Arrow Heads
BY CHERYL D. CHAPMAN
During one November day in 1993, Paul Sygall fumed as he waited for an impromptu meeting. Moments before, the third-year medical student had been interrupted just as he was preparing to bring a patient into the operating room.

"I got this call from our student body president that I had to meet with him and the deans," recalls Sygall (B.S. '91, M.D. '95). "I told him I had to assist the resident with a patient."

Sygall's colleague didn't care and insisted he attend the meeting.

"I was really ticked," Sygall recollects. "I remember waiting for this guy to show up. Next thing I know, he's standing in front of me."

The next few moments would remain a blur for Sygall. Amid the sonorous tones of a drum, he was grabbed by his elbows, stood up, popped across the chest with a large arrow, and shuffled into a sea of men and women clad in multicolored jackets. Not long after, Sygall's forehead bore the familiar orange, white, and green markings worn by those who surrounded him.


Sygall had been tapped by Iron Arrow, the University of Miami's highest honor and oldest tradition.

Steeped in the rituals, myths, and mystique of its Seminole Indian tribal roots, Iron Arrow remains a mystery to outsiders, but a profound source of fellowship, even spirituality, for the nearly 2,000 men and women who count themselves as members of this unique tribe of South Florida's Seminole Indian nation. With their initiation into Iron Arrow, many members experience an even deeper commitment to the University of Miami and the community.

"It was probably one of the most fascinating learning and reflective times of my life," recalls M.B.A. student Johann Ali (B.S. '96), past chief of Iron Arrow who was tapped in 1995. "It allows you to look into yourself and contemplate what you are about and what the world is about."

Likewise, Sygall was moved by his initiation. "Initiation is based on Indian ritual," he explains. "The actual feelings are that you are one with the environment, one with the Seminole Nation, and one with the University."

And, as Sygall notes, each initiate is charged with keeping a watchful eye over the University and its traditions.

C
reating tradition was the guiding force behind the genesis of Iron Arrow, founded in 1926 by the University of Miami's first president, Bowman Foster Ashe, just one month after the University opened.

In historian Randolph Femmer's 1976 chronicle of Iron Arrow, the University's first enrolled student, the late Francis Houghtaling (B.A. '32), recounted the honor society's beginnings. Ashe liked Houghtaling's idea of a Seminole Indian ritual for a fraternity but wanted to save the concept for something special.

On a November afternoon in 1926, Ashe explained his vision for a tap honor society that would include students who contributed "to the glory, fame, and growth of the UM." Ashe avoided what he saw as the pitfalls of older colleges. Those institutions, he said, "had set a path like a cow wandering through the woods, which made trails of tradition that could not be changed." Instead, Ashe pursued a straight course, as a surveyor would use a compass, with a shorter path for traditions. The term "arrow" drew from this principle. Then someone suggested "iron" because it was the Iron Age. And Iron Arrow was born.

In the beginning, Iron Arrow existed as an oral tradition, passed down from member to member. No written constitution, ritual, or membership certificate was needed to validate its existence, reflecting its Seminole roots. Its members wore Seminole jackets at official functions, including meetings, Homecoming, and tappings. This tradition continues today, and tappings are conducted on the Coral Gables and medical campuses in the fall and spring.

On the Coral Gables campus, the tapping ceremony culminates at the Iron Arrow Mound, located near the Whitten University Center. Iron Arrow's tribal identity also can be found in the titles of its officers: chief, son-of-chief, and medicine man, and its Council of Elders, a group of more established members who share their wisdom with newer members.

T
he organization has evolved over the years, but some changes did not come so easily. According to many of its early members, Ashe founded Iron Arrow as "the highest honor attained by men" at the University. Nu Kappa Tau, a sister but distinctly separate organization, was founded in 1937 as the highest honor attained by women. But in 1966 its members chose to affiliate with the national women's honor society, Mortar Board, "leaving Iron Arrow," as Femmer wrote, "to carry the tradition alone."

And so it did--but not without controversy. Iron Arrow existed as an exclusively male honor society for nearly 60 years. A change in this policy would not occur without struggle--or the eventual intervention of the federal government and an ultimate ban from campus.

Chartered out of the Office of the President, Iron Arrow was first sponsored by Ashe and, in turn, by subsequent presidents Jay F. W. Pearson and Henry King Stanford. Before departing campus on November 24, 1976, following a Board of Trustees directive charging Stanford to sever the University's ties with Iron Arrow, its members turned to its tribal roots by asking its Indian counselor Howard Osceola to serve as its fourth sponsor. And for the nearly ten years of Iron Arrow's absence from campus, one of the University's oldest traditions fell under the sponsorship of Florida's Native Americans. Historian Femmer described this interval as "The Feminist Challenge."

For Sue Peters Mullane (B.Ed. '75, M.Ed. '77, Ph.D. '95), one of the University's earliest female scholar-athletes as well as a former associate dean of students, the period defines her memories of Iron Arrow. "I think of Iron Arrow in two ways: One was before the admission of women and one was after, because I was there for both," she says.

Her tapping in March 1987 sparked mixed emotions, says Mullane, now an assistant professor in the School of Education. "I had observed some of the most prominent women at the

University and what they had gone through, their issues, and concerns. And I worked with some of these women--like Louise Mills (former associate dean of student personnel)--who had done so much for the University and watched men get 'the highest honor attainable.'"

Yet, Mullane remains proud of her place in Iron Arrow. "I was very honored to be tapped," she says. "I felt that I represented Louise and other women who had worked so hard."

Iron Arrow's first female member, Dorothy Ashe Dunn (B.A. '41, M.A. '66, D.A. '77), daughter of the University's first president, also recalls dichotomous feelings about her tapping. Throughout Iron Arrow's absence from campus until February 28, 1985, when more than two-thirds of the members voted to make women eligible for selection--Dunn financially supported the organization and its desire to remain the University's highest honor for men. Nevertheless, once tapped, she embraced her new association with the tribe. And like so many before her, when called to a 7 a.m. meeting with President Edward T. Foote II, Dunn was caught completely off-guard. "I was immensely surprised," she says. "It was quite thrilling."

Iron Arrow's first female chief, Elizabeth Rodriquez (B.S. '85, J.D. '89), who was tapped among the second group of women in November 1985, saw the subsequent years as a time to heal and to recognize commonalities among members. "You realize you are part of a progression of people that has contributed to this University," says Rodriguez, who was elected chief in 1988 while a law student.

Despite periods of controversy and regression, such as during the 1940s when membership dwindled because of World War II, the essence of Iron Arrow has remained intact. Above all else, it remains the University's highest honor. And the right to wear the vivid handcrafted patchwork jacket of the Seminole Indian tribe vibrantly reveals a unanimous recognition by one's peers of an individual's leadership, character, scholarship, service, and, above all, love of alma mater--qualities so important to a university.

"What's wonderful about the Iron Arrow values is that whatever differences there are among us, these values are common," says President Edward T. Foote II, who was tapped in 1986 and is Iron Arrow's fifth sponsor. "They take on a special meaning at a university dedicated to the cultivation of those values, as they lead all of us to a better life."

Because the University's history is a "living one," in that many people associated with its early years are still present, Iron Arrow has a powerful influence across generations. The youngest student members are united with individuals tied to the University's beginnings. This unique association "won't last forever," Foote says, "but for now, it's poignant and it's beautiful."

And so the tradition lives on. Begun 74 years ago, just one month after the shaky beginnings of a university, Iron Arrow remains strong and vibrant--much like the University itself--through the leadership and love of its tribal members.

Cheryl D. Chapman (M.S.Ed. '95, Ph.D. '99) resides in Miami, Florida. Photography by Greg Schneider, Tom Salyer, and Ray Fisher.
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