Skull-duggery

WHAT boy hasn't had a knocked-together clubhouse on whose door was scrawled, boldly and confidently, "No girlz alowd"? Often the words are accompanied by that famous pirates' emblem - the skull and crossbones - warning of the dire consequences of trespass and hinting at secret deeds too robust for the dainty sex. Okay for 10-year-olds, but for college students? In 1991 the question seems almost quaint. But for some Yale University students, present and past, the issue is serious indeed.

Many readers have heard of Yale's legendary Skull and Bones club. Its alumni over 150 years boast many prominent Americans, including George Bush. But few readers know anything more about it. So secretive is the club that its members aren't even supposed to acknowledge the affiliation, let alone disclose what goes on within the club's walls.

Yet somehow word has leaked out that the all-male bastion's 15 current members recently voted unanimously to admit women. The decision has infuriated many Skull and Bones alums. The club's alumni board changed the locks (Yale brand?) on the meeting hall and denied entry to the current members. Boys, boys! You can work it out.

What's interesting - and heartening - about this episode is that the club's doors aren't opening to women because they've been assaulted by females wielding a legal battering ram. More simply, the club's all-male ethos is becoming passe. Skull and Bones evidently is having trouble getting members. Some of the men tapped aren't interested in joining a society perceived, in words written by the members to alumni, as "flagrantly discriminatory and bigoted." The club's very survival is thought to be at stak e.

Now, we're not opposed to wholesome male companionability, any more than to special friendships among women. Men and women have their gender privacy rights. But men's rights (and rites) shouldn't include secret societies that pride themselves as grooming grounds for movers and shakers. Apparently today's Yale students agree.

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