James Jiang, Trinity News Staff Writer
What’s the harm in getting ice cream or bubble tea with some friendly Trinity College students? Well, you may end up getting groomed into joining a racist and sexist secret society. Episkopon, one of North America’s oldest secret societies, is rumored to use this tactic to ensnare naive first-years at Trinity.
Founded in 1858, Episkopon began as a student newspaper that kept archives of Trinity College affairs and history. It was associated with the Trinity name for most of its existence. Its past membership includes many notable Trinity College alumni such as former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham and former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
Colloquially known as “Pon,” the society is split into two groups: “Man-pon” for male students and “Fem-pon” for female students. Both groups serve the society’s goal to deliver chastisement on behalf of the spirit Episkopon, a figure represented by a human skull that supposedly inhabited Trinity. The society is infamous for their annual readings, during which they satirize Trinity students and college affairs through poems, jokes, and songs. Continuing with the society’s historical character, these readings are delivered by the Scribes—the heads of the two gendered groups—and accompanied by Episkopon’s senior editors and member editors. At face value, the Episkopon readings may appear as mere gossip and drama. However, they quickly reveal to be sinister and controversial, rooted in a history of sexism and racism toward those they choose to deprecate.
It was not until 1992 that Trinity College sought to formally sever its ties to the society. This reckoning occurred because Episkopon had devolved into something awful: they were viciously racist and sexist and would harass students to the point of attempted suicide. Despite the imminent harm the society was causing, both Trinity’s student leaders and administration argued against this split. However, formal separation did not immediately translate into reality as Episkopon continued. Ultimately, it would require a task force to investigate Episkipon and a threatened lawsuit before Trinity College finally severed its ties.
Despite the formal dissociation from the college, Episkopon continued to operate in the dark corners of Trinity as the college turned a blind eye to their activities. Recently, in 2020, it was revealed that many individuals in Trinity student leadership were Episkopon members. A watershed moment took place, where several Black Trinity student leaders took to Facebook and revealed Episkopon’s perpetuation of anti-Black racism. While this confrontation occurred, other students spotlighted many current Episkopon Trinity members and made a call to end their racist, sexist, and discriminatory practices. This second reckoning led to the resignation of many student leaders, an open letter to Trinity administration urging for action, and promises of reform by the college. The Varsity published several articles on these events and criticized Trinity College for its tolerance of Episkopon’s behavior.
Still, the secret society continues to operate. Episkopon—though not as pervasive anymore—still maintains a strong presence. Their yearly readings are held across Toronto and naive new students continue to be groomed into their membership. In 2010, Trinity College took a step in the right direction and required students to sign Trinity College’s Episkopon Policy, which contractually binds students to refrain from organizing, participating, or publicizing any Episkopon-related events in connection with Trinity College. That said, these efforts are insufficient: students sign the form without reading it and discussion of Episkopon ends after the few seconds you are given to scribble your name. It proved to be more of a formality than anything substantial.
Ultimately, Trinity College is still infected with Episkopon. The society operates in broad daylight and even shamelessly advertises over Facebook groups. It is crystal clear that it is a disease that spreads sexism, racism, and toxicity. But even so, new students do not even learn about the history of Episkopon. Few seem to know about what Episkopon really stands for and to many at the University of Toronto, Episkopon is known as the cool and mysterious secret society at Trinity.
Even those aware of the truth behind Episkopon often turn a blind eye. The most flagrant offender is the Trinity College administration. Their complacency and negligence is unacceptable. Aside from the ineffective Episkopon policy and some occasional vague announcements, Trinity has strayed from reconciliation. It feels more like they are trying to cover their tracks and hide the skull in the closet, with the hope that their problems will eventually wash away into obscurity. The college has brought a pitiful amount of awareness to students: it is a difficult task to even find relevant information about Episkopon. Last year, for example, the only warning first-years received was a Facebook post from a singular, brave second-year student who openly informed them of Episkopon’s discrimination. The college must do more for its students.
True reconciliation comes by discussing the past and by acknowledging that something terrible happened. As it stands, Trinity College’s attempts at reconciliation have felt fake and bogus. They fear that their prestigious, unblemished image may vanish if they shine the blacklight on themselves and reveal the stains committed by Episkopon. The college administration must sober up and provide the transparency its students deserve.