A Closer Look At The Red Dragon Society: NYU's Most Historic 'Secret' Club

Washington Square Park | © Jean-Christophe BENOIST/WikiCommons
Washington Square Park | © Jean-Christophe BENOIST/WikiCommons
Photo of Dana deLaski
21 September 2016

The Red Dragon Society is a not-so-secret society within New York University. It was founded in 1898 with the goal of remaining secret, and while its existence is certainly known, many things about it remain mysterious. It is NYU’s second oldest and perhaps most exclusive group and is only open to the school’s most eligible rising seniors from the College of Arts and Sciences.

The precise requirements for being selected into the society are unknown to outsiders, but it’s widely accepted that the most prestigious and successful rising seniors are the ones chosen. In general, members of the society are academically at the top of their class, involved in community activities, and are leaders.

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Though details of their practices and rituals are still kept secret, the members themselves are typically known. They’re usually influential students who are widely known to begin with, and the membership itself is not a huge secret. But because the group is only made up of seniors, each year they re-invent themselves. There are no older students in the society to show them the way, so it’s up to the new class to decide how secretive, or not, they want to be.

In an interview with a Dragon from 2014, the member states that becoming a Dragon is more than just awards and titles. To be chosen, you have to be an intriguing person – someone ‘we’d want to talk to on a plane.’ That year’s group was made up of 21 students, a fraction of NYU’s 25,000 student population. It is true that the society is very exclusive, and it’s about more than just numbers. Each member is selected based on having that extra, indescribable quality that makes them a person destined for success. Because of this, the society is very much about creating close ties and connections – and setting up members with bright futures.

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But despite their exclusivity, the same Red Dragon interview from 2014 states that the Dragons had slipped beneath the radar and that they wanted to come out of the shadows. Though the society was founded upon the idea of secrecy, they wanted to be more community oriented. In recent years, they had become known mostly for a few innocuous pranks around campus, but members wanted to be known again for their prestige. The question was raised about whether the society was really relevant anymore, and it seems that people aren’t sure. The Dragon interviewed in 2014 clearly wanted to break out of the shadows and make their presence known on campus, but the question remained – will the rest of the school take them seriously?

Historically, the Red Dragons are just as old as some of the United States‘ most elite university societies (like the Skull and Bones of Yale University), and their members are some of NYU’s most successful alumni. But in recent years, it seems that their reputation for prestige has slipped, and it will be up to the new classes of Dragons to change this.

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