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National chapter quickly closed fraternity as school president said ties "severed"
Even with the national chapter shutting the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of Oklahoma, the school president 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 President David 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.
A Saturday video showing party-bound fraternity members on a bus chanting a racial epithet found its way anonymously to the school newspaper and a campus organization, which both promptly publicized the nine-second clip.
The students on the bus clap and pump 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.”
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.
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.”
He said that he was angered, outraged and saddened by what he saw in the video. Boren stressed that the fraternity members’ behavior is not indicative of what University of Oklahoma students, nicknamed Sooners, represent.
“It was unbelievable that this could have possibly occurred with UO students,” he said. “Sooners are not racists. They’re not bigots. They are people who respect each other and care about each other.”
He called for zero tolerance.
“The only way you put a stop to it is have zero tolerance when it is found out. Clearly, I think some of our students wanted this exposed. They wanted this video out there, and I’ve asked them to please let me know when they’re other things like this that happen,” Boren told CNN.
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, and it’s not confined to one fraternity, Davis told CNN, but it’s the first time people have been caught on video.
“Unfortunately, it took them getting caught on video camera for this to happen, but this is definitely not something that is brand-new. It’s not something that’s only seen within this one organization,” she said.
Davis 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.
At a 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.
“I think some of the students themselves may take themselves off the campus, and I hope they do because this is not a place that wants racists,” he told CNN later.
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.