Secret O.W.L. Society sends letter, revives society for first time in decades

Anonymous letter laments fading presence of print media on Grounds


An anonymous group of students posted an open letter to the University community Saturday announcing the resurrection of the O.W.L. Society, a secret organization dedicated to the promotion of the literary arts.

Framed copies of the letter were posted on an easel at the foot of the Aviator Statue outside Clemons Library, inside the entrance of Alderman Library and in the mural hall of Clark Library.

“We resurrect the O.W.L. to support, cultivate and enrich literary culture at the University of Virginia,” the letter said. “We seek to recognize those who make excellent contributions to the literary life of the University of Virginia, to support their efforts, and to enliven the literary culture at the University.”

The O.W.L. society was founded in 1887 and was active on Grounds through the late 1920s.

“The O.W.L. faithfully pursued their mission for half a century, recognizing the inherent value in the written word: its uniquely powerful ability to capture and to preserve, and in a moment immortalize thoughts, experiences and stories in ink laid upon paper,” the letter said.

In an email, an anonymous member of the O.W.L. Society said recent cuts to print publication — both the termination of Corks and Curls in 2009, and The Cavalier Daily’s print reduction in 2013 — prompted the society’s revival.

“There is much to be optimistic about in the realm of student publication,” the member said. “There are more student research journals in more disciplines today than there have ever been, and the quality of what is produced is often excellent. The O.W.L. is concerned with ensuring that the University’s history continues to be recorded.”

The member added that the society would not necessarily revive its trend of drawing membership primarily from editors of student publications.

The society may have disappeared as student publications found their financial and institutional footing at the University, no longer relying on the society for the support it offered during their earlier years, the member speculated. But as such institutions have reduced publication or stopped production altogether, members felt the society was once again necessary in the University environment.

“It is sad to see such institutions leave this University, along with the opportunities they presented students who sought to hone their literary talents,” the letter said. “Perhaps more regrettable is the loss of the rich documentary record of the University’s history contained in their pages,” the letter said.

Fourth-year College student Kaz Komolafe, Cavalier Daily Editor-in-Chief, commended the O.W.L. Society on their efforts as “guardians of media obligations.” She said, however, that a reduction in print production was not synonymous with a reduction in production.

“I think there’s still a huge amount that student publications can do, maybe even more, when you look at the potential of social media and the Internet,” she said.

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