Early Monday, the fraternity’s national organization said the University of Oklahoma’s chapter would be closed and its members suspended.
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters has closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter at the University of Oklahoma following the discovery of an inappropriate video,” read a statement posted to the fraternity’s Web site. “In addition, all of the members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently. We apologize for the unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video, and we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way. Furthermore, we are embarrassed by this video and offer our empathy not only to anyone outside the organization who is offended but also to our brothers who come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.”
Local media posted photos of the fallout.
SAE’s national president said the organization was “disgusted and shocked” by the video.
“Our deed follows our word,” he wrote on Twitter. “Zero tolerance for bad behavior.”
The university said that an investigation was ongoing.
“I have been informed of the video, which shows students engaging in a racist chant,” President David Boren said in a statement. “We are investigating to determine if the video involved OU students. If OU students are involved, this behavior will not be tolerated and will be addressed very quickly. If the reports are true the chapter will no longer remain on campus. This behavior is reprehensible and contrary to all of our values.”
The video was reportedly first posted on Sunday night by Unheard, an African American activist group at the University of Oklahoma devoted to fighting racism on campus.
“Unheard is an alliance of Black students from the University of Oklahoma organizing for change within the campus administration and atmosphere at the university,” read a document linked to from the group’s Twitter account. “Our primary areas of focus revolve around the lack of representation and continuous support on campus. Some of the issues of which we are organizing include but are not limited to: Black faculty beyond the AfricanAmerican studies department, retention rates among Black students, financial assistance/scholarships received by Black students, supportive programs for Black students, ‘The Sooner Experience’, lack of a presence within executive hierarchy, and equitable funding for Black student organizations.”
Unheard was not immediately available for comment.
SAE has gotten in trouble for alleged racism in the past. Some examples: In 1982, a chapter of the fraternity was suspended from the University of Cincinnati for sponsoring a mock celebration of Martin Luther King Day that was deemed racist. A similar incident caused a stir at Baylor University in Waco, Tex., in 2006. And in 2013, a chapter at Washington University in St. Louis was suspended after reportedly singing racist slurs to African American students.
Founded in Alabama in 1856, SAE had a strong connection to the Confederacy.
“Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South,” according to the fraternity’s Web site. “… The fraternity had fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army.”
This is also not the first time alleged racism at the University of Oklahoma has made the news. In 1990, student groups reached across racial lines in a yearly performance designed to bring unity to the campus.
“This year’s act will open with scenes of racial tension and segregation that are part of the everyday life of many OU students and college students across the nation,” the Oklahoman reported at the time.
“It should not matter to a university whether an applicant has a particular skin color or what country his or her ancestors came from,” Linda Chavez, the Center for Equal Opportunity’s founder and chairman, said at the time. “In an increasingly multiracial and multiethnic society, the use of racial preferences is unacceptable.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said an SAE chapter at Washington University in St. Louis was suspended after reportedly singing a racist song to an African American pledge. Instead, slurs were reportedly sung to African American students.