Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies

Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies

Di-Phi debate in the New West building
Abbreviation Di-Phi

Ad Virtutem, Libertatem, Scientiamque

(Towards Virtue, Liberty, and Knowledge)
Formation June 3, 1795
Type Debate and Literary Society
Headquarters Dialectic Chambers and Philanthropic Chambers
Joint Senate President
Michael Johnston
Fall 2016
Main organ
Joint Senate
Website http://diphi.web.unc.edu/

The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, commonly known as Di Phi, are the original collegiate debating societies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and together comprise the oldest student organization at the University.


The Dialectic Society (originally known as the Debating Society) was established in 1795, making Di-Phi the oldest student organization at any public university in the United States. 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", with the addition of the word Libertas lending some insight into the reasons for splitting. 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). Now together in a Joint Senate, the societies still maintain the rivalry in a more congenial way.

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. The Societies trained students in speaking. And, in the thirty years before the Civil War, they also invited distinguished speakers (often alumni) to address the school at graduation. The addresses, which were multi-day graduation exercises, brought politicians, lawyers, physicians, and others to campus. One of the most important graduation speeches came from North Carolina Supreme Court Justice William Gaston in 1832, in which he urged the end of slavery. Those graduation speeches have proved an important source for gauging public attitudes towards union and constitutional law in North Carolina. They illustrate that UNC was substantially more moderate and more supportive of Union than other universities in the south.[1]

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 Old Chapel Hill 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 and today maintain a steady membership.

The Societies still meet together as a 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, Treasurer, 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

Traditionally, the society a student petitions is determined by their county of origin. If the student was from North Carolina, to the east of Orange County, they would petition the Philanthropic Society. If they are from North Carolina, to the west of Orange County, they would petition the Dialectic Society. If the student came from Orange County, or was from another state or country entirely, they could choose their society. However, in their Fall Session of 2012, this was constitutionally altered and any prospective member has the ability to petition either society, regardless of their place of origin. Although once an integral part of determining membership, this tradition is maintained as simply that, a tradition, instead of a requirement.


When a prospective member decides to petition, 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. It is often the case that potential petitioners will ask a senator who often participates in debates or currently in an executive position due to their visibility.


To become eligible, a student must attend three meetings, including the one prior to their petitioning, and must speak at least twice. One of these speaking occasions shall be in debate during the meeting's program.

Petitioning Speech

The petitioner must then deliver a petitioning speech on a topic of their choosing and field questions from the joint senate. Queries may challenge the petitioner to defend claims that they have made in their speech. They also test the petitioner's knowledge of Di Phi history and constitution, as well as 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 with the sponsor at a place of historical importance to the Societies.


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, composed 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. It is believed that the Foundation has either the largest or second largest collection of William Garl Browne portraits in the world.

In addition, the Societies hold a number of pieces of mid-19th-century furniture in both chambers, some of which are pieces known to have been made by the famed free black furniture-maker Thomas Day. The remainder of the pieces are likely the work of a similar furniture-maker.


The Societies meet every Monday night at 7:30 on the top floor of New West 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.

Business of the Societies follows the program, Old and then New. Reports of Officers are made at this time.

The most popular part of the meeting is known as PPMA: Papers, Petitions, Memorials, and Addresses. Historically, they are assigned by class, with freshman presenting Papers, sophomore Petitions, and so forth; however, anyone is free to speak on any topic. Since this portion of the evening often has the most speakers, time limits are generally kept at five minutes; decorum suggests the speaker requests an extension before beginning to speak. There are no time limits for Memorials.

The Report of the Critic concludes the meeting; members and interested guests then adjourn to the top floor of New East for light refreshment and to foster the "bonds of amity."

Positions within the Joint Senate

President: He or she presides over all meetings, maintains the authority to pass or deny any motions per the voting of the Joint Senate. This individual also attends all committee meetings and supports the committees in their various tasks.

President Pro Tempore (PPT): This is essentially the vice president position for the Joint Senate. They chair the Constitutional Committee and are responsible for helping order the societies, maintain order at meetings, and aiding various committees.

Critic: This individual is responsible for critiquing and scoring the speeches that are presented during the evening's programs. They offer their notes and any suggestions or commentaries they would like to share upon the conclusion of the debate.

Clerk: This person is tasked with taking notes throughout the evening's meetings. They are then responsible for sending out any important information or announcements pertaining to Di Phi. Their records are then logged and saved to be available as needed.

Sergeant at Arms: This person is responsible for helping maintain the organization's book and portrait collection as well as helping upkeep our chambers for usage.

Historian: This individual is in charge of being knowledgeable about the traditions and customs of our Society.

Dialectic President (Di President): They are responsible for various tasks suited to their society.

Philanthropic President (Phi President):They are responsible for various tasks suited to their society.


Various committees have been constitutionally approved by the Joint Senate along with several ad hoc committees as well that all function to efficiently help maintain the Di Phi organization.

Membership Committee: This is the committee that actively recruits new members and encourages new and current members to maintain their membership with the organization. It is charged with handling the table at Chapel Hill's annual Fall Fest to introduce potential members to the organization and garner their interest.

Program Committee: This committee is charged with the task of creating each meeting's debate topic and helping coordinate our specialty topics on those respective nights. Their agenda helps guide the evening's meeting.

Social Committee: This committee organizes all of our social events associated with Di Phi, excluding the December and the April (our formal and semi-formal events). Events include our annual basketball tournament, traveling, and handling our affairs with other organizations at UNC as well as across the east coast.

Finance Committee: Its chair and members are responsible for maintaining the budget and finances of the Joint Societies.

Constitutional Committee: This committee ensures that the Societies are being maintained by the standards the Constitution of the organization. They are tasked with altering the constitution, per the permission of the majority of the senators in the joint society, and upholding the traditions that the original members created.

Executive Committee: This committee is constituted of all officers of the joint society. They are tasked with various issues that pertain to the organization as a whole.

Portrait Committee: Its members are required to maintain and arrange the Societies's extensive portrait collection.

December Committee: This committee has the responsibility of organizing the December, the Societies' annual formal dance. This committee is also tied into the April Committee, the spring's semi-formal for the societies.

Traditions Committee: This is the committee that ensures that the Societies maintain and respect the traditions that created the organization.

Crotchety Old Senators: This committee consists of the eldest members of both societies. They are allowed -- encouraged, even -- to be old and crotchety as they please.

Noteworthy Alumni

Dialectic Society

Philanthropic Society

Current leadership

Joint Senate Leadership

Individual Societies

Other Collegiate Societies


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