Taking a stand against intolerance


By Matt Silich

When the 10-second video of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members chanting racially charged lyrics surfaced, the administration took swift action against the local SAE chapter.

Two students were expelled and the chapter was banned from campus. Further action is potentially on the way, according to a statement released on Twitter by the school’s president, David Boren.

“We will continue our investigation of all the students engaged in the singing of this chant,” Boren said. “They will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.”

Any halfway-decent human being can understand the appalling racism of the students involved in this chant. As with any public mistake in this day and age, this incident will follow the former fraternity members for the rest of their lives. It will be mentioned in every job interview they have and it will be the first search result when their names are Googled.

The two expelled students, and any other participating members of the fraternity, deserve any and all punishment laid upon them without question. Regardless of whether SAE’s chant is only meant for private use, the content is so disgusting that somebody should have put a stop to it long ago.

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But blind outrage directed at the students’ families and the national SAE fraternity is misguided. This issue extends much further than the expelled students and their families ­— it even extends further than SAE and the entirety of Greek life on college campuses.

A discussion of much more nuance should be addressed in the wake of a racist incident such as this — all students, those who participate in Greek life and otherwise, need to evaluate the things they hear and say in public and private.

There are crucial lessons to learn from the actions of those University of Oklahoma students. A statement from one of the identified students, Parker Rice, released to the Dallas Morning News after the incident shows the troubling reason why these songs are performed.

“I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse,” Rice said. “Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation.”

Much more troubling than the alcohol consumption is that this song was evidently passed down from the previous generation of SAE members. It’s scary to think how far back this tradition could stretch, and it is clear that the fraternity didn’t find it disturbing enough to eradicate.

It is through avenues like this, where songs become traditions and people aren’t willing to change, that racism and intolerance persist in our society, even 50 years after equal voting rights were instituted in the United States.

It’s easy to punish those who are caught engaging in racist activities. It’s much more difficult to purge society of colloquial traditions or phrases that insult minority communities, but infinitely more important.

Though often in private, it’s not all that uncommon to hear racial slurs and insults casually tossed around on campus. Perhaps even more common are homophobic slurs and the derogatory use of the word “retard.” These are all unacceptable terms to use in any context, yet they remain relevant because people are sometimes too afraid to speak out against them.

When new fraternity pledges are taught songs or asked to perform tasks, more accountability is needed on all sides.

Members should be able to take a step back and realize that a song such as this completely crosses a line. Hopeful initiates should be ready and willing to reject teachings that go against their personal beliefs, even if that means leaving the fraternity.

Racism and intolerance should no longer be ignored just because they are used in a more casual sense than what’s seen in videos from the 1950s. It should no longer be allowed because a friend said it, or because members of the fraternity you want to join said it.

Offensive songs will last forever if students of Greek life are unable to push back against the ignorant beliefs of those who came before them. Improper and insulting use of slurs, even in the most casual and private context, won’t fade away unless people actively work to stamp them out.

A horrible story like this would be the perfect backdrop for everybody to review their priorities and ensure that tolerance is near the top of the list.

Matt is a sophomore in DGS.

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