The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

August 31, 2010

Rebels Who Don’t Rebel

My students at Ole Miss are the sweetest, most polite, most lovely group of young scholars ever to set foot on a campus, and it’s freaking me out.

They file in quietly, having read the text in advance, wearing a veritable uniform — all of them, male and female — flip-flops, shorts, and a tank-top or t-shirt.  The boys sometimes wear caps.  The girls sometimes wear jewelry.  But they are in lock-step fashion-wise. I don’t know them well, yet, but they appear to be perfect angels.  I am spooked by this.  New Yorkers who are young are twitchy, pierced in odd places, and check out their large  pupils — they might be on something.  They wear some black.  They expose midriffs that have tattoos.  I have to tell them to turn off the music which is bleeding out of their ear buds.  I catch them texting.

I should be thrilled.  I am thrilled.  My students are wonderful.  Their mommas should be proud of them.  I am proud of them.  However, something is wrong with this picture.

I think they are not yet sure whether they are allowed to disagree with the authors presented to them in class.  When I say emphatically — I say much  emphatically — yes, they can disagree, they aren’t quite sure whether or not to believe me.  This might be a Yankee ambush.

They call themselves The Rebels, and Rebel sports are a serious business.  People here care passionately about the football team in particular, but look at their current mascot:

Yes, the Rebels still have an old man representing them

There are, of course, lots of things to say about this image:

  1. Perhaps most importantly, they are in the process around here of choosing a new mascot.
  2. This Civil War slaveholder is offensive as an image.
  3. Oddly, per an article which appeared on ESPN’s web page, the mascot — known as Colonel Reb — has only been around since the 1970s, post-integration of Ole Miss, so what were they thinking?
  4. Here’s the kicker for me  — He’s an old man!

That’s right — my Rebel students have an old  man with a cane as their symbol.  How can that be rebellion?

Ole Miss is known as one of the top party schools of  the region.  I have no doubt this is true.  However, according to Dean of Students Sparky Reardon, most of the students party Saturday night and crawl into church on Sunday morning.  If they have sinned, we may assume also that they repent. I am a Christian, and I believe in repentance.  I repent.  However, I can’t honestly say I regret being in an environment of non-conformity and rebellion.  The parties, from what I understand, that these kids go to at Ole Miss are largely the same — frat house, booze, music, shouting, drunk sex.  Before they take their clothes off, everyone is dressed the same.

I went to parties when I was their age where I danced with a man who looked like Young Vincent Van Gogh — only  he was wearing a diaphanous floral print dress, a floppy garden party hat, and waving an  organza scarf in my face.

My friend from college Becca, who later became a professional opera singer, almost got kicked out of school for using a flame thrower in an experimental musical performance.  She almost torched the front row and might have burned the auditorium down.  She had a  mohawk and a pet weasel.

I went to a night club and met one of my favorite movie stars, who treated my girlfriend, who was ga-ga over him, with a lack of respect.  A guy there beat up the movie star.  I made out with that guy in the ladies’ room.

More than once, I went to an abandoned warehouse where there was a party going on with art videos and punk rock bands.  The cops usually shut these down.

We never called ourselves rebels.  We rebelled.

Yet somehow, my students are all there in their places with bright, shiny faces, and they are the rebels who don’t rebel.

This shouldn’t bother me.  This is wonderful.  I have good kids in my class.  All the boys are handsome and clean-cut.  All the girls look fresh-faced and pretty.

These are smart kids, too.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure, based on Northeastern biases, how well-prepared they would be for this subject matter, but they are better academically prepared than most of the students I saw in similar classrooms in New York City.

The rebels have a cheer, referred to as “Hotty Toddy” for short.  It has some curse words in it, but what is striking is that this, too, is a group activity based on conformity.  It is a cheer that people shout in unison.

I have never  been very good at understanding conformists’ motivations.  I see no particular joy in being like the others.  I distrust group-think in all its manifestations.

Is rebellion a fundamental rite of passage to individuality?  Some psychologists say yes.  However, in  an era that is post-9/11, these sweet kids have wanted somehow to be good.  In fact, it was all they could do to make this place better, the United States.  They could not give their parents any additional headaches.

I should appreciate them more.  I do appreciate them.  I just hope that they don’t miss something on their way wherever they’re going.

1 Comment »

  1. I really liked this post.I always enjoy reading articles about people who have come to the state of Mississippi
    and are pleasantly surprised . For the most part you have noticed all that is good about Ole Miss and you seem to be waiting for something bad to happen or find out that this is all made up. It’s not and for me when I came here so long ago, (40 years) it’s what made me want to stay. One trip to the grove before a football game could win over the most loyal of Northeastern people.Over the years all of my family from the great Northeast( I am from NJ) have visited here. Not one of them left with the same opinion they came with. I am proud to say that I live in Mississippi and also that I’m from NJ.(Probably the most picked on 2 states in the union)
    People in Mississippi and the surrounding areas, are more gracious and personable than the quick paced people in the North.They take time to ask about you and your family and are truly interested in what you say. It takes a while to get used to this, but it certainly is nice.
    I work in a school system now with kindergarten and first grade. I see around 700 children a week. I can honestly say that when I ask a child a question they all know how to answer with a” yes Mam” or a “no Mam”., when they don’t a quick reminder of Yes What? helps them remember. I am so used to this now that when I hear kids on TV and they answer with” Yea” I immediately look to see the child that didn’t answer correctly. I know it’s not enforced anywhere in the country except for a few southern states but I personally like it and I know my children sound more respectful because of this.
    I’m so glad you mentioned that the students that you have in your classes are well educated and
    academically prepared for college. Most everyone think people in Mississippi live in a hole somewhere and are so far behind.It always surprises them when they actually converse with someone here and find out that they are very well versed in most subjects.
    So, the rebels that don’t rebel , I’m sure some of them do, but overall the young people you meet at the university are the real deal and the perfect example of the way a college campus should be.
    To attempt to answer your question, NOT ONE THING is wrong with the picture that you see at Ole Miss. It’s the way it should be in my opinion. Will they miss something along the way, I certainly hope so!I hope they miss some of the things that would make them a non conformist,and all the things that make them forget how nice it can be, to be young,handsome,pretty,dress nicely ,to have respect for themselves and their professors. It’s a great picture , ENJOY IT.

    Comment by Bea — September 15, 2011 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

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