After a black student at Duke University said she was taunted last weekend by one of a group of white men with the racist chant about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, some students are demanding change from the school’s leadership.
This latest incident follows a viral video earlier this month of SAE brothers at the University of Oklahoma happily chanting racial slurs and a reference to lynching. That video prompted a swift response from the university and national fraternity leaders and sweeping changes for all SAE chapters intended to eliminate racist actions. The fraternity’s leaders have said the chant is not an SAE tradition, and that they are investigating each chapter and setting up a hotline for people to report troubling incidents to the national headquarters.
At Duke, the incident was reported on a part of campus where freshmen live. University officials began investigating immediately, activated their “Bias Action Team” and are searching for witnesses, said spokesman Michael Schoenfeld. He said the “behavior that was reported is intolerable, and we deplore in the strongest way actions and statements that demean and threaten members of our community.”
The identity of the young man who allegedly sang the chant is not known.
The local SAE chapter issued this statement:
“Our chapter was shocked and appalled when the news broke about the racist chant at Oklahoma University by students we were supposed to call brothers. We applauded our national organization and the OU community for refusing to tolerate the bigoted behavior of these individuals. No one deserves to be exposed to such a display of hate and we are disgusted that attitudes like these are still poisoning our society.
“Earlier this week, our chapter felt the same stomach-turning emotions when we heard that the hateful words from the OU video were repeated on our own campus. Our hearts go out to the students targeted by this act and the pain they are coping with after facing such injustice….. It is our profound hope that the administration finds justice for the victims and gives the perpetrators the punishment they deserve.
“As one of the most diverse and multicultural Duke IFC fraternities, we believe in fostering an open, safe, and inclusive environment in which our members can learn and grow together as brothers. We believe in eliminating stereotypes and dissolving prejudices, and we want our community to know that we stand with you in outrage at these recent acts of discrimination.”
An anonymous group calling itself the People of Color Caucus posted a statement on Tumblr, widely shared on Facebook, that charged,”On Sunday, March 22, 2015, around 2:30 AM, a group of white male students targeted and taunted a young black female student with the racist Sigma Alpha Epsilon chant” and said the incident was not isolated but a symbol of ongoing racism and oppression on campus.
The Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke, wrote about the strong student response to the alleged incident.
Duke’s president and provost responded with a letter to the campus community:
Reaction was buzzing on social media, with students using the hashtag #WhatWeNeedFromDuke to launch their campaign for change and posting screen shots from Yik Yak chatter about the debate.
The conversations went well beyond race relations, exploring tensions over money, class and sexual identity on campus. Some students suggested in anonymous posts on social media that the response to the incident was overblown.
Students and others also shared their thoughts outside the Black Student Alliance office the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.