Members of the Oklahoma Black Caucus responded Monday afternoon to a video that depicts members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chanting a song laced with racial slurs.
The video, taken last Saturday evening on what appeared to be a bus, showed several fraternity members and their dates dressed in formal wear and many can be heard chanting the offensive words. By the time the footage surfaced Sunday evening, it quickly gained national attention as it drew momentum in various social media channels. By Monday morning, University of Oklahoma President David Boren had already called for the SAE fraternity members to vacate the chapter house in Norman, and he also moved to permanently sever ties with the national organization.
“I am pleased with President Boren’s swift action to call for a complete investigation in response to this incident. His immediate decision to order all members to vacate the fraternity house and call for OU to cut all ties from the national SAE organization is to be commended and sends a strong message that such disgraceful behavior will not be tolerated,” said Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, and chairwoman of the Black Caucus. “As an alumnus from the University of Oklahoma and as the state’s only female African American legislator, I am disheartened at the obvious lack of tolerance for diversity within these student fraternities. This is a prime example of how one incident can quickly become systemic and unravel years of hard work by many black and whites who foster diversity and tolerance.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa and vice chair of the Black Caucus noted his disappointment as well.
“I am disgusted and upset such racist beliefs still exist in 2015,” said Rep. Matthews. “I support President Boren’s decisive action to immediately remove this group from the campus community. Intolerance has no place in a progressive society, and racism like this video depicts certainly has no place at a state-funded university.”
The video was first posted online by a black student group at the university, but it was not clear how it was obtained. The incident remains under investigation, but African American legislative leaders pledged to press for answers.
“This video is just a sign of an issue much larger than this particular incident,” said Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City. “We do not need to be talking about intolerance and racism in 2015. We should be long past incidents like this hurtful video made by these young men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It’s imperative that people truly understand the pain and sorrow such hurtful words and actions can carry with them. It’s sad that this video comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma, Alabama.”
Representative Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma, believes the offensive video and subsequent events can serve as a catalyst for change within the student community.
“It’s my hope this will spark real and meaningful change on campus,” said Shelton. “There are numerous groups on the OU campus that are constantly working to diversify faculty and staff, and when we don’t have an environment that embraces diversity, that effort can easily be overlooked. I commend President Boren for his swift actions, but simply closing the SAE house and expelling the offenders doesn’t address the root of the problem. Ensuring tolerance and diversity throughout the campus requires cooperation and commitment from all members of the university community.”