One key concept in distinguishing secret societies from fraternities is that, on campuses that have both kinds of organizations, one can be a member of both, (that is, membership is not mutually exclusive).Usually, being a member of more than one fraternity is not considered appropriate, because that member would have divided loyalties; however, typically, there is not an issue being a member of a secret society and a fraternity, because they are not considered similar organizations or competing organizations.An especially difficult problem is the degree to which any one society is an actual society or is simply an honorary designation.
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There are many collegiate secret societies in North America.
They vary greatly in their levels of secrecy and independence from their universities.
As the term is used in this article, a secret society is a collegiate society where significant effort is made to keep affairs, membership rolls, signs of recognition, initiation, or other aspects secret from the public.
Some collegiate secret societies are referred to as 'class societies', which restrict membership to one class year.
It claims today to still be an actual society that has meetings, conducts its affairs, and is a living social entity, however membership for most members consists of one evening's initiation, and no more, which would make the society completely an honorary one in most people's eyes.
Many such societies exist which operate as honoraries on one campus, and which may have been at one time actual meeting societies, and which are kept alive by one or two dedicated local alumni or an alumni affairs or Dean's office person, who see to it that an annual initiation are held every year.
Some of these frankly state that they are honoraries, other seek to perpetuate the image of a continuing active society where there is none.
Most class societies are restricted to the senior class, and are therefore also called senior societies on many campuses.
There is no strict rule on the categorization of secret societies.