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Sigma Alpha Epsilon launches national effort to eliminate racism from its chapters

Ever since a video of a racist chant from the University of Oklahoma chapter went viral this month, national leaders of Sigma Alpha Epsilon have been reviewing their groups on more than 200 campuses to find out if there are similar chants or other offensive behaviors there.

Now they’re taking it further.

On Wednesday, Blaine Ayers, SAE’s executive director, announced major changes to combat racism at the fraternity, which is one of the country’s largest.

SAE will be the first fraternity or sorority, they believe, to create an executive-level “director of diversity and inclusion.”

They will roll out mandatory additional diversity  training, create an advisory committee of students, alumni and experts, and open a new confidential hotline (1-844-ALRT-SAE) which people can call to report offensive, troubling or illegal behavior to the national leadership.

“We intend to root out and eliminate this sort of reprehensible behavior from our organization,” Ayers said. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon intends to be a leader among fraternities when it comes to ensuring our members are upholding our values, mission and creed. That includes a commitment to educating our members and, when they behave inappropriately, to taking swift and appropriate action.”

He said: “I want to be crystal clear – we have zero tolerance for that sort of behavior.”

The video from OU showed SAE brothers joyfully chanting in unison about never allowing a black member to pledge SAE, using a racial slur and a lynching reference.

It immediately made many people question whether it was really an isolated, ugly incident — or  whether the private social group had racist traditions handed down. Allegations about similar chants popped up at other schools as well.

Read more about that debate here. 

But the questions were hardly limited to SAE. Other scandals broke at chapters of other fraternities last week, including Kappa Sigma at the University of Maryland, where an e-mail full of racial slurs shocked the campus.

Read more about that here

Read about the university’s response hereand here

After the video surfaced at OU, SAE’s national leaders took steps within an hour to begin shutting down the chapter. Leaders quickly apologized, condemned the behavior, suspended all the members of the fraternity and said the chant was not an SAE tradition.

When they have finished reviewing all 237 chapters and colonies, they will issue a report on their findings.

“Not being aware of the song does not exclude us from ownership of the situation,” Ayers said. “So I want to apologize to everyone for pain that has been caused by this incident. This includes the University of Oklahoma, its staff and students as well as our approximately 15,000 undergraduate members and 200,000 living alumni whose own reputations have been tarnished by this incident.”

A year ago, after reports of deaths and other shocking hazing incidents at SAE chapters, its national leaders banned pledging. Ayers said they were tackling this problem head-on as well.

“Although we find the song disgusting,” Ayers said, “we also recognize that this is a moment to better engage in important dialogue around issues of race and other diversity topics, and we won’t shy away from doing so.

“We are committed to having the tough conversations, in every chapter, with every member.”