“Pick my cotton, n-----,” the man says, using the belt to strike a person lying on the bed under a comforter with a loud thwack. The other people in the room howl with laughter.
The University of Georgia’s chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon was swiftly suspended after the short video involving students identified as fraternity members was shared to Twitter on Friday. The now-viral clips sparked widespread condemnation as the individuals were accused of “mocking slavery,” their actions reigniting concerns over the prevalence of racially charged incidents occurring on college campuses nationwide. Following a “thorough investigation,” Tau Kappa Epsilon’s national chapter announced Saturday that four men had been removed from the fraternity.
“Tau Kappa Epsilon is disgusted, appalled and angered by the remarks shown in a video of four expelled members,” the national chapter said in a statement to The Washington Post that was also posted on Twitter. “TKE will not tolerate any actions such as these that would be defined as racist, discriminatory and/or offensive.”
Video of the students, who have not been named, appeared to first surface on Twitter on Friday afternoon. By early Monday, one 17-second clip had been watched more than 96,000 times and had about 600 retweets. Another slightly longer version of the same video also posted Friday had amassed more than 54,000 views.
The video begins with the student holding the belt and playfully hitting the person under the blanket.
“Pick my cotton, b----,” the man says.
“I’m not black,” the person being hit retorts loudly, prompting chuckles from the other people in the room. The man, seemingly unfazed, continues to repeat the command and lightly smack the person in bed. Another person can be heard echoing the man’s words in a high-pitched voice.
The man is in the middle of swinging the belt when a voice off-camera interrupts: “You’re not using the right words.”
He freezes, the belt dangling limply from his raised hand. “Pick my,” he starts to say before pausing. Another person in the room eggs him on.
“Wait, get a video of it,” someone says.
The student appears to briefly hesitate before saying the command again, this time replacing the expletive with the n-word as the room explodes with laughter and the video goes black.
Backlash to the video was instant and fierce. The students’ behavior was slammed as “racist” and many demanded disciplinary action be taken against them.
“This is not ok, UGA,” another person tweeted. “As an alumni, I am disgusted and embarrassed. I will not contribute another dollar until these students are dismissed. Your lack of swift action speaks loudly. Properly support ALL of your students.”
Late Friday, the university’s Student Government Association said in a statement that their executive officers were aware of video circulating “that depicts individuals identified as members of a UGA Greek organization using racist language and engaging in behaviors that mock the suffering of enslaved peoples.”
“We have been notified that the chapter is currently suspended, and we can confirm that there is an investigation underway regarding the students involved in the video,” the statement said.
On Saturday morning, the university tweeted that it “condemns racism in the strongest terms.”
“Racism has no place on our campus,” the statement said. “We will continue our efforts to promote a welcoming and supportive learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.”
It added that “complaints of racist or discriminatory conduct” are referred to the university’s Equal Opportunity Office “in accordance with applicable law and policies.”
In an email Saturday, the university’s president, Jere W. Morehead, said he was “profoundly disappointed and appalled,” according to the Red & Black, the school’s student newspaper.
“The incident does not reflect the culture of unity and inclusion which we support on our campus,” Morehead said.
The university’s NAACP chapter said it was “outraged” over the contents of the video, pointing out that “the majority of our general body consists of students who identify as black or African American.”
“We feel this video was a direct reference to African Americans which is extremely inappropriate and derogatory,” the statement posted to Twitter on Saturday said. “This video only touches the surface of the long history of racism that has existed on this campus and within the state of Georgia. We hope that the university will take action.”
It is not clear whether the students will be disciplined by the university. School officials did not respond to The Post on the matter.
This is not the first time University of Georgia students have faced repercussions for using the n-word. In October last year, a baseball player was dismissed from the university team after allegedly shouting “put the n----- in,” referring to then-Georgia quarterback Justin Fields, during a football game, The Post’s Tramel Raggs reported. Fields later transferred to Ohio State.
There have also been other recent instances of fraternity members using racial slurs or displaying offensive behavior in videos. In 2015, the University of Oklahoma shut down its chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and suspended all its members from the fraternity after a video showed them “in a celebratory mood” reciting a racist chant, according to The Post’s Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson. Two of the students who led the chant were later expelled.
Last year, Syracuse University suspended its chapter of Theta Tau, an engineering fraternity, for multiple videos described by school officials as “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities,” The Post’s Samantha Schmidt reported. Theta Tau was permanently expelled from the university and 15 members involved in the videos were suspended for up to two years, according to the Daily Orange, the school’s student publication.
Tau Kappa Epsilon’s national chapter said Saturday its investigation of the incident revealed that it was “a non-TKE function and did not take place on any chapter premises.”
“These four individuals acted outside the expectations of our membership and their chapter and therefore were removed from both,” the statement said, adding that “since 1899, our Fraternity has take much pride in the diversity and uniqueness of our membership.”
According to its website, the fraternity’s motto is “Better Men for a Better World.”