The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter at Clemson University has been placed on probation for two years after the university found that a racially charged party thrown by some of the fraternity’s members violated the school’s conduct codes, according to a statement from the university.
The off-campus “Clemson Cripmas” party in December led to the indefinite suspension of the fraternity chapter by the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization. The party also prompted on-campus protests after photos circulated on social media, appearing to show attendees dressed as gang members.
A university investigation concluded that the gang-themed party violated the school’s alcohol rules and its code of conduct for student organizations. The probation will be effective until February 2017.
The fraternity will also have to complete a “comprehensive risk management program” by the end of April that will cover the topics of “alcohol, social justice, and gangs.”
The decision “of a few brothers” at Clemson to host the party was “inexcusable and completely inappropriate,” national SAE spokesman Brandon E. Weghorst said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “Their behavior in no way reflects the values and creed of the fraternity, and we apologize to campus and local community for their actions.”
The national organization previously suspended the members “who were in leadership roles at the time of the event” along with approximately two dozen members of the fraternity there. The new leadership of the fraternity chapter “have been working with their alumni advisory board to re-establish the relationship between the chapter and the Clemson community.”
The probation decision in South Carolina came less than a month after SAE’s chapter at the University of Oklahoma was suspended, and later disbanded, after video emerged of some of its members participating in a racist chant. University of Oklahoma officials have said that they believe the frat members learned the chant at a national SAE leadership meeting.
As Reuters noted in December, after SAE’s national organization suspended the Clemson chapter over the party:
The Crips are group of mainly African-American street gangs founded in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Many of those attending wore bandanas, oversized T-shirts and low-slung pants, and were shown in photos posted on social media sites making what appeared to be gang signs.
The Greenville News reported that photos of the party resurfaced long-standing concerns among many minority students at the university about the overall racial climate at the school. Clemson’s student body is about 6 percent African American, according to the AP.
The party photos, some students said, were simply evidence of an already present issue on campus, according to the Greenville newspaper:
Wallace Mack, a senior communications major who is black, said a friend received an image from someone at the party.
People at the party shared photos on social media.
“These are the kinds of stories we tell everyday and people chalk it up to being oversensitive or race baiting,” Mack said. “It’s such a blessing to have evidence of it.”
Following student protests at the school in December, Clemson University President Jim Clements sent an e-mailed statement to students, writing: “At a time of year when our thoughts are turning to family, holidays and the start of a new year, it is discouraging that so many events and issues are causing division and hurt, and making many students feel unwanted at this great university.”
The “Cripmas” party was held within days of a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold. Garner, a black man, died after the incident. The decision, which came shortly after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict a white Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, prompted national protests.
The statement from Clements continued:
It hurts to read disrespectful and just plain mean comments in social media. Last night’s ‘Cripmas’ party, which the university did not sanction, raised more concerns about the campus climate. Clemson is better than this.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about events in Ferguson, Staten Island and the protest rallies that those events have spawned. Great universities are built on the free expression and exploration of ideas. But the free expression of opinion must not cross the line and become harassment or intimidation, just as rallies and protest marches must not cross the line to lawlessness.
Clements promised “to host a series of events in early 2015 to foster productive discussion and unity.”
[This post has been updated with a statement from Clemson University]