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Sigmas in a Sticky Situation

Over the past week, amidst your efforts for ultimate relaxation, whether on the beach or in the comfort of your own home, you may have heard something about an online video involving the University of Oklahoma chapter of a fraternity called Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Chances are you might have missed a lot of details of this hot topic, but the issues at hand must be understood.

Here’s what you need to know.

Founded in 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) is one of America’s largest college fraternities with about 15,000 undergraduate members. It just turned 159 years old on March 9th. The controversy involves a group of freshman from the University of Oklahoma’s SAE chapter as well as several young women.

The group of students were caught in a video chanting a song that included several racial slurs and alluded to lynching. As a result, the video has sparked a firestorm of reactions that don’t look promising for future of the young men of SAE in Norman, Oklahoma.

Since the video surfaced online, Oklahoma’s chapter of SAE has been shut down, the house vacated, and two students expelled for leading the racist song. Investigations are being conducted by the university in conjunction with investigations by the fraternity at other campuses in the country.

The two students dismissed from the school have been identified as Parker Rice and Levi Pettit. Rice, a nineteen year old from Dallas, played on his high school’s baseball and football teams. Pettit played golf during his high school years and is an avid fan of college football. Rice made a public apology for his involvement in the video and as a consequence of his actions, his family has fled their home to avoid media scrutiny and actions from protestors. Pettit’s parents issued a statement apologizing for their son’s actions and claimed, “He is not a racist.”

Brad Cohen, the national president of the fraternity, issued a statement saying, “I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism displayed in the video. SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior.”

In a post on his Twitter account on March 9th, University president David Boren wrote, “To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way … You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for … All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community … There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.” Following his post, Boren shut down the university and ordered SAE members out of the fraternity house by midnight of March 10th.

The scandal surrounding SAE in Oklahoma has prompted attention to shift to similar incidents on other college campuses.

Former members of SAE claimed the derogatory chant was taught to them and that it was used at colleges in other states. In February 2013, Washington University in Saint Louis suspended their SAE chapter after members were accused of singing racial slurs to African American students. The University of Washington in Seattle has recently begun to investigate claims that SAE members shouted racial slurs at African American students during a protest march. The chapter claimed none of its members took part in yelling the offensive remarks.

However, SAE isn’t the only fraternity in the nation’s Greek system that has been involved in racial scandals. In February 2014, University of Mississippi’s chapter of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon was suspended after three of its members tied a noose around a statue of the university’s first black student. In September 2012 at the University of Texas at Austin, Alpha Tau Omega fraternity cancelled a questionable party after complaints from students. The “border patrol” themed gathering was intended to include a prop to represent the border between the United States and Mexico that people had to cross to enter. Arizona State University’s chapter of the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon held a party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2014 where they drank from watermelon cups, dressed in bandanas, and posted photos of members making gang signs with hashtags like #blackoutformlk and #hood. The fraternity was promptly suspended.

Sororities have been involved in their share of scandals, too. In February 2014, Penn State’s chapter of Chi Omega found itself in hot water when photos were posted of members at a party wearing sombreros, mustaches, and displaying derogatory signs. Similarly, Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at Columbia University came under scrutiny in the same month when a mixer was held in which partygoers dressed in several racial stereotypes.

Across the country, the behavior of many fraternities and sororities towards issues of race and ethnicity is being questioned. The behavior of these groups towards issues of race is a disturbing trend, and many universities are cracking down on these purported “brotherhoods” (and sisterhoods). 

So what’s going to happen to the brothers of SAE at the University of Oklahoma? They probably won’t be displaying their Greek letters on campus with much pride for a while. University President David Boren stated that the fraternity “won’t be back – at least not as long as I’m president of the university.”  

 

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Images: 1, 2

 

Hey, I'm Claire! I'm a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in psychology with minors in journalism and business economics. I'm from Peoria, Illinois (no, it's actually not a suburb of Chicago!) and if you know where that is, we're probably going to become best friends. I'm a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict, social media connoisseur, and a proud advocate of the (not so) occasional Netflix binge. I'm a proud Breen-Phillips Babe and so #blessed to be a part of the Notre Dame community. Go Irish!
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