Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, there are a few things we all now know to be true. Beyoncé can do literally anything and the world will stand at attention, we will consume almost anything from Taco Bell as long as they include more cheese, and fraternities and sororities on college campuses have a race issue.
Now, before we go any further let me make a brief distinction. In the Greek system there are numerous umbrella councils all social Greek letter organizations fall into on college campuses. The ones I am primarily addressing here are the NIC (North-American Interfraternity Conference) which hosts 75 National fraternities, and the NPC (national Panhellenic Conference) which is comprised of 26 National Greek lettered sororities and women’s fraternities. Like all organizations and teen Disney stars, no chapter is free from its occasional ups and downs. However, the chapters represented by these councils are the ones more likely than not that are making front page news for virulently racist behavior.
Let’s quickly recap: On March 8th 2015 (that’s right folks, literally 2015) a video of the Oklahoma University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was posted on YouTube which showed fraternity members chanting the words “’ “There will never be a ni**** in SAE. There will never be a ni**** in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** in SAE” to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands. There are few moments in life that have left me speechless, and even fewer that don’t involve a Beyoncé performance, but if there was anything at the antithesis of that, it would be this moment.
Only making matters worse is the sad truth that this information isn’t even surprising. A twitter hashtag #SAEHatesMe fostered a growing dialogue about Greek life’s continued and unsurprising culture of racism.
The reaction of the University community and beyond has been swift and strong. Oklahoma University’s president mandated that the SAE chapter at OU will no longer be a recognized entity by the University and their residential chapter house will be closed immediately. Rapper Waka Flocka, who was scheduled to perform at a SAE event has pulled himself from the show.
The response from SAE Nationals has been equally as swift. A statement they released includes the following: “This type of racist behavior will not be tolerated and is not consistent with the values and morals of our fraternity. We have more than 15,000 collegiate members across the nation, and this incident should not reflect on other brothers because this type of hateful action is not what Sigma Alpha Epsilon stands for. This is absolutely not who we are.” Here in lies the problem, SAE’s National Board can claim from hell to high water that this “isolated incident” doesn’t reflect their organization as a whole, but the plain truth is that it does. It reflects your organization because it is likely that the same number of SAE men that participated in this act is equivalent to the number of men in that organization who participated in their philanthropy event this year. You don’t get to claim that the minority of men doing philanthropic work in your organization represents the chapter as a whole, while simultaneously denying that this minority isn’t indicative of what they represent.
This is the script that Greek life tends to stick to. When incidents of hazing, racism, sexual assault, or other related PR nightmares arise for these organizations, they are quick to tell you that this isn’t representative of the group as a whole. They are not, they will say, defined by these deplorable acts. They are however, defined by the one student in their chapter currently serving as Student Body.
Garrett Schlichte writing has appeared on The Washington Post and Medium.