Maybe it was the Christmas tree transplanted to the top of the school's stately dome that caused the trouble. Or maybe the women at William Woods University at the time just couldn't take a joke.
One thing is for sure: The first 50 men to arrive at the former all-women's school in 1997 as resident freshmen endured stares, taunts, and the cold shoulder. Isolated, they turned to pranks to amuse themselves - and bonded into a fraternal group they dubbed the "Fab 50."
"That first year was very, very difficult, because the women really didn't want us there," recalls Richard Starr Jr., one of the 16 members of the Fab 50 who graduated from the Fulton, Mo., school May 5. "A lot of them had come [to William Woods] because it was all women. We were responsible for ruining their school, their tradition."
Like a few others, Mr. Starr was drawn by a volleyball scholarship - and the challenge.
"The year before I had visited," he recalls. "You could tell it was not all smiles when we arrived. At that time it was a 'pack your bags university' where women went off campus to socialize."
After the school year began, there was a string of pranks, including "a little destruction" in the dorms and the Christmas-tree stunt. It made some longtime administrators furious.
"Really, I think we hit 'em, and they just weren't ready for us," Starr says. "Some women thought we were destroying the campus."
After the first years, though, things settled down. The social scene became more typical of a coed campus. Professors seemed eager, too, to adapt their courses - and the women began to accept men as a regular part of campus life. Two new fraternities were started this past year.
Despite the initial challenge, Starr says he had the time of his life and would not, in retrospect, change his decision to attend.
"The university has gone from a place with no heartbeat to a living and breathing place," he says. "It's come alive. And it was neat to be there to watch it."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor