Presidential candidate Chris Wadibia (COL ’16) and vice-presidential candidate Will Simons (COL ’16) have both said that the Stewards approached them, but neither is a member. Neither clarified if they were contacted by the Seconds or the Thirds.
Simons said that he was approached last year, but after speaking with “a couple individuals,” he was never contacted again.
Wadibia said he was “very impressed by their mission statement and what they go about doing,” but he could not say anything else about the process.
“They stress one thing: utmost discretion that you don’t discuss anything with anyone,” Wadibia said. “I’m not at liberty to go into the details of it in regard to what we discussed.”
The Society of Stewards is a long-standing, all-male Georgetown secret society, comprised of both alumni and students, but few specific details are known to the general public. The group is believed to be largely conservative and Catholic, had strong ties to the Georgetown Academy, a conservative publication, and was founded by known conservative students.
The group, founded in 1982, remained a secret until 1988, when Rev. Joseph T. Durkin, S.J., moderator of the Stewards and a Georgetown professor, revealed its existence in The Hoya after he objected to the group’s secrecy and refusal to admit women. The organization existed as a single society until a schism in 1982 led to the formation of the Second Society, now known as the main branch of the Stewards, after the “first” society went defunct. The Third Steward Society also has cropped up as an offshoot of the first two groups.
Following Durkin’s exposure of the group, leadership announced that the Stewards would be dissolved. Despite this announcement, the society operated in total secrecy until 2001.
In 2001, then-Speaker of the Stewards Society Adam Carter (COL ’87, LAW ’91) explained the organization in an article published in the now-defunct Georgetown Academy. Carter said that the mission of the Stewards is to “inspire service to our school, and aspire to the building of character in young men, that they may be better sons, husbands, and fathers” in the article.
The Stewards have also been known to make donations to campus groups, including the Philodemic Society and Mask and Bauble. According to the records of the Stewards Charitable Trust, the society had nearly $150,000 in total assets in 2012. Manual Miranda (SFS ’82), a conservative GOP former congressional aide and lawyer with involvement in the State Department, co-founded the Stewards in 1982. In 1992, Miranda led a campaign to request Georgetown to withhold funds from a pro-choice student group. The campaign was successful and solidified the society’s conservative ties.
Simons and his running mate Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16) are linked with prominent Steward alum and Head of D.C. Alumni Association Sean Redmond (SFS ’97, GRD ’00, MBA ’11), who worked with the ticket to write the alumni and mentorship section of their platform. Redmond, a former photography editor and member of The Hoya’s board of advisers, did not respond to the request for comment. Simons said he chose to work with Redmond because of his expertise and did not consider his Steward ties.
“He’s the head of the D.C. Alumni Association,” Simons said. “He’s obviously very knowledgeable on everything regarding alumni-student relations and that’s why we asked him to help us write that piece of the platform.”
Simons said that a focus on Stewards detracts from the more important parts of each candidate’s platform.
“To be honest, it detracts from the importance of the issues,” Simons said. “I understand that some people think it’s important and I respect that but I think that there are too many important issues, especially this year, that need to be discussed. I think the real issues deserve more attention.”
Presidential candidate Tim Rosenberger (COL ’16) said that he is aware that one member of his campaign staff is a member of the Third Society of Stewards, a group that is not connected to the Second Society. He declined to name the student.
Rosenberger said that he suspects other campaigns have deeper Steward connections.
“We probably have easily the least Steward support of any ticket,” Rosenberger said. “Some of those [other] tickets should be a mining expedition.”
Despite this statement, all of the four remaining tickets said they were not aware of any staffer involvement in any secret society. In addition, all female candidates said that they were not approached by any secret groups, since there are currently no known female secret societies on campus.
Vice-presidential candidate Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16) said that the personal choice to accept membership to the society should not impact the campaign. He was not approached by a secret society.
“I think that we can look at everybody’s individual record, regardless of whether they’re a member of a secret society or not, and say who has the best ideas for Georgetown,” Shymanksy said. “If people want to spend their time in secret societies, that’s fine.”
Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Connor Rohan (COL ’16) spoke sarcastically about the Stewards involvement, and said they were also not approached.
“No, but we’re waiting for it. God d- – – – it Stewards, where are you, why are you even doing this?” Rohan said, regarding offers of membership. “We’re going to drop out if you don’t contact us. We’re going to drop out and we don’t care. Why even be at the school anymore if we don’t have you?”
Rosenberger’s running mate, Reno Varghese (SFS ’16), said that Stewards are not as important as they make themselves out to be.
“I really don’t think it matters,” he said. “You could rename it the Elitist Society and still get the same people.”
During the February 2013 GUSA elections, names of students and alumni members of the Second Stewards were released in an email and public tax returns leak. The revelation that leading candidates and top campaign staffers were Stewards caused a scandal in campus politics when one candidate, Jack Applebaum (COL ’14), was revealed to be a member of the Seconds, and the other, Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14), was revealed to be a member of an unknown secret society. The following year, half of the candidates were revealed to be Stewards.
Current GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), who was approached four times but declined membership, and Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) were the only ticket without at least one member in the secret society.
Tezel said that the Stewards’ demand for secrecy and the effect of such a presence at Georgetown were the biggest reasons for his choice to turn down the offer.
“According to Tezel, the existence of secret societies on campus can and has dissuaded non-members from involvement in campus life due to the dominance of leadership positions by members of secret societies, predominantly heterosexual, white, Christian men,” the Tezel-Jikaria campaign said in a statement issued at the time. “This imbalance in resources constitutes socio-structural prejudice and is an institutional barrier to equal opportunity and equal representation on a campus that purports to support social justice.”