‘A source of clout’: Secret society allegedly drinks to excess

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Editor’s Note 12/4/2019: this article has been significantly altered from its original form due to a clarification and a miscommunication with a source.

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ach year, UC Berkeley football home games prompt an influx of visiting fans, tailgates, registered fraternity parties and give a secret society on campus, unaffiliated with UC Berkeley, a reason to allegedly drink “copious amounts of alcohol.”

Upperclassmen in button-downs and UC Berkeley ties compose Sons and Daughters of California, or Sons and Daughters. Juniors pledging the secret society wear blue shirts, while the seniors initiated differentiate themselves by wearing white. Fall semester football game days are the “crux” of Sons and Daughters, according to a current member of a campus fraternity who requested anonymity because of a fear of retaliation from other members of the Greek community.

About 100 male and female members from many registered campus fraternities and sororities allegedly make up the society, which is generally understood as a selective “drinking club,” according to campus junior and former sorority member Darby Dayton.

The society is a composite of two separate organizations stemming from UC Berkeley Greek life: Sons of California and Daughters of California. And for the most part, Sons and Daughters is, in fact, a secret. It is not registered as an official campus organization nor listed in the club directory, and while it has maintained a presence on campus since at least the 1960s, The Daily Californian’s recent archives make no mention of it.

Some largely anonymous information on the society and its traditions, however, can be found in the not-so-dark corners of the internet on some discussion post websites. One commenter on a Reddit post from early this fall semester called Sons and Daughters “the most functioning alcoholics on the face of the Earth.” Another commented on a Greekrank post, however, that Daughters “is one of the most fun things to be invited to on campus” and that it is “more than just drinking.”

A College Confidential post links the society to one of UC Berkeley’s most famous fight songs, “Sons of California.” The song, written in 1896 by Clinton Morse was popularized among the student body when Cal Band arranged an up-tempo version in the 1930s.

Reaching out in “a feminist way”

Although it is publicly unclear when Sons and Daughters originated, the anonymous fraternity member said the fraternities and sororities now involved depend on those that were around at the time of its origin.

Campus alumna Mary Steffens, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1969, spent time in Alpha Phi and Sons and Daughters.

While only in Sons and Daughters for a matter of months before dropping because of academic reasons, Steffens remembers her initiation into the secret society. She remembers the feelings of both excitement and humiliation that came alongside it.

She recalls being required to stand on a street corner “all dressed up.” Hours later, she said she was taken blindfolded to a house where she was given an “enormous glass of booze” and spaghetti dinner before being initiated.

“At that point in my life, I just wanted to have fun,” Steffens said. “I certainly did have, probably, a little bit too much fun.”

She said the society hosted some dances and a Halloween costume party. But Steffens added that the secret clubs in the ‘60s also provided a pathway to allow women to become more independent, since they were able to join the society alongside men.

“It was almost maybe a way to reach out in a feminist way,” Steffens said. “It was just at a time when women were getting the birth control pill. … That secret society then and the secret society now — they must be very, very different.”

Another alleged secret society that likely overlapped with Sons and Daughters is Skull and Keys. Skull and Keys originated in the 1890s and also pulled many of its members from the Greek system, according to a Daily Californian article from Nov. 8, 1899.

The organization was known to hold an “annual running of the Skull and Keys” for its own public initiation for campus juniors and seniors. In 1899, the running included initiates in dress suits and “duck trousers,” who all marched to South Hall for a talk from then-UC president Benjamin Ide Wheeler, according to a Daily Californian article from Nov. 9, 1899.

In a Berkeley Daily Planet article from 2012, former Berkeley mayor Tom Bates acknowledged his time spent as a Skull and Keys member when he attended UC Berkeley in the late ‘50s.

Neither Dayton nor the anonymous fraternity member know of a current Skull and Keys presence on campus nor a connection between it and Sons and Daughters, however.

“Maybe the sense of tradition still exists, but it’s been kind of watered down — or I guess alcoholed down,” the anonymous fraternity member said.

An “organization within an organization”

Despite lacking an actual house on Greek row, Sons and Daughters has allegedly held a steady position as a “source of clout” within the system for years, according to the anonymous fraternity member.

The anonymous fraternity member, while not part of Sons and Daughters, said he has had several friends in the society who have been willing to share information with him, but would be unwilling to sit down for an interview or speak publicly about the organization in order to keep it “secret.”

“If you’ve been (in Greek life) for at least a year — maybe two — you know that something is up,” the anonymous fraternity member said. “A lot of people maybe don’t know the specifics of it, but they’re aware that there is some kind of organization within an organization.”

Nanita Balagopal, UC Berkeley Panhellenic Council president, said in an email that the council has no affiliation with any alleged secret societies.

Because of the society’s secrecy, it is not specifically subject to rules and regulations put forth by campus. CalGreeks requirements for registered events, such as sober monitors, consent talks and security guards, may not apply to unregistered ones.

All of UC Berkeley’s recognized social fraternities and sororities exist within a larger national Greek system that has been affected by drug and alcohol-related deaths this academic year.

Adela de la Torre, San Diego State University president, suspended all of the school’s 14 social fraternities this semester after a 19-year-old freshman died in his dorm room after attending a party. The student fell from his elevated bunk bed to the floor and was transferred to the hospital the next morning where he was pronounced dead due to blunt force head injuries.

According to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism survey in October, of college students aged 18-22, one in three had participated in binge drinking in the past month.

At UC Berkeley, while registered campus groups are subject to investigations into potential code of conduct violations, unrecognized groups are not because of a lack of campus jurisdiction. Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said in an email, however, that individual UC Berkeley students are always subject to the code of conduct regardless of their participation in a recognized or unrecognized organization.

Since Sons and Daughters is not one of UC Berkeley’s 63 recognized fraternities or sororities, it isn’t required to follow university guidelines or frequently work on safety and wellness initiatives, which may pose risks, according to Ratliff.

“Many of these (unregistered) groups potentially put students at risk and in unsafe situations by hosting parties and other social events that do not align with campus policies, practices and standards,” Ratliff said in an email.

Ratliff added that UC Berkeley, with on- and off-campus partners, provides alcohol, sexual assault and hazing trainings for all recognized chapters and encourages leadership trainings for all student organizations.

Blackout culture in Berkeley

Those in Greek life identified as having the “stamina to keep up” with Sons and Daughters are asked to join, according to the anonymous fraternity member.

The society functions through lineages, according to the anonymous fraternity member. Seniors recruit juniors to take their spots in the organization when they graduate. If a spot is offered and turned down, the lineage dies. Over the years, many original sororities and fraternities involved have lost spots in the society this way.

The anonymous fraternity member said he’s heard that the invitation comes in the form of a letter slipped under the recruit’s pillow. At that point, a potential recruit can decide whether or not to join Sons and Daughters, as well as whether or not to burn a house lineage.

If a recruit chooses to accept, they spend their junior year as a pledge with alleged excessive drinking on game days serving as the society’s version of hazing, according to the anonymous fraternity member.

“It’s been described to me as ‘the most fun you never want to have again,’” the anonymous fraternity member said.

Rachel Barber is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article implied that Darby Dayton was a member of the Daughters of California. In fact, Dayton is not and has never been a member of the organization, and did not claim to know the organization’s inner-workings.