If a black-hooded group was spotted running around campus nowadays, they would probably be stopped by Public Safety. Between 1909 and the mid-1960s, however, such a group had administrative permission to do just that. That group was Chi Rho.
What was Chi Rho?
Once defined in the UR yearbook as “the black-hooded enforcers of tradition,” Chi Rho was a society made up of sophomores who were dedicated to making sure freshmen followed the unwritten rules of the University. These “unwritten rules” included knowing the lyrics to the University’s alma mater and saying hello to each person you passed. The aim of the society was to promote the growth of school spirit and community that results from honoring a shared set of traditions.
Who was in Chi Rho?
Chi Rho was a group of of sophomore men hand-picked by the previous year’s members for their leadership and dedication to the school. Upon joining the society, members selected a pseudonym based on an Egyptian pharaoh, like Rameses or Ptolemy, and they wore hoods during society activities to protect their anonymity. The members’ actual names were revealed in an unmasking ceremony on Dandelion Day.
Chi Rho and the “Frosh-Soph” Rivalry
Chi Rho played a pivotal role in the historic rivalry between the freshmen and sophomore classes. It was its members job, for instance, to enforce the penalties of losing the famed “Flag Rush,” an activity wherein sophomores tried to keep freshmen from retrieving their class flag from the top of a greased pole. If the sophomores were successful, the freshmen had to wear their beanies and stay off the Eastman Quad for a specified period of time.
It also became a tradition for the freshmen to try to keep members of Chi Rho from appearing at their unmasking ceremony.
Chi Rho’s Methods
Chi Rho took different stances toward tradition-breaking students at different periods of time. Some years, they had some bite ; other years they were more bark. It appears that most years, they were a combination of both. The 1960 yearbook puts it this way: “When, during the year, a freshman disregards a school tradition, he is visited by a member of Chi Rho who explains the history and meaning of that tradition. If the offender persists in this disregard, several other members of the society call on him to enforce the custom with slightly more persuasive means.”
While certain groups of members sometimes took this a bit too far, overall the society seemed to know it’s bounds and was successful in using these methods to foster university traditions.
What happened to Chi Rho?
Chi Rho faded out of existence in the mid-1960s, when the pressing nature of world events turned students’ focuses from intra-campus affairs to affairs outside of campus. They were replaced by other honorary organizations such as Yellow Key (a UR parallel to the Golden Key International Honour Society).