After Viral Videos: Further Questions on SAE & Institutional Culture

I planned a lovely post about language, technology, and text messaging for your reading pleasure this week… and then a colleague in Student Affairs sent me the clip which features a bus full of SAE fraternity members engaging in an incredibly racist chant. The story and the subsequent repercussions went viral in a matter of moments.

My immediate response was too crass to be immortalized in online, public spaces. So, for the purposes of this post we’ll just say that a) I was not surprised by the clip; I have both seen and been tasked to address firsthand the racist culture that is embedded in many predominantly White sororities and fraternities, and b) my patience for these shenanigans after the absolutely disconcerting year we’ve had in terms of social justice, police brutality, implicit and explicit racism / bias in America was almost non-existent. So, I did what I always do when I’m reflecting / processing… I laid low for a bit and read up (I have posted some of my favorite articles / blog posts on the subject in the text below).

First, I’ll say that President Boren’s statement was absolutely refreshing. Far too many times, I have seen these types of behaviors downplayed, glossed over, and re-centered on the potential learning opportunities of White students while ignoring the physical, mental, and essential safety / care of the students of color that these behaviors impact [yepp, that was a run-on but I’m sayin’ it how I feel it today]. For those of you who have not yet seen President Boren’s response, pour some tea for this read (as posted on the University of Oklahoma’s Facebook page / social media presence):

To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for possessions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

President Boren

Oop! In the next 24 – 48 hours, the house was shut down, people were packing their bags, and two of the students were expelled.

But I still have questions though…

  • What is the University of Oklahoma doing in terms of educational interventions for the students who are still THERE, navigating through hate speech, discrimination, and a climate that may not be conducive to their academic or personal success. I’m glad that they have gotten rid of the fraternity and a few of the members… but what are they doing about their institutional climate? Moreover, what interventions are there / have there been from national fraternity & sorority leadership to change the culture / climate of these organizations?

    Please, let’s not act like this is all new. How many problematic parties have we seen within the last (oh I don’t know) forever years that center around denigrating and mocking people of color? How long have we known that the fabric of many of these organizations includes the explicit, open, blatant exclusion of people of color? How long have folk intensely advocated for centering the story on the learning opportunities available to students who perpetuate what is, in this case, hate speech, while on the other hand, writing off decentralized diversity statements with elusive hopes that that document will fix systemic issues within the climate of the institution? [Insert side eye here]. Now that this has come to light, my question remains, what will administrative leadership do about the institutional climate and culture? What will national Greek organizations do about the recurring instances (parties, chants, additional foolery) that can only indicate an embedded culture of hostility and racism? Because these random press releases don’t cut it and the constant state of surprise when things like this happen is absolutely astounding. The fact of the matter is, after years of these types of incidents, why are we still sitting in surprise and shock instead of finding, instilling, and systematizing some cultural competence and sensitivity (aka some “do-right” as my Grandmother says).

I can’t help but wonder how the viral nature of the video influenced decisions about what would be done short term? These type of instances happen far more than can be accessed through viral videos for public consumption. So, I’m interested to see… when the viral video “dies down”, will there be radio silence about this particular incident from administrative leadership (and if I really say it how I feel it, I’m wondering if there will be the deafening silence of those within the profession who have identified themselves as allies)?

My well wishes and best thoughts are with the Student Affairs staff at that institution, the people of color who work there, and especially the students of color who study there. Although this post represents only a few lines in the narrative, I have posted other works below that round out the story even more. Enjoy them and think critically about them:

  1. Racism in Oklahoma Frat Video Is Widespread at Colleges, Researcher Says by Peter Schmidt, Chronicle of Higher Education
  2. The Side of the Oklahoma Racist Frat Story that Nobody is Talking About, Zak Cheney-Rice, Mic.com
  3. Save Our Children, Alta Mauro, https://justmamta.wordpress.com
  4. On Why Expulsion Was The Only Option For The SAE Students, Eric Mata, ericmata.wordpress.com

Image Credit: Filling their shoes from Kay Isabedra, deathtothestockphoto.com