Iron Arrow continues deeply rooted traditions with new members

Soon-to-be members of the Iron Arrow Honor Society stand on the Green after the tapping ceremony on March 23. Photo Courtesy Iron Arrow
Soon-to-be members of the Iron Arrow Honor Society stand on the Green after the tapping ceremony on March 23. Photo Courtesy Iron Arrow

Once a semester, persistent drumming echoes from the Green and campus leaders  march around in colorful patchwork jackets. This signifies tapping season for UM’s most prestigious honor society, Iron Arrow, which inducted 41 people into its ranks last week.

The jackets are easily identifiable on campus, but the significance of the colorful, unique patterns rooted in Seminole heritage is lesser-known. The Florida Miccosukee Tribe, which became independent of the Seminoles in 1965, gave similar jackets to the nine founding Iron Arrow members in 1926 and officially made Iron Arrow a clan of the Seminole nation.

“They saw how the university’s leadership will consider honoring the native people of the area by having golden ideals and exemplary characteristics,” said council elder Johann Ali, who was inducted in 1999.

Each jacket is still individually handcrafted by Miccosukee artisans. It takes about a week to produce just a foot and a half of the Seminole patchwork, and another week to sew the jacket together.

“It’s very labor intensive. You are looking at 200 work hours per jacket,” said Ali, who picks up the jackets from the artisans. “That is about 25 work days and roughly a month to produce each jacket.”

The jackets are based on the Miccosukee tribe’s cultural clothing and come in various colors. Ali said that the patchwork reflects aspects of nature, such as mountains or fire.

The jackets cost around $250 for Iron Arrow members, a much cheaper cost than the retail price, which Ali said is about $800.

Quinn Kasal, a senior majoring in sports management and the son-of-chief, or the second-in-command, in Iron Arrow, said that the jacket is a symbol of honor. Each inductee is required to wear the jacket for a week to celebrate his or her addition to the tribe.

“We are proud of them,” Kasal said. “It’s celebratory, but it is not to brag. Humility is one of our core pillars.”

Iron Arrow lists scholarship, leadership, character, humility and love of alma mater as their members’ core values.

In the tradition of surprise tappings, Iron Arrow inducts members by setting up decoy meetings and events. Third-year senior Rick Lin was instructed by an Iron Arrow member to set up a fake meeting with another inductee, senior Avisha Gopalakrishna. Lin had no idea that he would be tapped, too.

“Avisha was grumpy and upset that she had to attend the meeting,” Lin said. “When we finally met and Iron Arrow came, she started congratulating me but had no idea they came for her. I started congratulating her, and then it turned out I was also being tapped in. That was a surprise.”

Though the tappings are public, the selection and initiation process is still a secret – one of Iron Arrow’s many longstanding traditions Some things, however, have changed, such as the honor society’s inclusion of women.

Iron Arrow only accepted men until 1985, after a 1976 lawsuit stated that the society was in violation of Title IX.

Alumna Elizabeth Rodriguez helped lead the effort to include women. She was among the second group of women to be inducted and became the first female chief in 1989.

“It was how the organization had its beginnings, it was the highest honor for men …  and that comes to be accepted that there would be resistance,” Rodriguez said. “And it takes leadership from many student leaders to continue to be relevant, to make change.”

Rodriguez is still a prominent leader within Iron Arrow. When she finished her year-long term as chief, she was elected into the Council of Elders with Ali. She now helps oversee the tapping process and hopes to make it the same memorable experience that she had.