University of Oklahoma president David Boren stood with his students Monday in protest of a video that appears to show Sigma Alpha Epsilon members participating in racist chants. The video is “disgraceful,” Boren said at the protest, according to the Oklahoman. “Real Sooners are not bigots, real Sooners are not racist.”
The video, posted to the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the black student alliance Unheard, is just 10 seconds long. In it, a busload of white students — apparently members of the fraternity’s University of Oklahoma chapter — chant: “You can hang ‘em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a n***** SAE.”
Unheard posted the video Sunday, organizers told The Post. The person who captured the chant on video sent it to the group in a private message on Twitter and has asked to remain anonymous.
That fraternity is now closed by order of both SAE’s national organizers and by Boren himself.
Frat members have until midnight Tuesday to remove their permanent belongings from the frat house, Boren said. “Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed,” the university’s statement reads
The students involved will have to make their own housing arrangements after that, Boren said at a Monday news conference, during which he declared: “We don’t provide student services for bigots.”
The school is investigating whether individual members of the fraternity violated the school’s anti-discrimination policies (which are based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act); university officials are considering punishments “up to and including expulsion” for anyone involved.
But the video is just one incident on a campus that was already in the process of confronting larger issues of race and discrimination — something that both Boren and many students said they were determined to change.
Although the video exploded into a national story, some students hope it has the potential to become something different on campus: A teaching moment to discuss what Boren called “more subtle forms of discrimination.”
“We have to look at those more subtle things as well,” he said.
Some students, particularly those who launched Unheard earlier this year to address broad issues of racism on campus, were “not shocked” by the video. There have been other racist incidents in the past, student organizer Naome Kadira told The Post. But without a viral video bringing the national spotlight to the university, Kadira said, punishments in the past have been less severe than what Boren was hoping for on Monday.
But this time seems different. “We’re very happy that … people are taking this seriously,” Kadira said, “and that this is taken as an educational moment.” She said she hoped that the lesson conveyed to the school, and to her classmates, would be that “this is just one thing on a large scale…this is the only shape or form these things come in.”
Boren set the tone for the university’s response, this time with a full-throated condemnation. “You have violated all we stand for,” he wrote in a statement, “you should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners'” — the name of the school’s sports teams and, by extension, its students. “We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with his issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.”
Students on campus made it known overnight that they wanted the frat gone:
— Dana Branham (@danabranham) March 9, 2015
Boren wasn’t the only prominent school official — or, arguably, even the most visible one — stepping out to make their condemnation of the video clear. Bob Stoops, head coach of the university’s football team, also attended a student protest alongside several football players and about 100 athletes. His presence was particularly noteworthy, because he is the face of the school’s powerhouse football program and arguably the state’s most famous employee.
Bob Stoops: "It’s hard to believe that that actually happened. It’s sad the ignorance that can still be there with some people." #Sooners
— Guerin Emig (@GuerinEmig) March 9, 2015
Durron Neal, a wide receiver for the football team, tweeted: “The fact it’s 2015 and this is still happening smh. Things need to change.”
Some students and faculty responded to the video with a prayer circle alongside the protests.
Students also lined up in front of the Student Affairs office on Monday morning, armed with Post-It notes. The door is now covered with colorful pieces of paper, on which students have written questions and concerns for the administration to address.
Many, Kadira said, are about the video itself, which is “at the forefront of people’s minds” on campus on Monday. Others asked the school to take broader concerns about racism on campus to heart.
— Danielle Dunn (@DanielleDunnOKC) March 9, 2015
Although Boren has made it clear that he believes the students involved in the incident are not representative of, or welcome among, the “99 percent” of students who were outraged by the fraternity’s racist chants, he also spoke at length about more “nuanced” forms of discrimination that exist at his university — and what he and student organizers are talking about doing to address them.
Those statements appear to be the result of an ongoing conversation between Boren and Unheard. In January, Boren met the group for the first time. Both Boren and Kadira said Monday that the initial meeting was “constructive.”
“He’s agreed with a lot of what we’ve brought to the table,” Kadira told The Post.
In a working document, Unheard outlined several issues it wants the university to address. Those include the apparent under-representation of black faculty members in departments beyond the African American studies program; black student recruitment and retention rates; a lack of black scholarship opportunities; and what organizers say is a lack of black student representation in many planning committees for major campus-wide events.
Boren referred to several of these issues on Monday, saying that after meeting with Unheard earlier this year, he plans to work on about “95 percent” of them. “Upon reflection, I found myself agreeing with them; let’s do it,” he said on Monday.
“Sometimes, people can be thoughtless,” the university president added. “They can be insensitive and not even know.” He hopes his campus can work to “make people more aware” of racial insensitivity. “It’s hard work building a family,” he added, “But we’re gonna build one. We’re gonna keep on working on it.”
When asked whether Unheard was optimistic about Boren’s commitment to those larger issues going forward, Kadira said: “I definitely think so, just watching the statement the president made.”
With the racist video fresh in the minds of students and administrators, she added, “this is no longer a pen and paper issue.”
[this post has been updated]