U of Oklahoma Frat Incident Generates Broader Discussion

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The University of Oklahoma suspended its Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity members after a racist chant captured on video found its way on social media, and the event is the latest in an overall examination of Greek Life on campus.

The SAE national headquarters suspended all activities of its Oklahoma chapter after the video aired. The official statement by the SAE reads:

“All of the members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently. We apologize for the unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video, and we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way.

Given that fraternity members bond around homogeneity, it comes as no surprise that fraternities such as SAE are rather prone to “racial profiling and segregation,” academics observe. It’s not the first time SAE made the news because of some racist acts. In 2002, SAE had to suspend its Syracuse University chapter because fraternity members visited a bar in blackface. A similar incident took place ten years earlier at the Texas A&M University in which the chapter was fined with $1,000 after the local SAE members threw a ‘jungle party’ where attendees attended all in blackface.

These incidents are not an isolated SAE phenomenon. In 2013, the University of Alabama newspaper Crimson White revealed a long-standing prejudice against black women who weren’t allowed to be members of all-white sororities, specifically the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy states that the origin of SAE might explain its prioritization of racial segregation,

“Sigma Alpha Epsilon is more than 100 years old and rooted in the Confederate South. The history and lineage of SAE is enmeshed with the tumultuous beginning of the Civil War, which erupted less than a decade after its founding.”

Greek-letter fraternities reveal a “callous status quo,” CNN’s John Sutter argues – a status quo that highlights how persistent racism in the US still is. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that racism is prevalent in communities where the concept of exclusion is the basis for the formulation and activities of fraternities, Sutter underlines.

The exclusionist ideology is not something that can be traced back to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Bloomberg’s Ali Elkin writes, explaining how incidents across US campuses reveal that this is a deeply ingrained ideology that is particularly pronounced in Southern universities.

Elkin asserts frat culture can be categorized into distinct forms of modern-day segregation; the historical “Old South” spawned and the active exclusion of black members into the chapters of Greek fraternities irrespective of frat location and culture. She considers the frat chant of SAE an amalgam of both. Action must be taken to end this self-perpetuating exclusionist ideology, the media argue.

A study in the Journal of College Student Development explainsUniv that fraternities nurture and perpetuate the us vs. them ideology, turning it into a hard to break habit. Gathering demographic data of fraternities could help the public understand the true extent of segregation in Greek fraternities, as will better monitoring of university funding to White, Latino and Black fraternities, John Sutter of CNN argues.