By Erin Keating
A few weeks ago, on March 8, a video surfaced of the brothers of Oklahoma University’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon singing a racist chant on a fraternity bus on the way to a formal event. Their chant involved descriptions of lynching and frequent uses of the n-word: “You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me, there will never be a … SAE.” Following the Ferguson riots and protests across the country to draw attention to police brutality against African Americans, this sparked a controversy that continues to make it abundantly clear that racism is still present in the United States and that denying its existence will not get us anywhere.
Oklahoma University frats have had issues with racism in the past – years ago being racist against the Vietnamese, and later an issue with the defilement of a Native American celebration on campus – but this is the first time the school has taken severe action against the guilty party. Sigma Alpha Epsilon was kicked off campus, all ties were broken with the national fraternity, and the university expelled the two fraternity brothers who were leading the chant. However, despite the actions the school has taken to show that racism will not be tolerated their good intentions are only fueling more racial tension among the campus community. Public discussions are giving minority students – who make up 40 percent of the school’s population – the chance to speak about their experiences and it is bringing more racist incidents to light, but this is also prompting threats of violence.
Critics of Greek life are quick to point fingers and say that this is just another strike against Greek organizations. This is about so much more than Greek life, perpetual stereotypes and misconceptions about a group of people are only going to continue this vicious cycle. Racism is a problem in America – everyone needs to be able to admit that before we can do anything about it. Actions like SAE’s are unacceptable in a society that claims to be based on the ideas of equality. Our country hasn’t overcome its hypocrisy. On paper it seems so simple: acknowledge that every human being on the earth has just as much right to exist as everyone else regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or any factor that people might view as different from what they are used to seeing. Why is it so hard to put that idea into practice? Instead we let arbitrary prejudices prevent us from spreading tolerance.
The lawyer representing Sigma Alpha Epsilon claims that prosecuting the organization is a violation of the first amendment, protecting the freedom of speech. What about the basic human right? The U.N.’s declaration of Human Rights states that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”, and “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. It seems that both of these rights were violated by Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s racist chants and the racist threats that have been made on Oklahoma University’s campus since then.