The Weight of Association: Heavy Responsibility for Oklahoma SAE

By: Rachel Chen, CLASS OF 2015

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Oklahoma University has been under fire for releasing a nine second video containing racist slurs and chants against African-American individuals. The chant goes:

“There will never be a n*gg*r in SAE.

There will never be a n*gg*r in SAE.

You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me

There will never be a n*gg*r in SAE.”

Since the release of the video, the university has taken matters into their hands by shutting down the fraternity on campus as well as expelling the two SAE’s members who so excitedly lead the chant. While we can (hopefully) all agree that the members who chose to participate in the video should be held accountable for their incredibly offensive actions, the issue simultaneously raised the question of whether or not an entire organization should be penalized for the wrongdoings of a few of its members. What does this mean for the 90-something members who were not involved in the video, some of whom are receiving death threats for acts they did not commit?

As a member of a co-ed service fraternity myself here at Furman University, I have sat through many a lecture about what it means to be part of a brotherhood, a fellowship on campus, and how one person’s actions can directly affect the reputation of the entire organization. Never have these seemingly dry, nonsensical words rung more true and the SAE chapter at OU stands as a prime example. Though some of the policies written in our by-laws may be different from that of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s, I do not believe it would be unreasonable to assume that members of SAE, too, should see themselves as individuals representing not just the chapter at their university, but also the nation-wide organization. In nine seconds they not only managed to successfully tarnish the reputation of SAE at OU, but also simultaneously caused people to question anyone that have ever been affiliated with that social group and even besmirched the good name of the university itself. What these students failed to foresee, whether out of pure ignorance or out of stupidity, is the consequences that their actions can bring upon a whole group of people without their knowledge whatsoever.

This brings me back to my first point: What does that mean for the rest of their group members? Personally, I would never want to be associated with a university that does not have the guts to call out those who have single-handedly managed to wipe out the progress we have made with racial issues in our nation. It seems that David Boren, president of the university would also concur as he was quick to disband the organization. While others have reacted to this decision by arguing that Boren made too rash of a verdict based on the actions of a few of its members even though most people were innocent, what they fail to see is that he was leading by example. It was one that was made in declaration that the bigotry demonstrated by the members in the video would no longer be tolerated at the university. Boren could easily have just punished the two members, or even all of those in the video by expelling them without severing SAE’s ties with the university, but that would not have been enough. The expelled members would have been sent home with their bags packed, and both the chapter and university would resume as if nothing had happened. Boren’s decision became a symbolic message that the university will not tolerate racism.

The decision did not just become a declaration of a very loud and clear public statement, but it also ignited uncomfortable conversations we need regarding the problem with racism. I understand the frustration that people may have with the decision as it conflicts with First Amendment rights, but the alternative would have left us with yet another major racial issue being swept under the rug. In fact, I would go as far to say that all the efforts of those protesting for justice in the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner would have been for nothing. This decision, as drastic as it may be, proves that we are finally moving forward as a nation and standing firm in what is morally right and Boren is leading with us by example.

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