Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gather on the main deck of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship at the 79th John O. Moseley Leadership School in August 2014. OU’s investigation concluded the Kappa chapter of SAE, disbanded for its racist chant in early March, learned the chant at this Leadership School four years ago
Fraternity president disputes official OU findings.
While on a bus traveling to Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s Founder’s Day festivities March 7, the University of Oklahoma SAE chapter sang a now-infamous chant laden with racism and a lynching reference. A video of the chant made its way online and went viral. Within hours the national SAE organization suspended the Oklahoma chapter, and later the administration banned SAE from the campus.
University of Oklahoma president David Boren revealed the findings of what he called a comprehensive investigation into the matter March 27. The investigation, which entailed interviews with 160 people, found that Oklahoma’s Kappa chapter of SAE learned the chant at an SAE national leadership function about four years ago.
“Over time, the chant was formalized in the local SAE chapter and was taught to pledges as part of the formal and informal pledgeship process,” said the university’s report.
According to The Washington Post, the university found the chant had migrated to Oklahoma and became “part of the institutionalized culture of the chapter.”
SAE’s national organization confirmed the university’s report, saying the former Oklahoma chapter’s members likely learned it at the 76th annual John O. Moseley Leadership School in 2011. Typically held on a cruise ship, the Leadership School each year hosts 700 to 800 undergraduate SAE members from across the nation, members who participate in classes, seminars and other functions.
The Oklahoman reported that when asked whether he believed there was a racist culture within the national fraternity organization, Boren said no. Nonetheless, Boren called upon SAE’s national leaders to conduct their own investigation.
“I think it’s disturbing to think that it came into our chapter from the national level,” Boren said. “That’s why I’m hoping the national chapter will investigate.”
But SAE President Brad Cohen, a 1985 graduate of the University of Arizona, posted a scathing criticism of Boren on Facebook Monday, calling the Oklahoma president’s statement and official findings “disgusting, one-sided and biased.”
“If he truly believes these bigots at our former chapter at his university ‘learned’ or were taught that vile song as part of the curriculum at one of the greatest learning experiences for young college men … (versus) heard it from a handful of equally bigoted idiots outside of the extensive leadership curriculum, then he should not hold the position that he does as president of a major university,” Cohen said in his Facebook post.
“At the end of the day, it was his students that chose to hear a vile chant, take it back to their university and make it part of their culture in their chapter,” Cohen said.
Honore: USM chapter never knew racist chant
President of the Mississippi Sigma chapter of SAE at The University of Southern Mississippi, Daniel Honore, clarified his chapter’s role in the national controversy by stating that neither he nor his fraternity brothers had ever heard the chant.
“The chant was never a part of what we are taught at those programs and would not have been accepted by any of our members,” Honore said. “The video was the first time I had ever heard a chant like that. If anything, the video, just like most of the nation, was a total shock to view.”
Honore neither confirmed nor denied the statement that his chapter had sent members to the 76th John O. Moseley Leadership School.
“Our national organization offers its members several regional and national opportunities for leadership development,” Honore said. “We send members to them to better their knowledge of the fraternity. While in attendance those members focus on ways to positively impact our Mississippi Sigma Chapter.”
When asked about the fraternity’s recruitment and inclusiveness, Honore said, “SAE, nationally and at USM, seeks to recruit members that show scholastic, athletic and leadership abilities. We welcome all who seek to join. The actions of the Oklahoma chapter do not reflect SAE by any means neither nationally nor locally.”
A new initiative to combat racism, promote diversity
As one of the largest and oldest fraternities in the nation, having been founded in 1859 and boasting 15,000 members nationwide, SAE has “committed to identifying and rooting out racist behavior,” said Blaine Ayers, SAE’s national executive director, told the Washington Post.
“The song is horrific and does not at all reflect our values as an organization,” Ayers said. “If we find any other examples of this kind of behavior currently occurring, we will hold our members accountable, just as we’ve done in Oklahoma.”
Though Ayers has said there is no evidence that the chant is widespread throughout the fraternity’s 237 chapters, SAE recently announced an initiative to eliminate racism from the fraternity entirely. The initiative includes a hotline for people reporting troubling incidents like sexual assault or racist activity, hiring someone for an executive position that will oversee diversity issues and an SAE investigation into each chapter to find whether it has racist traditions or not.
UO Investigation Findings:
1. The origin of the racist chant at the Oklahoma Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was that it was learned by chapter members on a national leadership cruise sponsored by the national organization of Sigma Alpha Epsilon four years ago. The chant was learned and brought back to the local chapter.
2. Over time, the chant was formalized in the local SAE chapter and was taught to pledges as part of the formal and informal pledgeship process.
3. Prior to the chapter’s annual Chapter’s Founder’s Day event on March 7, 2015, there was alcohol readily available at the fraternity house, and there is evidence that a significant number of chapter members were consuming alcohol prior to boarding the bus on which the chant was sung.
4. As part of the chapter’s normal recruitment activities in connection with its Founder’s Day event, the chapter had invited approximately one dozen high school students, who were present at the house and were exposed to the chant while on the bus.
5. It is clear that during the four years since the chant was brought to the University campus, its existence was known by recent members and that it became part of the institutionalized culture of the chapter.
In addition to the fraternity being disbanded, as a result of these findings, the University has issued discipline to involved students ranging from permanent withdrawals, community service and mandated cultural sensitivity training. Officers of the fraternity have also personally met with representatives of affected student groups and apologized.
These are the findings as stated in the University of Oklahoma’s investigation of the Kappa chapter of SAE.