Carl Smith, Jr., left, Michael Reed, Qadree Williams and Justin Baker, members of Omega Psi Phi, perform a hopping routine at a Union Unplugged event on the Student Union Plaza. Credit: Carolyne Cole

The University of Mississippi is taking several steps to introduce prospective and current students to the black Greek experience on its campus in Oxford.

Black Greek-lettered organizations now have a presence throughout Orientation 2016 at Rebel Round-Up, during which prospective students and families learn about all aspects of campus life. Prior to this summer, there wasn’t any specific representation of the black Greek groups.

“This is very important for prospective African American students to know that there is a place for me at the university, but also equally as important for the African American families who may have reservations,” said Dr. Brandi Hephner LaBanc, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. “They now see that their child can too carry out traditions and legacies important to the African American experience.”

Other additions include office space for the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the umbrella organization for the nine black Greek organizations, and a multipurpose room in the new residence hall for socials, meetings and practices.

“These things cost so it will take time, but we are growing,” says LaBanc.

The spring premiere of the fly in the buttermilk, a short film about black Greek-lettered organizations at the university produced by Ashley F. G. Norwood, a 2016 master’s degree graduate, sparked conversations about a culture that is most often “misunderstood or not appreciated,” said Cole G. Putman.

Putman is the director of the university’s First Year Experience, which houses three programs for incoming freshman students.

“We are foolish to think this documentary is not an agent for change,” says Putman.

The documentary, coupled with dialogue with members of the black Greek-lettered organizations, formally known as NPHC, has been added to the agenda for the Fall programs. The purpose of the programs is to help freshmen students develop positive leadership skills, and it offers a place for small dialogue and understanding of how best to use your voice in university issues/concerns.

“We select students from all around the world and raise them to be the best leaders they can be,” Putman said. “In doing so, they must understand all groups of students here on campus.”

LaBanc said she will be using the film for her graduate education studies class: Student Services in Higher Education. The film highlights the depths of the experience and legacy of the black Greek organizations at Ole Miss and will help those seeking to work in higher education understand the values in these groups and also help eliminate misconceptions that may follow, she said.

Before her employment at the university, LaBanc was the first female fraternity adviser at Arizona State University.

“How can a white woman with white sorority experience understand NPHC,” she asked? “Environmental scanning, focusing on creating space for these groups and understanding what the students want,” she answered.

Ole Miss ground breaking of NPHC Garden. April 23, 2016
Ole Miss ground breaking of NPHC Garden on April 23 Credit: Photo by Robert Jordan, Ole Miss Communications

The weekend prior to the on-campus premiere of the film last spring, ground was broken for the NPHC Garden. According to the action plan proposed by former Chancellor Dan Jones, this student-centered area will be a visible monument that represents the important history and critical campus engagement opportunities afforded by historically black fraternities and sororities.

The black Greek organizations continue to struggle with space and visibility on campus.

There is no black Greek presence on fraternity and sorority rows. However, predominantly white Greek organizations occupy homes and therefore have the space to conduct chapter operations.

“If it weren’t for outside resources, I don’t know where we could meet on campus,” said Terrye Davis, president of the Ole Miss NPHC and a member of a black sorority. Space becomes an issue when the nine groups have to practice, host meetings and/or social events in public spaces on campus during the semester among the other hundreds of organizations at the university.

“We don’t have our own space,” said Davis. “This is our campus too.”

Davis said she is elated to see Ole Miss begin the process of creating more space on campus for the NPHC’s growing council.

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.

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