I am an alumnus of Deru. Honestly, it isn’t what many people have been led to believe. Deru is just like any other student organization, academic society or performance troupe on campus. Each has value, and each has flaws. I would never want to see any of them dismantled as some have suggested for Deru.
Members of Deru often have not commented on the record about its activities, but silence has lead to misunderstanding.
Deru has been a steward of Northwestern student identity, culture and tradition for over a hundred years. It was founded in reaction to growth and changes in the University and an accompanying worry that the student experience may deteriorate over time. Today, Northwestern has a vibrant student community that puts on an impressive array of activities and events, often with limited or no involvement of the University administration. A core tenet of Deru is that this should not change. Students should define the student experience. Educators can provide guidance, but not direction.
Deru does not impugn change, especially in the service of the student experience. If there are aspects of the organization that can be improved, then the current class should come together to change it. Challenges and disagreements are expected, but Deru is exactly the space where this conversation can be had.
Secrecy seems to be a sore point, but in fact, it is the youngest of Deru’s traditions. When people were aware of the group, many sought to join for its name and recognition alone. By becoming secret in the early 2000s, the group could instead cultivate leadership, humility and service in its membership. While this solved one challenge for the group, it created another; some may confuse private converstions with clandestine activities. In my experience, this is not the case.
Deru seeks to honor those who seek no honor. Its ideal member is a leader in the campus community with a strong moral compass, deep compassion and a profound desire to improve the Northwestern student experience. Shame on those who would use the organization to distinguish themselves from their peers. Shame on those who would dare to exert undue influence on others. Shame on those who would close themselves off to empathy or reason. They are not Deru.
Should Deru continue to operate in secret? I do not know. Sometimes secrets have value. As a physician, I will never reveal that which my patients confide in me. I will necessarily keep secrets from my family and closest confidants, and I will do so without remorse. Likewise, I will never freely divulge the personal stories, thoughts, dilemmas, and ideas of my peers in Deru. Deru’s secrecy gave me space to open up, listen, and learn from so many whom I would have never met. Ours is a friendship founded on a trust, and I have grown in unforeseeable ways because of it.
I hope that every Northwestern student can find a similar space for trust and learning. I promise that you will if you think with your heads, feel from your hearts, and put your hands to work on behalf of others. That is the true spirit of Deru.
Anil Wadhwani, WCAS '11