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A frat for misfits at Ole Miss

Cheers! A motley band of foreign students and domestic square pegs has created its own fraternity: the Awesome Dudes of Alpha Delta.

December 16, 2006|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Oxford, Miss. — THE Ole Miss Rebel football team had taken a 7-0 lead over rival Mississippi State when a strange cheer erupted in a corner of the Rebels' home stadium.

It was emanating from a small group just behind the marching band's tuba section. A dreadlocked South African named Badidile Mazibuko was leading it.

"Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy!" Mazibuko yelled.

"Oi! Oi! Oi!" his friends responded.

"Ozzy!"

"Oi!"

"Ozzy!

"Oi!"

It was, to say the least, out of place at a Southeastern Conference football game. Other fans turned their heads toward the shouting and stared.

Who were these people, standing among the blue-blazered fraternity guys and their smartly dressed sorority dates? After all, this was an Ole Miss game -- that famous, and sometimes notorious, celebration of Southern identity. This is where controversy raged over the banning of the Confederate battle flag in the late '90s, and where it simmers still whenever the band plays "Dixie."

Ozzy? Oi?

This was something new. In fact, it was the University of Mississippi's newest fraternity -- a motley gang of international students and domestic square pegs who, in America's season of Borat, has cheekily christened themselves the Awesome Dudes of Alpha Delta.

The Awesome Dudes became an official student group at Ole Miss in September. Their goals were modest: to have a good time, and to claim a piece of Ole Miss tradition -- the ritualized sis-boom-bah of game day -- as their own.

Their name was self-consciously dorky -- a nod to a few members' less-than-perfect English skills. It was also meant to both honor and mock, if ever so gently, the insular, exotic and sometimes baffling Greek culture they encountered on campus.

Fraternities and sororities at Ole Miss date to the 19th century. They remain serious business here, with big, white-columned houses, elaborate rules for rushing and pledging, and a history of turning out the state's future leaders: U.S. Sen. Trent Lott was a Sigma Nu. His fellow Republican and Mississippian, Sen. Thad Cochran, is a former president of Pi Kappa Alpha.

"We don't have anything like this in Europe," said Florian Schnitzhofer, a founding Dude from Austria.

The Dudes have no frat house. Nor are they sanctioned by the Greek councils on campus. Membership is free, everyone is considered "president," and women are welcome: the official name, in fact, is "The Awesome Dude Fraternity/Sorority of Alpha Delta."

Its mission, according to its website: "spreading the multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial message of unity and love for all."

Its philosophy: "We all party the same regardless of color or creed."

There has been some grumbling about the concept of an alternative fraternity. After the student newspaper wrote a story on the Dudes, one reader, commenting on the Web, called them "ridiculous."

"Greek letter societies were based on things much deeper than what they are trying to base this group on," the anonymous student said. "These people need to grow up."

But others have been more welcoming.

The Dudes, it seems, have stumbled on a political correctness that goes down easy on this conservative Southern campus. It's "We Are the World" served up with a worship of all things football -- and an insatiable thirst for domestic beer.

"All we'll judge you on," said South African Alexis Assimacopoulos, hoisting a Rebel-red party cup after the game, "is how well you party."

THE University of Mississippi opened in 1848 to educate the scions of the antebellum planter class. The legacy of exclusivity lives on in the predominantly white fraternity and sorority houses that occupy prime real estate on the pretty, tree-studded campus.

More than 3,600 of Ole Miss' 14,000 undergraduates are members of fraternities and sororities. The Princeton Review, which ranks Ole Miss a Top 10 party school, cites the Greeks as "integral to the action."

Membership provides entry into social networks built and sustained by generations of Southern elites. It also provides a social calendar centered on invitation-only parties and organized tailgating during football season.

The university was desegregated in 1962 with the enrollment of James Meredith, its first black student.

As the black student body grew, African Americans established their own fraternities and sororities. Today, blacks and whites, with a few exceptions, tend to stick to separate Greek systems.

When Mazibuko arrived in August, he asked students of both races about the separate clubs. They told him it had more to do with social preferences than with overt racism.

Mazibuko, 22, is a black man who spent his early days in an apartheid-era township. Still, he was baffled.

"They'd say, 'Oh, we have cultural differences,' " he said. "But come on -- you're all Americans. I mean, in South Africa we have 11 different languages. That's differences."

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