Baylor’s ‘gadfly’: NoZe’s Cunning Linguist wants to make readers laugh, think

Vincent Van NoZe, Cunning Linguist of the NoZe Brotherhood. Grace Everett | Photo Editor

By Matt Kyle | Assistant News Editor

Throughout its long and occasionally controversial history, the Noble NoZe Brotherhood has put Pat Neff Hall up for sale, unleashed 5,000 ping pong balls in Chapel and made fun of just about anything to do with Baylor in its satirical newspaper, The Rope.

While the brotherhood’s goal with The Rope is to satirize everyone, Brother Vincent Van NoZe, Cunning Linguist, said her goal is to poke fun at various Baylor idiosyncrasies while also addressing serious issues — all while keeping in line with the brotherhood’s satirical tone.

As the Cunning Linguist, Van NoZe edits The Rope, which is published about three times each semester. The Rope was first published in 1954, and it has been one of many vessels for the brotherhood to wreak havoc on the university.

Van NoZe said the process of making a new issue of The Rope is ongoing through the semester, but most of the work gets done on “Rope Nights,” during which members of the brotherhood gather at the NoZe Brotherhood’s “mansion” — its home base filled with stolen fraternity memorabilia, dozens of pairs of the group’s signature Groucho Marx glasses, wigs and portraits graffitied with mustaches and genitalia. At Rope Nights, the brothers workshop articles, goof off and occasionally make progress on upcoming issues.

“[Rope Nights are] absolute chaos,” Van NoZe said. “A lot of our brothers — because this group requires such bold-facedness — can be at ends with each other, yelling and doing bits, because that’s how we are. To be in this group, you kind of have to have that strong sense of humor and a strong personality to stand out. It just ends up with the group playfully screaming at each other a lot.”

Once the brothers have written their articles, Van NoZe compiles the best ones and puts them together using InDesign — a process she said takes her about a week. With the content of The Rope, Van NoZe said she aims to use satire to make people think critically about important issues.

“Our aim is to be the gadfly of this university: poking a little fun at everybody, but also, in doing so, pointing out real issues that should be addressed,” Van NoZe said.

The most recent issue of The Rope — the annual ComeHoming issue (published under the masthead of “The Baylor Liarat”) — featured articles satirizing the Southern Baptist Convention’s reaction to the chartering of PRISM and the Texas abortion ban, as well as the usual articles lampooning Baylor Greek Life. Van NoZe said some of the issues The Rope has satirized have been prevalent for years, showing exactly why the issues need calling out.

“At the Texas collection, we have a lot of past Ropes and cool documents and stuff about the brotherhood,” Van NoZe said. “The last time we took a trip there, we were reading one from the mid ’90s making a joke about chartering an LGBT organization that could have worked just as well now. It’s been a long time coming, and the fact that it’s still so controversial is a little silly, and I wanted to make them look a little silly. Ergo, the King Kong thing.”

Through the years, the brothers have kept many traditions solid, including the worship of “Elmo,” who Van NoZe said is the group’s “god or deity” and is represented in idol form as a small statue of a snowman. Van NoZe explained that Elmo’s name originates from Elm Mott, where the group’s hideout was located after leaving Brooks Hall, where the NoZe Brotherhood was founded in 1924.

Van NoZe said Elmo even plays a role in the choosing of the brothers’ secret identities, as neophytes — new members of the group — must pray to Elmo for their name.

“[The names] all have a little bit of a personal connection,” Van NoZe said. “Mine to Vincent Van NoZe is that I consider myself kind of artistic and very mentally unhealthy, so we vibe. I wanted Vincent Van NoZe, and Elmo was gracious enough to give it to me, but that’s not always the case. Ultimately, it’s up to his full discretion. We don’t question the word of god. Like, why would you do that?”

Other traditions include pranks, which have led to the group having a historically rocky relationship with the university. In 1978, Baylor President Abner McCall suspended the group for being “lewd, crude and grossly sacrilegious,” the same year the brothers printed a fake version of The Baylor Lariat and declared Homecoming was canceled. Ten years later, the brotherhood impersonated The Baylor Lariat again with a headline announcing Baylor President Herb Reynolds had died, complete with an obituary. Among other infamous NoZe acts, the brothers once painted and repainted a bridge near Collins Residence Hall pink, later burning it down.

Professor Robert Darden, the faculty adviser to the group from 1995 to 1999, said the bridge burning incident had come as a result of the group taking McCall’s words literally.

“McCall called them in and said, ‘I’m tired of this. It’s an embarrassment. I want you to return that bridge back to its original state,’” Darden said. “When you tell that to the NoZe, the original state is Native Americans and no bridge, so they burned it down. That got them kicked off in a hurry.”

Brother NoZe By Any Other Name — an exile, meaning a brother who has graduated— said when he was a member of the group during the late 1980s, the brotherhood had to drive 30 minutes to Hillsboro to print The Rope, as they had to find a publisher who wouldn’t be “easily intimidated or discovered” by Baylor.

NoZe By Any Other Name also said an advertiser once removed an ad from The Rope due to pressure from Baylor.

“A local restaurant that I won’t name, who is still in business, they did catering I think for Baylor events,” NoZe By Any Other Name said. “And so they were discouraged from continuing to advertise in The Rope at Baylor’s suggestion.”

Van NoZe said the brotherhood’s relationship with Baylor is better now than it was, as the group keeps in communication with Student Activities senior director Matt Burchett. Burchett said the group — which has always been an unofficial group and thus unaffiliated with Baylor — has built trust with the university in recent years and is a great tradition that adds to the Baylor experience.

While the group doesn’t pull as many big pranks as it once did, it still paints noses on statues around campus pink — something Van NoZe referred to as “beautification.” Van NoZe said the brotherhood’s efforts to decorate the campus are usually cleaned up quickly.

“You know, it’s disheartening to spruce up the campus and put some paint on a few statues, brighten people’s day — washable paint, mind you — and within the hour, it’s gone,” Van NoZe said. “I put out freshly printed Ropes down in Moody earlier in the semester and had to watch people throw them away, as I put them down. So I mean, honestly, not saying Baylor doesn’t want you to see our stuff, but I don’t know.”

Van NoZe said she hopes to use the humor of The Rope to lighten people’s moods.

“I’d like to remind people to keep an open mind,” Van NoZe said. “They might laugh a little bit and not take themselves so seriously and have fun. I think there’s a stick up some people’s butts, and I’d like to remove it. So you should pick up a copy of The Rope.”