By Henry Caron
Just days after the 50th anniversary of the march at Selma, racist actions have caught the attention of the public eye yet again. A nine-second long video surfaced on Youtube on March 8 that depicts students of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma (OU) chanting racial slurs and references to lynching, to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” It was first reported by and circulated from a school group, OU Unheard.
In this video, a group of students on a charter bus yell the words “there will never be a n****** at SAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon] … you can hang them from a tree.” The leaders of the song, Levi Pettit, 20, and Parker Rice, 19, were immediately expelled from the school and the branch of the fraternity was shut down on March 10. The incident has sparked much conversation at OU and around the country.
Students across the university’s campus have discussed the racism that lies beneath just this one incident. In 1989, Delta Tau Delta fraternity held a Vietnam-war themed party with camouflage and fake machine guns. Later, another fraternity urinated on a teepee during Native American Week. This racism is not just confined to the distant past, however, as many students have spoken up recently regarding the general feeling of discomfort and social alienation minority students feel. To combat this, there have been protests and demonstrations for the past week, including OU’s football team marching across campus arm in arm. After the incident, the two expelled students have apologized.
“I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night,” said Rice. “It was wrong and reckless. I made a horrible mistake by joining into the singing and encouraging others to do the same.”
School president David Boren has said that despite the apology, there is zero-tolerance for such racism. He has also vowed not to let SAE, whose house has already had its greek symbols removed, ever return. “The house will be closed, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back,” Boren said.
“The words were offensive and harmful, and we now must begin the task of seeking forgiveness and taking steps to ensure this never happens again,” said SAE Executive Director Blaine Ayers in a national conference on March 18.
He then announced a new diversity training program, national diversity committee and confidential hotline to promote inclusiveness within its membership, as blacks only account for six-percent of the student population.
“I can promise that just as we did with Oklahoma, if we learn of any discrimination or other unacceptable behavior currently going on, we will be swift in our response,” he said.
Many people have accused David Boren of unconstitutionality, saying that expelling the students based on what they said is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Just as many combat that the students violated anti-discrimination laws.
“The irony here is that [Boren is] arguing he’s protecting the rights of some students while infringing on the 1st Amendment rights of other students,” said Joey Senat, an associate professor who teaches media law at Oklahoma State University. “The speech is offensive, the speech is abhorrent, but the 1st Amendment protects unpopular speech.”
This occurrence is just what students have recently attempted to prevent here at East. In January, the school held a demonstration in honor of African-American victims of police violence. They encouraged and challenged the student body to socially integrate after the growing trend of racial separation during lunch and after school.
This brave demonstration may have prevented an act like what happened at Oklahoma University. The incident sheds light on yet another institution in the United States where racism must be addressed immediately.