The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity is in hot water and they know it. Nationwide, their nationals have been shutting down chapters for major and minor infractions in an effort to change the image of their fraternity. It certainly did not help their effort to show what upstanding men SAEs are when a video surfaced of Oklahoma University's SAE chapter singing a brutally racist chant with joy and laughter.
Public outrage led the university to expel the boys in the video and ban the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter on their campus. The fraternity's nationals promptly released a statement condemning the behavior of the men in the video. Only recently have the men in the video stepped forward to say that they learned the chant four years earlier at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon National Leadership Conference.
Nationals released a statement on March 27th saying:
"The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (SAE) on Friday confirmed members of its former University of Oklahoma chapter likely learned a racist chant while attending a national Leadership School about four years ago.
However, Executive Director Blaine Ayers said the organization has no current evidence that the chant is widespread across the fraternity's 237 groups. Ayers said SAE continues its in-depth investigation of its chapters.
'We remain committed to identifying and rooting out racist behavior from SAE, and we are actively investigating all of our local organizations to determine whether there are issues in any other location,' Ayers said. 'We intend to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and this will take time. However, we will share the results of our investigation when it is complete. Our current findings at the University of Oklahoma are similar to those announced on Friday by University of Oklahoma President David Boren. But our investigation to date shows no evidence the song was widely shared across the broader organization.'
Ayers said he contacted Boren on Friday to acknowledge the university's investigation and to assure Boren that Sigma Alpha Epsilon is continuing its own investigation.
SAE invites hundreds of leaders annually to a six-day leadership retreat, where participants attend classes, seminars and other educational functions throughout the day and evening. While attendees have little social time, there are occasions when participants can gather socially.
Ayers said it is likely that during one of these social gatherings, some members shared the racist song that was recorded on video at the University of Oklahoma and shared through social media earlier this month.
SAE closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter immediately after seeing the video and subsequently announced a four-point initiative – including an anonymous hotline, mandatory online sensitivity training, the hiring of a diversity-and-inclusion officer and the appointment of a national advisory panel on diversity and inclusion – to eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination from the fraternity.
'The song is horrific and does not at all reflect our values as an organization,' said Ayers. 'If we find any other examples of this kind of behavior currently occurring, we will hold our members accountable, just as we've done in Oklahoma.'"
Although the national organization talks a good game, will they really be able to monitor the behaviors inside each chapter with 237 chapters across the country? It is not likely that they will catch every rude, racist, or discriminatory remark that comes out of an SAE's mouth. The national fraternity was founded in easily one of the most racist states in the union, Alabama, which means racism is sewn into its roots.
SAE was founded before the Civil War by Confederate soldiers who wanted a fraternity to hold them together for life. There was a looming question of whether or not the fraternity should spread to the northern states, but the conflicting ideas about slavery made it hard for SAE's traditional Southerners to want to expand the society. After the Civil War, only the Washington City Rho chapter lived to see the fraternity continue.
"Most of the actions taken against SAE in the past have been for infractions of a non-racial nature. But the University of Oklahoma video is not an isolated incident.
—In October 2006, the University of Memphis chapter was investigated after a freshman member complained that his brothers made inappropriate remarks to and about his black girlfriend. Two members were later suspended.
—In February 2013, Washington University in St. Louis suspended its SAE chapter while investigating claims that pledges engaged in racially offensive behavior toward minorities.
—In December 2014, Clemson University suspended the frat after a gang-themed 'Cripmas party' at which white members dressed in T-shirts bearing images of handcuffs and the late rapper Tupac Shakur.
Last year, SAE reached what it called 'a historic milestone' — becoming the first large national fraternity to eliminate the pledge process.
'Instead, we have implemented a holistic education known as the True Gentleman Experience,' SAE says on its website. 'It provides education throughout a member's collegiate tenure and fosters both personal and professional development.'"
It really seems as though the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity is breeding "True Gentlemen." Hopefully, the SAE fraternity can be restored for its original purpose of creating lifelong bonds and, for their own sake, I pray that those bonds be with minorities.