On February 9 in the University Archives, Sewanee’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter inducted twelve new members into the country’s oldest academic honor society. First established at the College of William and Mary in 1776 and at Sewanee in 1926, Sewanee seniors have three opportunities for induction (family weekend during Advent semester, early spring, and graduation). Fall induction remains the highest bar for election. Chapters elect up to the top 10 percent of their graduating class.
Eligibility requirements include an overall GPA of 3.65 as well as at least three consecutive semesters completed at the University. Factors such as diverse coursework, engagement in learning, and moral character are evaluated on a case by case basis. Those nominated must earn three-fourths of the vote from all current chapter members.
Lauryl Tucker, English professor, marks her first year serving as secretary of Sewanee’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Her responsibilities include calling meetings, coordinating with the registrar for transcripts of possibly eligible students, reviewing transcripts with the president, and creating a spreadsheet for voting. Tucker also addresses all logistical arrangements for initiation ceremonies, receptions, and invites visiting scholars to campus.
“Phi Beta Kappa is one of the great advocates for the special role that higher [education] plays in our society…” Tucker says, “It’s not pretending to be a service organization. The service that it performs is to advocate and educate people about the importance of lifelong learning, of scholarship and it’s virtues, and values of discipline and hardwork and integrity… and the communal quality of scholarly life.”
In addition to advocating for abstract values, Phi Beta Kappa also hosts conferences and book clubs. Tucker says, “If anyone wants to read this sociology book, or if anyone wants to read Dubliners, you can get together with people who are interested in similar things across the country, and know that it would be a highly nerdy conversation.”
Tucker notes the math requirement for Phi Beta Kappa. For eligibility, a student must take a Sewanee math class, regardless of AP credits and excludes any Sewanee statistics course. The chapter also requires language courses through the 300 level. The “high moral character” specified by the chapter is judged through a screening process before the voting meeting to ensure good disciplinary standing with the University.
Lucy Smith (C’22) serves as vice president of Sewanee’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Vice presidents of chapters are members of the student body, eligible for membership by the beginning of their Advent semester, and elected by chapter members.
Smith’s pre-dental coursework fulfilled requirements for Phi Beta Kappa, and her advisor emailed her before her senior year noting her possibile election.
“I didn’t realize how close-knit it was…” Smith says, “a lot of professors have come up to me and said congratulations, and that’s really exciting for me. Any sort of employer or connection I need either sees that or they’re in Phi Beta Kappa themselves and would be really willing and want to help me.”
Smith believes Phi Beta Kappa’s value at Sewanee manifests in reinforcing scholarly values in the community.
She says, “I think a lot of value is directed toward more of a social life [at Sewanee]. I feel like it’s a great thing to have that focus on academics as well, and sort of the value you bring as a person. I know those are the main values of Phi Beta Kappa, and highlighting the desire to learn aligns with what I know about Sewanee, with our classes and professors, they want to encourage you to love learning.”
Tucker reflects on Phi Beta Kappa’s value on college campuses everywhere.
She says, “There are a lot of attacks on what universities and scholars are doing, and those attacks are coming from all different corners. So, any organization that makes no apologies for the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake is an important organization right now.”
New members initiated February 9 include: Claire Smith, Lucille Rudman, Avery Frank, Nathaniel Kline, Sullivan McCreery, Molly Morgan, Emily Perry, Rachel Falcon, Lillian Eells, Peri Prestwood, Gillian Campbell, and Ashley Stewart.