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University of Oklahoma severs ties with fraternity over racist chant

Sigma Alpha Epsilon will close its OU chapter after ‘unacceptable’ video posted online

The University of Oklahoma has severed ties with a fraternity and ordered its immediate closure after the group's national headquarters confirmed their chapter at the university had produced a video showing members participating in a racist chant.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) said Sunday that an investigation had validated the contents of a video showing people chanting a racial slur against blacks and indicating that blacks would never be admitted to the fraternity. The chant also references lynching.

OU President David Boren confirmed on Monday that the university had severed ties with SAE. He directed the chapter's house be closed and said residents needed to remove their belongings by midnight on Tuesday.

"To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves 'Sooners,'" said Boren, referencing the university's nickname.

The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity earlier said in a statement on its website that it had closed the Oklahoma chapter in question “following the discovery of an inappropriate video,” adding it was "embarrassed" by the "unacceptable and racist" behavior.

“I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism displayed in the video,” said Brad Cohen, the fraternity’s national president. “SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior.”

The national organization also suspended all members of the Oklahoma chapter, adding “those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently.”

A black student group at the University of Oklahoma (OU) first posted the video online and identified the people in the video as affiliated with SAE. It wasn't immediately clear how the video was obtained.

The group, the Unheard Movement, posted a press release with the video. The release said, “We aim to share light that WE DO NOT LIVE IN A POST RACIAL AMERICA. Even after 50 years after the events that occurred in Selma, Alabama we still have a reason to march. We as a people have indeed come a long way, but yet still have so far to go.”

In a document attached to its Twitter account, Unheard said it focused on issues including “Black faculty beyond the African-American studies department, retention rates among Black students … and equitable funding for Black student organizations.

The Oklahoma Daily reported on the video early Sunday, saying it had received an anonymous tip about the online video showing men said to be SAE members chanting what sounds like “There will never be a nigger SAE/There will never be a nigger SAE/You can hang’ em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a nigger SAE”.

Since then, “SAE members have received death threats” and the fraternity house has been vandalized, according to the campus newspaper.

This is not the first time SAE behavior has upset a college. In February, Yale University banned it from campus for two years for a violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy and hindering a university investigation of the incident. In 2014, the University of Connecticut banned SAE for five years over allegations of hazing — SAE was described as "the nation's deadliest fraternity" according to Cohen. Today, the SAE website says in its “Tidbits” section that  “We are the first large national fraternity to eliminate pledging for all of our chapters.” 

According to a statement posted in February after Yale banned the fraternity the fraternity “prides itself on our creed, known as ‘The True Gentleman,’ which was also referenced in the announcement of that the OU chapter was being closed. 

The fraternity, which celebrates its 159th anniversary on March 9, has approximately 15,000 undergraduate members in 293 groups nationwide, according to its website.

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press

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