Today, the 159th anniversary of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity’s inception, the University of Oklahoma shut the doors to the chapter’s fraternity house permanently. After a nine second video of collegiates in tuxedos singing a racist chant on a bus leaked to YouTube on Sunday night, it quickly went viral over various social networks.

 

WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE.

 

According to local reports, the members shown in the video were heading to a party for the organization’s Founder’s Day. Their faces are now plastered across the internet, with the hashtag #SAEHatesMe trending most of Monday on both Facebook and Twitter.

 

Brad Cohen, the National President of SAE, handled the crisis by responding swiftly and with a strong statement. “SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior. When we learned about this incident, I called an immediate board meeting, and we determined with no mental reservation whatsoever that this chapter needed to be closed immediately.”

 

Cohen cited the SAE creed, the True Gentleman, which has been repeated by each incoming SAE member during their initiations for more than half a century, according to their website. He encouraged SAEs to truly embody the oath to which they commit themselves upon joining the fraternity.

 

“The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”

 

With the promise of anonymity, an SAE alumnus responded to the video:

 

“Racism is a systemic problem in the southern chapters of SAE. I have tried to push in our meetings to start admitting black and other minorities into our chapter, but was met with stark opposition. There were a good amount on my side, but far more against ever allowing it. Most people worry that we would begin to lose donations from alumni to fund the chapter if we did so.”

 

He continued by discussing the flaws of the SAE admission system, which is structured on a chapter-by-chapter basis. He said there is no by-law that prevents someone from being excluded due to race.

 

SAE National President Brad Cohen comments on the UO crisis on Twitter. (Twitter.com/SAE_ESA_Brad)

SAE National President Brad Cohen comments on the UO crisis on Twitter. (Twitter.com/SAE_ESA_Brad)

When asked if, post-college, he would go back and do it all over again after witnessing the racist behaviors within his own chapter, he said that he would do it for the networking opportunities and for the close friendships he made, but “I would never teach my children the values I learned from being an SAE. They are morally gray, at best, in my opinion.”

 

He concluded, “there are few times that people in the SAE chapter acted like ‘true gentleman,’ which is the main mantra of the fraternity. A true gentleman would never display the kind of racism, bigotry, and pure exclusion with no basis that I witnessed.”

 

Another alumnus speaking on the terms of anonymity echoed the sentiments regarding alumni, stressing that SAE was not the only Greek brotherhood in the south to maintain these archaic traditions and values. The pressures from older alumni to uphold the practice of keeping out minorities is what he says is the driving force behind the racism. He went on to note that this type of behavior trickles into life after college in the south, as well, with minorities still being turned away – no matter their socio-economic background – from acceptance to elite country clubs based on race.

 

Both alumni said that they had personally witnessed this chant within the walls of their own chapters.

 

While this crisis at the University of Oklahoma was handled readily by the SAE organization on a national level, the inherent problem remains. The shroud of secrecy for which the fraternity is notorious proves to be near impenetrable, especially with each chapter functioning autonomously. It is almost impossible to ensure that the principles of the True Gentleman are upheld in each of the chapters, which total over 200 with more than 15,000 collegiate members.

 

What do you think of the handling of the situation by SAE President Brad Cohen? Do you think that there should be reform of Greek life in the South on a fundamental level, or do you think that tradition reigns in these organizations? Let’s talk here, or find me on Twitter @TiffaniJPurdy