Last night, according to CNN, the national chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity shut down its house at the University of Oklahoma after a video of its members chanting racial epithets surfaced on the internet. University president David Boren said the university’s affiliation with the fraternity is permanently done as a campus group called for the expulsion of fraternity members.
The members have until midnight Tuesday to get their things out of the house, university Boren said in a Monday afternoon news conference.
“The house will be closed, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back,” he said, adding that the university is exploring what actions it can take against individual fraternity members.
The video showing party-bound fraternity members on a bus Saturday clapping and pumping their fists as they boisterously chant, “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me” found its way anonymously to the school newspaper and a campus organization, which both promptly publicized the nine-second clip.
By Sunday night, SAE’s national chapter had suspended the University of Oklahoma members and threatened lifelong suspensions for anyone responsible for the chant, but Boren took it a step further.
President declares ‘zero tolerance’
First, he appeared at a campus rally and told students over a bullhorn, “I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way. My message to them is: You’re disgraceful. You have violated every principle that this university stands for.”
In remarks to a reporter from KOKH-TV, he said the SAEs were no more on the Norman campus.
“All of our ties to that organization on our campus are severed, and I’ve given them till midnight tomorrow night to get their things out of the fraternity house. After that time, it will be totally closed and they’ll have to make special arrangements to even get their belongings out of the house,” he told KOKH. “And as they take their belongings out of the house, I hope they reflect on what they’ve done.”
In a statement that mirrored what he told students earlier, Boren said the fraternity members’ behavior is not indicative of what University of Oklahoma students represent.
“Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members,” he wrote.
At his news conference, he added that those responsible “don’t deserve to be called Sooners. They’re misusing our name.”
How it surfaced
The student newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, received the video in a Sunday email, said print Editor Katelyn Griffith. The fraternity celebrated its Founder’s Day on Saturday, and the video showed members traveling to a formal event that evening, she said.
“We decided that this was definitely a story they needed to cover without question,” she told CNN. “This was something that we knew wouldn’t be tolerated by the students at OU and the university at large.”
Unheard, a campus organization launched in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, received the video Sunday via anonymous text and immediately moved to “let our community and our university know that this behavior is not tolerated, that’s it’s unacceptable and it’s extremely, extremely offensive,” said the group’s co-director, Chelsea Davis.
This mentality is not new to campus, Davis told CNN, but it’s the first time people have been caught on video. She said the only acceptable response is to expel — not suspend, as that would send the wrong message — all the students involved.
“I was hurt that my fellow peers that I walk to class with every day, people that I see every day, could say such hateful things about me and my culture, about my friends, about my brothers and my sisters,” she said.
In his news conference, Boren said the school was looking into punishing the individuals involved, especially against those “who have taken a lead” in the chanting. While expulsion is an option, any punishment must be “carefully directed” if it’s to pass constitutional muster. One key will be whether the offending students created a hostile environment on campus, he said.
Boren emphasized that “there is no room for racists and bigots” at Oklahoma.
That sentiment echoed throughout campus, as a large crowd of students attended a protest at the university’s North Oval, some of them arriving with tape over their mouths with the word, “Unheard,” written across it.
Other students took to social media to express their disappointment, with one person urging students to change their profile picture to an image that says in Sooner crimson, “Not on our campus,” the “ou” in “our” offset in gray. OU is shorthand for the University of Oklahoma.
‘Racism is alive’
Unheard posted the video online Sunday with the comment, “Racism is alive at The University of Oklahoma.” It was addressed to @President_Boren, the university president’s Twitter handle. Boren quickly threatened to throw the fraternity off-campus if the allegations were true.
The SAE’s national chapter also moved promptly, saying in a statement it had closed the chapter “following the discovery of an inappropriate video.” The group further apologized for the “unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video.”
“I was not only shocked and disappointed, but disgusted by the outright display of racism displayed in the video,” SAE national President Bradley Cohen said in a statement.
A group of students gathered to pray over the racist insults. One of them told CNN affiliate KFOR-TV he was “nauseated, frustrated,” but he was happy with the SAE headquarters’ decision.
“We should be past this. This is disgusting,” he said.
Spray paint marked a wall of SAE’s fraternity house at the university. “Tear it down,” the graffiti appeared to say. Police posted squad cars in front of the house.