SAE's Racist Chant Was Not An Isolated Incident

03/10/2015 07:48 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nationally, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is scrambling to deal with alcohol-related injuries and deaths, as well as to address accusations of hazing and sexual violence.

Add one more issue for the fraternity to reckon with: Signs of racism among some of its members.

On Sunday, a video of SAE members at the University of Oklahoma singing, "There will never be a ni***r in SAE" during a date function was released. The national headquarters for SAE disbanded the chapter, while OU President David Boren ordered fraternity members to vacate their on-campus house. Two students have been expelled from the school.

Some members of the OU community say that this was not an isolated incident, and students at OU and elsewhere want to know how long such behavior has been tolerated within the organization.

"I put solid money on the fact that there were many guys on the bus who did not feel that [song] was appropriate or who did not speak up," said Nolan L. Cabera, an educational policy studies professor at the University of Arizona. Cabera said it seemed clear that those frat brothers who did object privately "chose social comfort over disrupting racism."

The videos from the bus were first distributed by members of OU Unheard, an organization of black student activists. The student activists said the people who took the videos told them they didn't want to be named and were worried about backlash from disrupting what was apparently a fraternity tradition.

Oklahoma Sooners running back David Smith, who also uploaded one of the videos, told The Huffington Post he obtained it from a young woman he knew who didn't want her name attached. "She didn't know what to do with the video but she knew it was wrong," Smith said.

Late on Monday, a video was uncovered of the SAE house mom at OU apparently laughing to a camera phone and saying "n***a" several times in a row. That night, she told a local news station that she was "shocked" to hear about the incident with the song.

The videos emerged during the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, during which thousands of civil rights protesters were arrested and hundreds violently attacked in 1965.

They were also released day before SAE's 159th Founder's Day, something of a fraternity holiday to commemorate the establishment of the organization. SAE was founded in the Antebellum South, and 369 of the original 400 members fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Over the years, there have been a number of recorded instances of SAE chapters engaging in racist practices (listed below), raising the question of whether the national office has let such behavior continue unchecked.

One former SAE member, who asked for anonymity out of concerns for his safety, told HuffPost he had heard brothers use the same racist song as the OU students when he was a pledge in a Texas chapter a decade ago. At least two Reddit users have made similar claims online, and an Oklahoma student who attended an SAE event two years ago told NBC News she had heard the chant as well.

Undergraduate fraternity members aren't as worried about misbehaving as the general student population might be, Cabera explained. They "know they're borderline Teflon" due to the significant influence of Greek alumni on the college administration.

"It does become a Lord of the Flies situation where they let their innermost demons come out," Cabera said.

Some students at other chapters insist they are nothing like OU's now-former members.

"The actions of the men at Oklahoma should not be taken as a reflection of the views of our Brotherhood as whole," Alex Cassell, an SAE brother at East Tennessee State University, told HuffPost. "The problem with being involved in any fraternity nowadays, however, is that far too often there are those who do not live up to the ideas and goals that we are founded on."

The Dartmouth College SAE chapter made a point of trying to be inclusive and invite more minority students to join a few years ago, according to former member Andrew Lohse, who has since written a book about his experience in the frat. But even when they did offer bids to black and Latino men, Lohse said there were problems.

"Most pledge names given to the minority members during their hazing period were racial in nature -- like Simba, Bukkake, Moo Shoo -- as were some of the tasks they had to perform," Lohse told HuffPost. He described "a Latino pledge dressing up with poncho and sombrero and mowing the college green [and] two African-American pledges dressing up as African safari-jungle animals and filming a predator-prey scene."

Members may not speak out against behavior they don't agree with because of a tacit agreement among fraternity members, said University of Connecticut sociology professor Matthew W. Hughey.

"Don't rock the boat and you'll benefit," Hughey explained, adding that traditionally white fraternities in general "are groups based on exclusion and preservation of power."

SAE's national headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for interviews and comment about other examples of racism within the organization.

Brad Cohen, the national head of SAE, sent a message to members late Monday that read, "After all the good and positive changes we have made, let us focus on who we really are."

"We are True Gentlemen who believe highly in our creed and principles," Cohen wrote. "We are the largest and one of the oldest Fraternities in the land. Let's resolve to live by our ideals, be tolerant of all mankind, regardless of race, religion or sexuality." He did not list any concrete actions SAE plans to take.

A History Of SAE Members Being Accused Of Racism:


Related on HuffPost:

Racism At SAE's Oklahoma Chapter

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