How We Failed SAE at Oklahoma. A Lesson Lost.

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Recently a chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was shut down at the University of Oklahoma when a recording of a hideously racist chant/song was made public. More idiotic than the man recording said song and unveiling it to the internet were the men leading the group in shouting things like, “there will never be a nigger in SAE.” . . . touching.

The chapter should have absolutely been reprimanded and I wouldn’t suggest that the chapter should have stayed open; it is both not my decision to make and would have likely lead to an equal if not greater media outcry.

The (knee-jerk) reaction was to close the group in hopes that these racist men will no longer conduct said activities. . . but they’ll likely continue to see one another, they’ll continue to talk and they’ll continue to believe those racist thoughts if only for the fact that they are now victims too (in their eyes).

How These Men Could Have Learned

What if we left them open? What if we took the more frustrating, painstakingly long process of allowing these men to understand that ignorance has consequences beyond closing what, to them, is likely a club they joined for fun in college.

Sorority Response

Imagine if no sorority at this institution held any function with said fraternity.

What if every sorority rallied together to support chapters of fraternities that believe in diversity and inclusion? What if every sorority at this institution replaced their planned social functions with SAE with social functions partnering with cultural groups (Greek-letter or not). The lesson here? Independent and smart women choose men who judge others on the content of their character.

 

Unaffiliated Male Response

Imagine if no righteous man wanted to join this chapter.

Assuming the sororities would have responded with some level of backbone, the chapter would instantly lose what fraternity men uselessly sell to potential members: “The women love us.” What if every fraternity on campus came out in support of culture and diversity? It’s clearly a statement that this chapter can never make. . . even when they return.

This chapter could have closed once, academic term after painful academic term, men refused to join their ranks for the simple fact that they didn’t want to be associated with that video and those men. You cannot afford a house that beautiful with 20 men in your ranks.

 

Headquarters Response

A staff member visits the chapter and draws two boxes on the floor. One says “chant,” the other says “fraternity.”

Men are invited into the room one-by-one. Those who choose “chant” are immediately expelled (as well as those leading the chant in the video and others who come out as fools in interviews) and those who choose “fraternity” have a new, albeit limited, opportunity to rebuild the image and character content demanded by SAE.

This is a fraternity that is in the process of eliminating pledging. They should not be represented by these idiots, but closing the chapter will only make it that much harder to return in 5-10 years (and they will likely return at some point) without student after student bringing up this drama. As an expansion professional, I know what it’s like to return to a school after a dramatic closure. I can only thank God that I’ve never faced anything as high profile as this.

 

University Response

The president of the university should first and foremost respect that it was his institution that granted these students access to its grounds, professors and fraternities.

Prior to publicly closing the chapter, the president should have spoken with the men of the chapter and specifically the men leading this chant.

They need to understand that they failed their university and their fraternity, that they are facing consequences, and that these antics will follow them throughout the rest of their lives, privilege or not. He should have said that second chances do not come often and that they should not expect letters of endorsement from anyone affiliated with the university or fraternity. . . ever. The most important part of this conversation is not that they should leave scared or changed, but that it happened at all.

These boys are actually adults, they should have been treated as such regardless of how stupid they are.

 

Twitter Response

Many folks have attempted to use 140 characters to shame these men or to encourage them having their fraternity taken away from them.

If these men are truly as racist and privileged as we make them out to be, losing a fraternity will hardly affect them. This will follow them for a few months and for some it may affect their job prospects assuming they don’t already have ones lined up with like-minded men or women. We need to acknowledge that until we treat people we are disappointed in as humans capable of learning, they will refuse any of our advice or to keep any genuine lessons from this moment.

Right now these men know not to record and make public racist things they’ve been taught.

We could have done more. As much shame as I’d like to put on these students for their ignorance, I think we as society need to get ourselves together on how to actually eliminate ignorance. It does not happen by shutting people up, sending them to prison or making them pay a fine. Ignorance can only be eliminated through cultural encounters, coaching conversations and social pressures.

The great Martin Luther King Jr. once suggested that men should be judged by the “content of their character.” These men have not learned this lesson. So long as we continue to respond the way we presently do, men like them will never learn it.

Update: I anticipate some form of disagreement with every post on this website; some have found my sympathy for these men to be offensive and believe their punishment was just and more than a “slap on the wrist.”

I believe, as mentioned in this post, that the closing of this chapter will never be more than a slap on the wrist to these men.

The two that were expelled will absolutely remember this failure, but there are dozens of other men in this chapter who either aren’t racist and no longer have a chapter or are racist and, like thousands of men across the country whose chapters have been closed, will not let this affect them at all after graduation. We attribute closing a chapter with the highest level of punishment. To men like this, it is a calculated risk that is only a matter of “when,” not “if.”

When I attended Stetson University a member of another fraternity chose to deface an advertisement featuring one of my chapter brothers by writing “FAGGOT” over every advertisement hung up around campus. They were not closed and no one in the chapter was expelled. They were too ignorant to apologize.

Professors and students organized a “March against hate,” the newspaper published their homophobic acts, sororities showed up in large to a volleyball game in which our chapter faced theirs and my chapter voted to put a specially designed “safe zone” sticker on our front door.  They were humiliated and every student made known where he or she stood.

I’m asking for more of that kind of grassroots action to demonstrate what we approve of and don’t approve of. My only regret was not pushing for that student’s punishment out of love for my chapter brother, but I’d never have considered closing their chapter a sufficient punishment.

 

 

Fraternity needs visionary explorers, so explore more posts on privilege, students rights and general commentary.