Fraternity Members Learned Racist Chant at National SAE Leadership Event

University of Oklahoma students in Norman, Okla., gather outside the now-closed Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house during a rally in reaction to members of the fraternity captured on video singing a racist chant. (PHOTO CREDIT: Sue Ogrocki/AP)
University of Oklahoma students in Norman, Okla., gather outside the now-closed Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house during a rally in reaction to members of the fraternity captured on video singing a racist chant. (PHOTO CREDIT: Sue Ogrocki/AP)
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After investigating a racist chant sung by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers on their way to an SAE Founders Day event, University of Oklahoma officials have concluded that members of the fraternity learned the words at a leadership event hosted by SAE’s national headquarters four years earlier.

The university found that the chant migrated to Oklahoma and had become “part of the institutionalized culture of the chapter” and its pledging process, implying that it was not a song belonging to a small number of people and instead was part of the fraternity’s recent traditions.

The university’s report also said that as part of the chapter’s typical recruitment process, a dozen high school students had been invited to the event on March 7 and had joined fraternity members on the bus, where the chant erupted. Many of the students were drinking before the event, the report claims.

David Boren, Oklahoma’s president, demanded answers from SAE’s national leaders in a letter dated Friday.

A video of the chant, which included racial slurs against African Americans and a lynching reference, lit up social media and prompted a national debate about race relations and fraternity culture on campus. One question that many people asked was whether it was an isolated incident or something ingrained in SAE traditions.

The fraternity is one of the country’s largest, with some 15,000 current members and 200,000 alumni.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national leaders on Friday confirmed that members of its former University of Oklahoma chapter likely learned a racist chant while attending a national Leadership School about four years ago

But Executive Director Blaine Ayers said the organization has no evidence that the chant is widespread across the fraternity’s 237 groups. Ayers said SAE is continuing an in-depth investigation of its chapters as a result of the Oklahoma video.

“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. SAE members also socialize on the trips, which have taken place on cruises.

Ayers said it is likely that during a social gathering, some members shared the racist song.

“The song is horrific and does not at all reflect our values as an organization,” Ayers said. “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.”

SAE leaders, who have adamantly denied that the chant is part of the fraternity’s traditions, recently announced a sweeping national initiative to eliminate racism from all of its chapters, including a hotline for people to call to report troubling incidents, hiring someone for an executive-level position overseeing diversity issues, and an investigation into its more than 200 local groups to determine whether there are racist traditions there.

A student at Duke University reported being taunted with the same chant this week.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Susan Svrluga

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