The original Dialectic Society pin, worn by Di senators

The Dialectic Society (originally known as the Debating Society) was established in 1795, making it the oldest student organization at the University of North Carolina.

The members adopted the motto “Virtus et Scientia” meaning virtue and knowledge in Latin. They 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. This organization did not remain the sole student organization at UNC for long though.

The Philanthropic Society Chambers, Old East, early 20th Century

One month after the founding of the Debating Society, several members split off to create the Philanthropic Society (originally known as the Concord Society) due to strict rules and political disagreements. It took a new motto, “Virtus, Libertas, et Scientia”, with the addition of the word Libertas (Latin for “liberty”) lending some insight into the reasons for their separation.

In 1796 the two societies adopted the Greek equivalents of their names, becoming the Dialectic Society and the Philanthropic Society — now known as the Di and the Phi for short. The Philanthropic Society amassed a large library, like that of the Dialectic Society, and eventually both organizations donated their libraries (over 10,000 volumes each) to become the University Library, which still acknowledges this original endowment.

The Di chamber as it stands today, note the Carolina Blue trim and white walls

Another more noticeable, and perhaps more important contribution, of the Societies is the choice of the colors that now represent UNC. The Di decided to put light blue ribbons on its diplomas, which are given to graduates in addition to the University’s diplomas. In addition to blue standing for honor, blue ribbons were the universal symbol for excellence in agricultural regions like North Carolina.  The Phi chose white ribbons, indicative of truth and virtue, for its diplomas.

When intercollegiate football began in the 1880s, the team members noticed the school colors worn by schools like Virginia and Wake Forest. They wanted similar identification as Carolina students. Quite naturally, they adopted the Societies’ light blue and white signifying that students of both the Di and Phi were on the team and supported it to victory.

The two Societies own several grave plots where former Senators were buried while attending UNC. The Di plot has five monuments, and the Phi plot has six.

In the early days of the University, the two societies had such an influence on campus that students were required to join one of the two societies. 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 intervened in the 1850’s and changed the Societies’ official rules, opting to base membership upon geography. Di members were those North Carolinians from West of Orange County and Phi members were from East of Orange County. Members from Orange County or out of state could choose either Society. This rule remained as an unofficial tradition until 2012, and since the 1890’s students have not been required to join one of the societies.

Throughout their histories, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies founded various campus institutions such as the General Alumni Association, the Yackety-Yack (yearbook), the University Magazine (which became Carolina Quarterly), the Honor System, and many of the academic schools (School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Law School, Medical School, etc.). The Societies united in a Joint Senate in 1959, but they continue to maintain their rivalry in a much more congenial way.The traditions and ideals of the original founders of the organizations are still found today every Monday night at 7:30 in New West 310. Take our Obscure History Quiz to learn about odd pieces of the Societies’ past. Please feel free to browse the various documents referring to history of the Societies below:

General History Resources

Society Merger Resources

Di-Phi Library Resources

Di-Phi Burial Ground Resources