OU alum upset by overreaction to SAE racism

I’m a University of Oklahoma graduate, Class of ’65. I’ve always been proud of the school and felt I got a good education there. Today, however, I am deeply concerned that a small group of thoughtless, possibly drunk students have brought so much negative national attention to the school.

It would be hard for anyone watching the news to miss the video that surfaced Sunday showing a busload of SAE fraternity members singing an ugly racist song.

At least one news outlet reported the young men on the bus were freshmen who didn’t actually live in the SAE fraternity house. That may or may not be true. Nevertheless, OU President David Boren announced the immediate closure of the house and ordered everyone living there to move out by midnight tonight. Angry, he said the university would not help anyone with their move or with finding new housing. At the same time, SAE headquarters announced the permanent closure of the OU chapter.

Swift action was certainly called for. Optics, you know. Defend the university’s image. Racism will not be tolerated. But the reaction was misdirected and overly broad. The people on the bus should be identified and punished, perhaps with suspension until next fall, or expulsion. But the entire chapter should not have been punished unless and until it is proven that racism is endemic there. It’s entirely possible that the offensive song existed in SAE’s past but has not been sung in many years and was resurrected just this week by a group of unthinking, partying, likely drunk young men. It’s also possible that those involved made it up on the spot. In either case, I don’t think the entire chapter should be punished and the house closed, much less the chapter shut down permanently (SAE is thinking about optics too). Where are those displaced students supposed to go on such short notice? It seems unfair to force them all into the street if they weren’t participants on the bus. For that matter, it’s quite possible not all on the bus were singing or wanted to be involved in the singing.

Boren got it backwards when he immediately closed the SAE house. He should have first identified and punished the guilty students. Then, if an investigation proved racism is an inherent part of the SAE culture, close the house and banish the fraternity.

The unfortunate effect of Boren’s actions, beyond possibly punishing innocent people, is that for a long time to come, the public will question the morality and civility of SAE members from OU. A lot of SAEs who weren’t on that bus may have to deal with and live down an ugly racist incident in which they had no part.

I’ve always had great respect for David Boren. But I think he mishandled this.

(Note: Boren announced this morning that two students have been identified as having had “leadership roles” in the incident and have been expelled. The investigation continues. One individual seen leading the song in a second video has been identified as Parker Rice of Dallas, Tex. The other, Levi Pettit, was identified by his parents.)

Update, March 13, 2015: Former members of the SAE chapter closed this week by OU Pres. David Boren have hired an attorney and are considering a lawsuit against either the school or Boren himself. They object to Boren’s statements that painted everyone in the chapter as racists and bigots.

25 thoughts on “OU alum upset by overreaction to SAE racism

  1. Being in OKC when this story broke has been interesting; top story on local tv, big headlines in paper, many conversations in restaurants visited, as well as breaktime talk at work. Overall i think most approve of the action taken by OU. I agree with you that such a major action taken against SAE likely punishes many more innocent young men than were guilty of the offensive behavior.

    1. I’ve had the utmost respect for David Boren for many years. He was my senator for a while when I still lived in Okla. But I really think he blew it on this, as I explained above. Yes, I know the housemother was caught on video a couple of years ago, drunk and using the same language. And I think that makes the case against the house look a bit stronger. But I decided not to include it here because it would distract from my main point — that immediately shutting down the house and kicking everyone out was an overreaction, done without any investigation of life in the house. I just don’t understand why he didn’t focus on the guilty people on the bus before expanding his condemnation and penalty to include people who weren’t there. And you know how these things go. Even if the majority of the brothers are exonerated, people will only remember that SAE was the frat kicked off campus for racism.

  2. Many people, including five of the Supreme Court, think that racism is not a big problem any more, and therefore a significant part of the Voting Rights Act can be cancelled. This is OK, the five assured, because the Republican controlled Congress will patch it up just fine. Wrong. The SAE incident shows that racism is strong under the surface and breaks out readily when the crown gets liquored-up. Similarly, here in next-door Missouri, a top Republican opined recently that talking about a political rival’s Jewish religion was no big deal because “Christians love Jews as God’s chosen people.” The guy (Tom Schwiech) wasn’t Jewish, but the accusation was a factor in his suicide.

    Racism and anti-semitism are still powerful ethnic forces in this country. Any politician who denies this should be shunned.

    1. You’d think — or hope — our culture would have become more civilized by now. At least in the expression of our differences. But alcohol, immaturity, and groupthink, or any combination thereof, can take down our inhibitions quickly, as seen here.

      I didn’t understand Schwiech’s suicide. Simply being called a Jew when he wasn’t made him suicidal? Sounded to me like he had some serious underlying emotional problems. A tragedy, nonetheless.

    2. This isn’t even close to “racism”. Racism is thinking that your or a particular race is better than another. This is hate/bigotry. I agree that the n-word should be outlawed. Wait, don’t they use it in songs?

      1. Yep, if it’s outlawed for some people it should be outlawed for everyone. Otherwise it would be reverse racism, or something. And all the rappers would be out of business. Just as well. I find them offensive. Not for their use of the N-word but for their sexism, another form of hate/bigotry.

      2. @ Art Peters & PT,

        The use of the N word is not simple. I’m against “outlawing” it because that would violate freedom of speech. I don’t know about songs but it’s all over Huckleberry Finn. The problem is how it’s used, as in a hateful, exclusionary way. The OU frat thing is surely a good example, but on reflection I think David Borren over-reacted. President Obama, as I recall, had a better approach one time – having two colors over for a beer and a chat. It doesn’t always have to be war.

        1. I was speaking hypothetically, of course. I’m a staunch free speech advocate. And yes, Boren overreacted. Better he’d have done what some other univ. pres. stated yesterday (in regard to a fraternity’s private pics on Facebook) — that he’d investigate first, to make sure the responsible parties were punished and that no innocents were punished.

  3. I agree there was over-reaction. There also is a clash here between free speech and laws protecting minorities from harassment. It is good that Americans are coming to disdain bigotry, but we should be careful not to throw out one of our most important rights (to say what we want within limits) in doing so.

    Prejudice against Jews was rampant in my teen years. It’s almost unheard of now. We have much more work to do to diminish bigotry related to blacks, but huge strides have been made in that area. A bit more reasoned analysis and a lot less ill-informed yapping would to far in helping our society progress.

    1. I have wondered if or how what is said or sung on a privately chartered bus is subject to punishment by anyone. And if it is, then where are we safe and free to speak openly? Are we limited only to our own homes? Are we even safe there? Donald Sterling said some awful things in the privacy of his own home and ended up losing his basketball team (unfairly, I thought).

      And who on that bus shot the video, and why? I’ve seen nothing about that, and can’t help wondering. Was it one of the Tri Delts? Was it one of the SAEs, and if so, was he disciplined along with everyone else?

  4. Good afternoon Gabbygeezer. Prejudice against Jews is the cry of Iraq to the point of exterminate them all. This is cause for grave concern,not only to the Mid East but to the rest of man kind.
    Racism,if not exterminated will divided any country to the point of rebellion against those who continue to propagate its practice. Even after the Civil War we here in America continue to spew those ugly words and carry out the actions of a stiffed neck people.One wonders if we will ever learn.
    Education begins at home and continues through Graduate School. Some where along the way in the education of our young we have as a society earned a grade of FAIL in this subject matter. We can blame our selves and no one else.

    1. I was referring only to declining prejudice against Jews in the U.S. I’m well aware it is rampant (and deplorable) in the Middle East.

      Your last paragraph strongly implies that all Americans are bigots. That is a very long way from the truth. We just elected and reelected a black American as our leader. Bigots don’t do things like that.

  5. Good evening,I want to make it very clear that I do not believe that all or even most Americans are bigots or racist. Where it does exists is giving America a very bad image.Can you give your followers /readers your thoughts or idea as to WHY this is not going away,especially here in America?

    1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think a lot of racism and bigotry is self-perpetuating. Older generations, intentionally or otherwise, pass a lot of their attitudes on to their kids who then pass those attitudes on to their kids. It’s hard to break that cycle. And there’s the innate human inclination (originally a survival instinct) to seek out and group with others like us, which can easily turn into bigotry against those who are different. But I don’t think bigotry is nearly as bad here as it is in a lot of other places. And I think our own government is as responsible for our negative image abroad as are Americans in general.

      1. As you say, this is universal. All groups criticize and use negative words about other groups when they are among themselves. That’s the truth. The difference is here in this country, we address it and expose it and try to do something about it. Other places just pretend and speak negative terms softly in private.
        Change is slow. Forcing people doesn’t change thinking. Eventually the old generation and their concepts die off. Things change…slowly.
        The government and media are really into fanning hatred for their own purposed right not. Jim is right the whiplash extremes is rough when it’s all about power.
        Another problem is letting one group using words and language and forbidding others to even think it. One group does not “own” a word and it’s use. If it’s bad for one group to say something, it’s negative for all to say it.
        And people have gotten so sensitive “looking to be offended so they can wail about it” is what they used to call it. There are also regional differences those new to an area may not see. Example? Here “noose” means hang ’em high for cattle rustling. Do not try to tell me that is also a racist word here. Some may have a different experience, but that’s their problem and interpretation.
        Would be better if people reverted to “sticks and stone may hurt my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Most of us grew up and were strong enough to manage that.
        Get a sense of humor and laugh at those that would hurt you with mean words – drives them crazy if they don’t succeed in hurting you. Laugh at yourself, too

        1. I read somewhere else the observation that people weren’t offended by what the kids said because they weren’t there to hear it. People are offended by the video. (Maybe that’s splitting hairs.) But like Donald Sterling, what they said was said in private, in this case on a private bus. I’m not sure anyone has the right to be offended at that unless they were on the bus at the time.

          1. I’m not sure anyone has the right to be offended at that unless they were on the bus at the time.

            An interesting point. Once upon a time, not so long ago, “private” pertained mainly to what was said among like-minded people or friends while separated from the public, mainly indoors. But that has changed because of technology. A video clip is tangible evidence, much more than some insider telling tales. Whoever speaks out these days should do so with full awareness of this and be prepared to pay the piper. Privacy has shrunk and the genie will not go back into the lamp.

          2. I should rephrase. There is no “right” to be offended. It’s a personal feeling based on one’s own ideas of right, wrong, good taste, etc. But making a big deal of being offended by something when you weren’t even there puts you on thin ice, IMHO.

            As for privacy, yes, it seems we have it only in our own homes and only with people we really, really trust … if then.

          3. We’re sliding much too close to some sci-fi novels.
            Those “leaked” videos came from someone with a grudge.
            Show me a group of drunk kids/people of any race/ethnic group and you’ll hear offensive words, comments, and jokes. It’s just what people do.
            This whole atmosphere is getting Salem Witch Hunt spooky.

          4. Exactly! And not even drunk people. I was walking out of the courthouse today behind a guy talking on his phone to someone. Every other word made me wince. All the way across the big parking lot. Figures he was parked right next to me.

    2. @ John Steidley,

      I agree with PT on this one – she said it well. I would only add an asterisk to ” . . . our own government is as responsible for our negative image abroad . . . ” *

      “government” meaning the fractious and inconsistent policies that result from extreme partisanship and ever-shifting election cycles.

  6. Few are even mentioning that at OU this frat has had black members in the past. One in Houston was on tv saying he had always been treated well in college – and the frat was a great experience that he had hoped his son would also have. Upset the frat was disbanded there.
    A bunch of drunk kids on a private bus – off campus, right. Dumb drunk kids.
    This is about losing federal funding if the school doesn’t react to please the gov?
    If they are going to kick this bunch off, what about all the violent, negative to women, and racial slurs in music played on campus – in dorms. That creates a hostile environment obviously. And the punishment for that?
    Free speech means free speech. You may not like what they say. They might not like what you say, but that’s the cost of having free speech.
    Disgraceful knee jerk behavior by a university (“champions of individuality and free speech”?)
    We’re in trouble.

    1. I saw one black SAE on TV who said he was a member of the OU chapter. Might have been the same one. Everyone seems to have glossed right over that fact. David Boren acted quickly to do the politically correct thing (not necessarily the right thing), the thing with the best optics for the university. I rather hope the chapter does sue him and the university, just to air out the whole issue. No more appropriate place than a university for an intellectual conversation about language and free speech.

      And you are so right about the other issues that should be getting equal if not more attention on campus.

      1. It’s elementary school all over again. That tune? We used to sing it in 3,4,5,6th grade using the name of what ever kid/school clique we were not playing nice with that day on the playground – it was a silly kids’ song – my husband said they did, too. He said people inserted all sorts of groups like Polish, Dutch, Italian, German, Irish, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, kids from other school teams at football games…the lists goes on forever. Equal opportunity annoyance by little kids. Everyone was pretty much fair game.
        Now some fed judge is going to “advise” the school on possible race issues in other Greek organizations. Looks like they simply want to destroy the traditional Greek organizations (not Greek, as it isn’t my thing, but I support their right to exist)
        Kids ought to sue. Frat national should reprimand members, but also sue. Totally nuts.
        Not against the law to say words. (sticks and stones, people. grow up). If they are going to say “created hostile environment…uh, about some of the music/entertainment/comedy shows playing in the dorms, classrooms, performances in public areas of campus?
        Double standard. Mixed messages not appropriate for university that is supposed to be doing what you say: “an intellectual conversation about language and free speech.”
        Grow up. All I can say is grow up.

        1. We all know about the immature behavior of college kids. Some of them act even younger than the 3, 4, 5, and 6th graders you mentioned. They’re away from home for the first time, with very few restrictions … katy bar the door!

          Yes, the frat system is taking a lot of heat. The most absurd is the school that ordered one fraternity to admit women. Guess they don’t understand the Greek system at all. But if they destroy the Greek system, then what? Something will take its place. Students will still need housing. They’ll still want to live off campus. They”ll still do it with other people they like being with.

          If words can be made illegal, then I’ve got a beef with a lot of rap music …

... and that's my two cents