Jillian Smith | Staff Writer
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest fraternities in the United States, had to shut down its Oklahoma chapter on Sunday, March 15, because of a nine-second video showing a bus full of brothers enthusiastically participating in a racist chant.
All of the participants are young white men, dressed formally, fist pumping as they vow that “there will never be a n***** in the SAE.” They also make a reference to lynching saying “you can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me,” revealing the deep-rooted history of this fraternity.
SAE is the only national fraternity developed in the antebellum South. Many of its founding members fought in the Civil War defending the Confederate South and many lost their lives for the cause.
Those that survived went home to burned universities and destroyed chapters. For the next three decades, they rebuilt and strengthened the fraternity, even expanding to some Northern states. Over the years, they have earned many different nicknames, one of the earliest being “the singing fraternity.”This particular ‘song’ has incited national outrage and has highlighted how many college campuses, supposed beacons of education and equality, are still experiencing serious racial issues. “I was utterly disgusted by the chant and the nature in which it was being recited. I was also very disappointed to see that the president and the members of the chapter showed much enthusiasm while reciting the chant,” said Sharod Fenner, a senior in technology, engineering and design education and secretary of the Eta Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
The video is one of few tangible pieces of evidence of a much larger and persistent problem within America’s predominantly white fraternities. This is unfortunately a direct result of a Greek letter system established with harsh and, at the time, legal exclusionary practices. While times have changed, the lingering notes of systematic racism continue to pervade many parts of our society such as this one.
“As a black man I was not surprised to see this video. Racism and prejudice are still very prevalent in America, and I think this video is only a small representation of a larger problem,” said Alex Starnes, a senior and President of Sigma Phi Epsilon. SAE has had experienced race-related scandals in the past. In 2013, the Washington University chapter located in St. Louis was suspended after some of the pledges were told to yell racial slurs at a group of black students. Just last year at the University of Arizona, 15 SAE members broke into a historically Jewish fraternity located off-campus. They assaulted the members while yelling discriminatory comments at them.
The Clemson University’s SAE chapter was suspended in December 2014 after the fraternity hosted a “cripmas” party which encouraged students to dress up as gang members. In response to this event however, “Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity is establishing a groundbreaking four-pronged initiative to combat instances of racial discrimination and insensitivity among its members,” SAE Executive Director Blaine Ayers said in a statement on Wednesday. After the release of the first video, a second emerged featuring the OU chapter’s 79-year-old house mother. In this video, she says “n*****” seven times, apparently listening to Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” in the background.
“These beliefs do not come from thin air, which means the chapter, in some fashion, supports these misguided ideals,” Starnes said. Only time will tell if a “diversity and education” program can break down the racism shrouding SAE membership, and if this event will be a lesson to other predominantly white fraternities. “True brotherhood has no race, creed, or color. It is a comradery amongst individuals who share a common goal. It bothers me to think that the members of the chapter, and possibly the whole organization, feel that racism and discrimination is something they can agree upon and rejoice in song about,” Fenner said.