Black U. of Oklahoma SAE alumnus: 'They are not my brothers'

Story highlights

  • William Bruce James II was in Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter from 2001 to 2005
  • He's disgusted by the racist chant tied to the frat; "the whole house needs to be punished"
  • While those involved are "not my brothers," James calls his former frat brothers "family"

(CNN)For four years, William Bruce James II called the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon his home. He walked its halls, bunked in its rooms, held office as one of its leaders, considered his fraternity brothers his dearest friends. He was proud to be SAE.

Now that pride is tainted.
A video shot this Saturday of party-bound shows SAE members clapping, pumping their fists and chanting in unison: "There will never be a ni**** SAE," they sing. "You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me."
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    These young men are talking about him, James said. That's because not only is he an SAE alumni, he is also African-American.
    How do you make sense of the fact that those behind these hateful words wore the same pledge pins, occupied the same house, preached "the same motto that I hold dear to my heart" as James did?
    "I couldn't look at myself," he said, "still claiming to be that."
    Since the video surfaced Sunday, students have been expelled and SAE's Oklahoma chapter has shut down. The episode has left James disgusted, horrified that members of a fraternity that once welcomed him could espouse such hatred.
    "I don't know what happened to the culture of my home," he told CNN on Tuesday.
    "That is not my home. That is not SAE. They are not my brothers."

    Students 'don't know what it means to be (in) any fraternity'

    While the Oklahoma frat has never had a lot of black members, that didn't matter to James when he joined in 2001. SAE was where he forged lifelong friendships, where he and others grew into men.
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    "We were becoming something while I was there," he said. "Something that I don't think these kids grasped. ... I don't think they know what it means to be a brother of any fraternity, let alone mine."
    James doesn't believe the racist chant was an isolated incident, not given how many on the bus seemingly sang it so easily and enthusiastically. Nor does he think that only those leading the chant deserve punishment. Just as easily as one person could have started it, someone else could have called for it to stop.
    That's what James thinks that his own fraternity brothers would've done, whether he was around or not.
    They understood the importance of stepping up to say: "This isn't right, this isn't what I stand for, this isn't gentlemanly, this isn't even human," he said. "That's what being an SAE is."
    "My pledge class ... wouldn't let that happen," he said. "And I don't know what's happened to (the Oklahoma SAE chapter) since then."

    Former frat brothers remain 'family'

    Many members of that pledge class, as well others who he knew from SAE, have reached out to James in recent days by text, phone, email and Facebook. He knows he is not alone, including in his support for disbanding Oklahoma's SAE chapter.
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    "That entire house has accepted the culture that accepts that song, those words, that imagery," James said. "So the whole house has to be punished."
    His former frat brothers are different from him, of course. Their skin color wouldn't have stopped them from getting into SAE if the twisted chant reflected reality.
    Still, James feels their pain is real and sincere. Those on this weekend's video may not be his brothers, but those he knew from 2001 to 2005 still are.
    "I don't think that they can fully encompass the pain and betrayal that I feel," James said of his white friends from the fraternity. "But by holding me so close in their life, they know that their brother was hurt."
    "So it's a thing they're feeling in their family. I'm family to them."