Secret Societies

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As far as I know,  “IN8” is the only secret society at JMU. Each semester, the group displays eight letters with burning candles on the Wilson steps to recnognize eight people for their positive contributions to the JMU community and their involvement with the university.

Experiencing this tradition gives us a glimpse into the secretive, yet congratulatory, nature of IN8. While they might be committed to keeping their own members’ names a secret, they publicly praise others.

I’ve also heard that the sundial on the Quad between the Burruss fountain and Wilson Hall was donated to the university by IN8. The Roman numeral for eight is replaced by IN8’s logo.

Like me, many students are mystified by the group. Maybe they’ve seen IN8’s logo on the sundial — after that, most of their concrete knowledge ends. One might conjure up an image of the group meeting in the Quad tunnels by candlelight. Rumors surface. Is there really a tattered, leather- bound book housed in Carrier Library’s private collections that sits quietly and contains all of the members’ names — past and present?

My search for information began on the Internet. A 2008 Breeze article and a 2006 Curio article both confirmed my suspicision that IN8 would be challenging to cover.

Time has passed since these articles were published. Social media can better aide my search now. Simply by Googling “IN8,” I came across JMU alumna Candace Avalos’ LinkedIn page that mentions she was recognized by IN8 as a senior.

Avalos is a “double duke” — she completed her undergraduate degree in 2010 and completed her Master of Education in College Student Personnel Administration in 2013. She now works at Portland State University as the coordinator for student government and advisor for greek life.

“It was so weird. The letter was in my specific bedroom door, not my apartment door, so that freaked me out. No one was in my apartment at that time,” Avalos says. “I woke up and was like ‘How did this happen?’ Nobody knew how it got there. I was like, ‘whoa.’”

“IN8 doesn’t have a weird aura. it’s not a group of elite people. their purpose is to bring positivity back to the campus.”

Brian Reese is a 2015 media arts and design alumnus. He was recognized by IN8 during the fall of his senior year. He first received a letter at his apartment. IN8 also publicly displays another copy of the letter on the Wilson steps, along with a burning candle.

“That’s how most people knew before I even got to campus. I had no idea,” Reese says. “I was tickled at first. As I walked around throughout the day, people were congratulating me.”

The rush that accompanies being recognized by a secret society is something Avalos remembers well.

“It’s a cool JMU tradition — there’s this society of people watching what people are doing at JMU and making it an official recognition. It adds something unique to JMU,” Avalos says. “IN8 doesn’t have a weird aura. It’s not a group of elite people. Their purpose is to bring positivity back to the campus.”

Reese appreciates IN8’s recognition of JMU students’ accomplishments, both big and small.

“I wasn’t just recognized for the tangible things that I did, but the actual little things — always saying ‘hi’ to people, making sure people are good everyday — the little things that I don’t think a lot of people get recognized for,” he says.

Avalos first heard about IN8 during her freshman year. While the names of IN8’s members are virtually unknown to students, Avalos had her hunches.

“I’m sure I had friends in IN8 around me. I can’t put my finger on why — I just have suspicions on some people,” Avalos says. “I’m 95 percent sure. They’ve either said things or it’s slipped out.”

Jordan Schwartzbach is a 2014 math and hospitality alumnus who was also recognized by IN8.

“No one said, ‘Hey, I voted for you,’” Schwartzbach says. “It’s humanless almost. Someone or something made this happen for me.”

The pieces of paper themselves are unique, according to Reese.

“It was a beige Constitution or Declaration of Indepence type paper. The one on the Wilson steps has been burned on the edges,” he says. “They must do some kind of ritual; they must do it early in the morning. I wonder if they’re in cloaks.”

Avalos keeps her letter framed in her office. Reese’s mom framed his for him as a Christmas gift.

“It might be more special than my diploma,” he says. “It shows what I really was at JMU outside of classes.”

I’ve learned that IN8 must work tirelessly to recognize students. They do their research extensively to specifically outline students’ achievements. Each person I talked to commended the highly specific nature of their letter.

So, IN8, thank you for keeping a watchful eye on our JMU superstars. Now, return to the shadows and keep doing your thing.