Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies: Wikis


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Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies
Abbreviation Di-Phi
Motto Ad Virtute, Libertatem, Scientiamque
(Towards Virtue, Liberty, and Knowledge)
Formation June 3, 1795
Type Literary society
Location Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Joint Senate President Kevin Whitfield
Spring 2010
Main organ Joint Senate
Website http://www.unc.edu/di_phi/

The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, commonly known as Di-Phi, are the debate and literary societies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



The Dialectic Society (originally known as the Debating Society) was established in 1795, making Di-Phi the oldest student organization at the University of North Carolina. They adopted the motto "Virtus et Scientia." The members stated as their goals: "...to promote useful Knowledge..." and "...to cultivate a lasting Friendship with each other..." It is significant that the first order of business for the Debating Society was an order for the purchase of books. Indeed, as the University had no library, the Debating Society's collection became the primary resource for the University, later becoming the core of the school's library.

One month after the founding of the Debating Society, the Philanthropic Society (originally known as the Concord Society) split off due to strict rules and political disagreements. It took a new motto, "Virtus, Libertas, et Scientia." In 1796 the two societies adopted the Greek equivalents of their names, becoming the Dialectic Society and the Philanthropic Society , known as the Di and the Phi for short. Due to the common use of the shortened form, "Philanthropic" is properly pronounced with a long "i" in the first syllable.

In the early days of the University, students were required to join one of the two societies, and the rivalry between the two was extremely bitter. Society members would ride out on horses to greet incoming students, attempting to recruit them and dissuade them from joining the other society. According to legend, this rivalry eventually led to dueling. The university administration eventually intervened and changed the societies' official rules, making membership based upon geography with the Phi members coming from the eastern part of the state and the Di members from the western part (see below for a detailed description of this arrangement).

Shortly after the societies split, they each took a color. The Dialectic Society took a light blue, today known as Carolina blue, while members of the Philanthropic Society took white. Following a football game against the University of Virginia, in which UVA students displayed orange and blue pennants, the Societies' colors were adopted as the University's official colors.

Throughout the 19th century, the two societies engaged in an intense rivalry with each other for campus supremacy. Now together in a Joint Senate, the societies still maintain the rivalry in a much more congenial way.

It became the tradition of the societies to handle the funeral expenses of members who died while attending the University, and several members are now buried in the Societies' adjoining plots in the Chapel Hill Village Cemetery.

The Dialectic Society Chamber is located on the 3rd floor of New West Hall and the Philanthropic Society Chamber is located on the 4th floor of New East Hall. At one time, each Society's library was located on these floors with their meeting room (or the odeon) on the floor below.

The Societies suffered a steady decline membership after the University ended the requirement that all undergraduate students be a member of one of the two societies. In addition, in 1904, the University established an independent student government, thus taking away a large amount of the power wielded by the Societies. By 1946, the last vestige of general student governmental power had been given over to the new Student Congress. By 1959, the Societies had joined together as a Joint Senate for the purposes of preserving their membership rolls.

The Societies still meet together as the Joint Senate with the members of the Phi Society sitting on the north side of the former Di chamber and members of the Di sitting on the south side of the chamber. Each society is responsible for putting forward a slate of candidates for Joint Senate officers. These officers include the President of the Joint Senate, President Pro-Tempore, Critic, Clerk, Sergeant-at-Arms, and Historian.


Membership in the societies is open to all UNC students. Students become senators by petitioning either the Dialectic or Philanthropic Society.

Determining Society The society a student petitions is determined by their county of origin. If the student is from North Carolina, to the east of Chapel Hill, they will petition the Philanthropic Society. If they are from North Carolina, to the west of Chapel Hill, they will petition the Dialectic Society. If the student comes from Orange County, or is from another state entirely, they may choose their society.

Eligibility To become eligible, a student must attend three consecutive meetings and must speak at least twice.

Sponsorship At this time, they may ask any senator in the society they intend to join to act as their sponsor. A sponsor takes on the duty of teaching the petitioner about the history and function of the societies.

Petitioning Speech The petitioner must then deliver a petitioning speech on a topic of their choosing, and field questions from the joint senate. Questions may challenge the petitioner to defend claims they have made in their speech. They also test the petitioner's knowledge of Di-Phi history and trivia. They may also be humorous and challenge the petitioner to think on their feet. After the speech is completed, the petitioner leaves the room. All visitors are also asked to leave, and the chambers are sealed. Thus, the decision process is known only to active senators. The candidate is informed of the joint senate's decision within a week of the petition, through a letter delivered in person by the clerk of the joint senate at a place of historical importance to the Societies.

Induction The induction takes place at a later time. This is done during meetings, following the evening's program. Again, visitors are asked to leave, and the chambers are sealed while the secret ritual is carried out.

Portraiture & Furniture

The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies Foundation holds one of the largest privately-held portrait collections in the United States, comprised mainly of 19th- and early 20th-Century portraits of prominent former members, many of whom held positions of power in the State of North Carolina.

In addition, the Societies hold a number of pieces of mid-19th Century furniture in both chambers, some of which are pieces believed to have been made by the famed free black furniture-maker Thomas Day (1801-1861) of Caswell County, North Carolina. The remainder of the pieces are likely the work of a similar furniture-maker.


The Societies meet every Monday night at 7:30 while classes are in session. Meetings are held in the Dialectic Society Chamber, on the 3rd floor of New West, an academic building near the center of campus. Debates are held under the guidelines of parliamentary procedure and adhere to a modified Robert's Rules of Order. Resolutions are drafted in advance. For each debate, four members are scheduled as speakers: a primary affirmative and primary negative, who are both given seven minutes to deliver a speech, and a secondary affirmative and secondary negative, who are both given five minutes to speak. After delivering a speech, speakers must field queries from fellow senators and guests.

After the four scheduled speakers have finished, the President recognizes speakers from the floor. Speakers from the floor may be members or guests. When time has elapsed for debate, the Societies hold two votes. The first is open to anyone in the chamber while the second is open only to active senators. Anyone may abstain from voting, although this is lightheartedly frowned upon and is usually met with hisses and jeers. The result of the vote is entered into the Societies' archives.

Noteworthy Alumni

Dialectic Society

Philanthropic Society

Current Leadership

Joint Senate Leadership

  • Joint Senate President: Kevin Whitfield
  • President Pro Tempore: Tyler Surratt, Dialectic Society
  • Critic: William Milliken, Philanthropic Society
  • Clerk: Keri Majikes, Philanthropic Society
  • Treasurer: John O'Connor, Philanthropic Society
  • Sergeant-at-Arms: William McKeen, Dialectic Society
  • Historian: Daniel Ferguson, Philanthropic Society

Individual Societies

  • Dialectic Society President: Paige Goodlett
  • Philanthropic Society President: Erin Guthrie


  • Coates, Alfred, and Coates, Gladys Hall. The Story of Student Government in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill: Professor Emeritus Fund. 1985. ASIN B00070WQNC.
  • "Culture Corner: Di-Phi: The Oldest Organization", Carolina Review, vol. XIII, no. 6 (March 2006), p. 13.


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