Editor’s Note: The Collegian received three emails before publishing this article from an unverified email address claiming to be the Richmond Society (RS). Because The Collegian cannot verify the email account as belonging to RS, The Collegian will not use the content of the emails in this article.
One day in the early fall, Bella Long, WC ‘20, headed to the gazebo that stands over Westhampton Lake with some friends to enjoy the nighttime summer weather.
“We were just chilling in the gazebo,” Long said, “but as soon as we got there we noticed this huge white sheet spread out across the floor with red rose petals scattered around it.”
The banner read: “The Richmond Society / always watching / discretely [sic] serving / Sub Rosa / 100 strong.”
“This guy came up, and he was by himself,” Long said. “That was when things got weird, because it was 2 a.m. He just walked into the gazebo, didn’t say anything to us, and started taking pictures of the banner.”
Long and her friends believe that the man was a member of the Richmond Society (RS), an all-male secret society, that has existed on campus since 1915. The Collegian first reported on RS in 1985, and then again in 2012. Since then, the group had not been seen on campus or reported on by The Collegian.
“‘Wait, are you in this society?’” Long said her friend asked. “‘No,’ he replied. He was laughing the whole time in this super smug, super creepy way, so it’s an obvious ‘yes’ to me,” Long said.
Long could not identify the man and has not seen him on campus since.
Photographs taken and obtained by The Collegian suggest that the same banner Long and her friends saw in the gazebo was placed there again on Dec. 5.
Other photographs taken by Victoria Davis, WC ‘20, and The Collegian on Dec. 5 suggest that RS is responsible for other activity on campus, including placing banners, roses and rose petals on the statue of E. Claiborne Robins in front of Weinstein Hall.
Davis said she had been walking late at night and had seen rose petals on the ground leading up to the statue.
"I noticed that there was a red sheet wrapped around the statue, but I didn’t think it was anything weird," she said. "I just thought it was probably a fraternity thing to be perfectly honest.”
Photographs show that this red sheet depicts a symbol of several overlapping squares, which could be meant to form the shape of a Tudor rose. This same symbol can still be found in a chalk carving on a wall in the garden behind Keller Hall.
There is also a spray-painted crest that remains directly in front of the Robins statue, which was first seen by The Collegian on Dec. 5.
In 2012, Beth Simonds, UR’s assistant police chief, told The Collegian that the police department considered the spray-painting in 2012 to be a form of vandalism, and that they were pursuing an active investigation on RS.
In February, The Collegian asked Simonds for a comment on the group’s activity this year.
“We don’t know anything else about this group other than the fact that they vandalize the school,” Simonds said. “This kind of crest has been seen on campus before, but the spray paint is considered vandalism. We know that [the crest in front of the Robins statue] appeared Friday night into Saturday morning.”
RS members also refer to themselves as Sub Rosa. According to Merriam-Webster, the Latin phrase, which translates to mean “under the rose,” is used in English to signify secrecy or confidentiality, as the rose is itself a symbol of secrecy.
Latin was used by RS members underneath the chalk carving in the hut behind Keller Hall. Three words are written on the wall: ‘ductus,’ meaning leading, ‘amplus,’ meaning honorable, and ‘fraternitas,’ meaning brotherhood.
RS wrote in a 1982 letter to The Collegian’s editor that the group stands for “ideals of honor, dedication and service to the community.”
According to The Collegian’s 1985 article, one way RS promotes these ideals is by recognizing members of UR’s community who it believes demonstrate its values.
The first known person to be recognized by RS dates back to 1979.
William Walker, a psychology professor at the time, received the society’s symbol “because of his work with students, the tennis team and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity,” according to the 1985 article.
Rick Mayes, an associate professor of political science and a SEEDS Project leader, was recognized by the society in the fall of 2011.
"I received a very kind and encouraging note from Sub Rosa last fall regarding my involvement with students on campus," Mayes said in the 2012 article from The Collegian.
For some students, however, the society hasn’t seemed as encouraging.
Langley Crisp, WC ‘19, lives in Keller Hall, close to where the chalk crest is located in the garden.
“My roommate and I were woken up around 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 23 by really strange chanting somewhere nearby Keller,” Crisp said in an email.“It almost sounded Latin, with a strong male undertone, and very barbaric, like call and response.”
Crisp called the UR police department to report the incident and to ask if they had any ideas to what the chanting could be, but they couldn’t provide any information, Crisp said.
“The next two Monday mornings [the chanting] happened again, around the same time,” she said. “I think it’s the Richmond Secret Society. Honestly, it’s super creepy.”
Students on campus are becoming more aware of the society’s presence, even as the year comes to a close. Michael Paul, RC ‘20, expressed a strong desire to uncover some of the mystery that surrounds this group.
“I really don’t know anything about them, just that they exist on campus and no one really knows who they are,” Paul said. “I just want to learn more about them, but I don’t know where to start. It’s really secretive.”
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