UVa Secret Society Re-emerges to Give a Hoot

By: Chris Stover Email
By: Chris Stover Email

November 14, 2013

A secret society at the University of Virginia is back to spread wisdom about the written word.

“They realize there's a crisis in publications, so they really want to begin looking at what's possible for the future,” said Wayne Cozart, the vice president of development for the UVa. Alumni Association who has studied secret societies over the years.

Through an open letter to the university, the O.W.L. Society announced it’s back to support a literary culture on grounds. The OWLs date back to 1887.

“So it really was a time when we were looking at how do we publicly acknowledge or build a literary tradition at the University of Virginia,” Cozart said.

But the group fell apart in the 1920s. But now, the group wants to make a comeback, citing a crisis of dwindling publications at the university.

“As publications are beginning to die and we're moving over to the Web or other kinds of communication, the OWLs really see that it's important to maintain the tradition, even if it may not be a paper tradition, but actually the possibility of rebuilding a tradition beyond that,” Cozart said.

It might not come as a surprise, but there are still a lot of questions about the society, like who they are and whether they have staying power.

“If I were looking, I would guess it would probably be five to seven individuals who are absolutely committed to some sort of media tradition and who want to make an impact,” Cozart said.

Kaz Komolafe, the editor of the Cavalier Daily, had an email correspondence with the society after they delivered the letter.

“I definitely think it's important for us to remain vigilant to the concerns of the media and the realities of literary publications today,” she said.

It’s those realities that the OWLs see as troubling. In the letter, they cited the case of the Cavalier Daily, which this year moved toward an online-only publication.

“Now we have social media and we have the Internet and we have a broad range of online and print media for people to explore, trying out different styles,” Komolafe said.

So as the OWLs communicate in secret with decision-makers at the university, they hope to find ways to create and continue a new literary tradition.

“They're going to have to find exactly what they're capable of doing. If that's the case, then they'll exist into the future,” Cozart said. “Otherwise, they will wither like many other groups that have tried it over a period of time.”

As many as three secret societies emerge on average every year at the University of Virginia, but very few survive for a number of years.

Cozart estimates there are about a dozen active secret societies on grounds.

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