As a part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Who/what were those people on top of the union balcony with red robes and sunglasses on Friday morning?”
Like many curious freshmen, Innocent Society Member Jared Long also remembers seeing 13 people in red robes and sunglasses his first year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln without knowledge of what they were. The group has been spotted lurking in Memorial Stadium’s stands after the freshman tunnel walk at the annual Boneyard Bash or watching over the campus on the Nebraska Union’s balcony. Although the group appears to be a demonic community to some, it’s actually a Chancellor’s senior honorary society.
“We’re not a satanic cult,” said Long. “A lot of people think that, but we’re quite the opposite. We exist for the preservation of good.”
On April 24, 1903, one of the two Chancellor’s senior honor societies formed at UNL. Named after the historical Catholic tradition of the 13 Popes named Innocent who historically were defenders against wrongdoing, Long said the Innocents Society was created to promote fairness and honor among students and the university.
“It’s not really that we’re a religious organization, it’s more that it represents good overcoming evil, which is the point of the Innocent Society — preserving all that is good on campus,” Long said.
The group consists of 13 members who are chosen each spring from the junior class based on three pillars: superior academic achievement, unparalleled leadership and selfless service to the university and community.
Along with the society’s three virtues, member Grace Oh said the red robes and sunglasses are a key feature to promote the group instead of their individuality.
“We [wear the robes] not to intimidate people, but to promote the group as a whole,” Oh said. “We do not seek recognition for ourselves.”
While the robes may not immediately display the group’s intentions, they have been an integral element of the society since its formation.
“It’s not really a uniform or a costume, but the visual representation of the Innocents is something that has evolved over time,” Long said. “It’s primarily been red robes, but little individual pieces might have been adapted.”
The members said that by wearing the same attire, they can be a part of something larger than themselves. Long said the society isn’t set up as a hierarchical organization, although there are still officer positions.
“In name, there’s a president, but we each play a role in the continuation of the society,” Long said.
Member Madeline Reddel said the group participates in a large variety of volunteering activities both on campus and in the community. Recently, the group did an ecological service project working in the Southern Heights Food Forest community garden. Reddel says that their mission to protect the good while serving the community is uniquely Nebraskan and sets them apart from any other organization.
“The society has kind of been the thread through Nebraska history, and you can’t talk about Nebraska without [Innocents], and you can’t talk about Innocents without [Nebraska],” Reddel said.