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Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies

Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies

Commonly known as the "Di" and "Phi," the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies are the oldest student organizations at Carolina and were at the heart of student life throughout the university's early history. Students founded a debating society in 1795, less than a year after the university opened. A rival society was founded shortly after, and the groups soon changed their names to the Dialectic Society and Philanthropic Society. They competed for students for several years before agreeing to divide incoming students geographically: those from west of Raleigh would join the Dialectic Society, while those east of Raleigh would join the Philanthropic.

In an era before the university provided any support for student social and nonacademic life, the societies helped with entertainment (participating in and attending formal debates counted as entertainment) and enforced student discipline with a series of fines for bad behavior. They also purchased books, building libraries that, by 1850, would be three times the size of the university's own library. Realizing the importance of the societies in promoting student self-governance, the UNC Board of Trustees in 1885 passed a resolution requiring all students to join one of the two groups. The requirement was in place for only ten years, but the majority of students still joined one of the societies even after they were no longer required to. The popularity of the societies began to wane following World War I, as more student activities (including athletics) became available and the Campus Y emerged as the new center of student life.

In their debates, the societies often took on controversial issues. An 1834 debate on the topic, "Ought slavery to be abolished?" was in favor of abolition. However, when they debated in 1837 on whether "slavery was an evil morally or politically," the answer was no. In 1945 the Di Society resolved that the system of racial segregation known as Jim Crow should be abolished and that African Americans should be admitted to UNC.

As the campus changed in the twentieth century, so did the societies. In 1930 they began to admit women. In 1959 they voted to merge into a single organization, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, or DiPhi. Membership dwindled, but never to the point of dissolution; there has always been a group of new UNC—Chapel Hill students interested in debate and in being part of the university's oldest tradition.

Date Established: 1795

Date Range: 1795 – Present

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