“True Gentlemen?” Anything But.

OU-SAE-Wall-ROHThe University of Oklahoma has dropped its affiliations with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity after a video (seen below) surfaced showing members of the fraternity singing or chanting what is a decidedly racist song.

In case you can’t understand the lyrics, they are:

There will never be a nigger at SAE
There will never be a nigger at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
But he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a nigger at SAE

A protest of the fraternity and the “song” was held on campus Monday. That event was attended by members of University sports teams as well as high profile coaches such as Sooner football coach Bob Stoops.

Also on Monday, University President David Boren released a statement saying:

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.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for positions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

The National leadership of SAE released a statement on the incident and the closing of the OU SAE chapter saying in part:

NORMAN, OK – Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters has closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter at the University of Oklahoma following the discovery of a video that contains racist and hateful language as a chant. In addition, all of the members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for or involved in the incident will face having 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. Our leadership acted swiftly to the video and closed the chapter within hours of learning about it. Preliminary findings from our investigation validated the involvement of chapter members from the University of Oklahoma in the video.

This type of racist behavior will not be tolerated and is not consistent with the values and morals of our fraternity. We have more than 15,000 collegiate members across the nation, and this incident should not reflect on other brothers because this type of hateful action is not what Sigma Alpha Epsilon stands for. This is absolutely not who we are. Sigma Alpha Epsilon is not a racist, sexist or bigoted fraternity. Not only have we provided education and training on these and other issues, we are working to make sure that discussions and awareness on these and other topics is at the forefront of our membership experience.

(see the rest of the statement here.)

What is ironic about this incident is that the creed of the SAE fraternity talks about a “True Gentlemen” and reads as follows:

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.

Clearly the actions of the fraternity were morally offensive and in many ways morally unacceptable. The same group of men who advocate being a “true gentlemen” were anything but. The same group of men who wore Sooner Red and cheered on the football teams and other teams which are comprised of people of all races didn’t think a black man could be good enough to ever join their fraternity.

We cannot state strongly enough that we find the actions of these “men” to be reprehensible and morally wrong.

The question then becomes “what do you do about it?”

Certainly the school and the national leadership of SAE have the right to say “you don’t represent us.” Certainly the SAE national leadership has the right to shut the OU chapter of SAE down.

On Tuesday, OU President David Boren took another step. Boren expelled two students who were leaders of the SAE fraternity.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren has expelled two students identified as leaders in a racist chant video recorded at an SAE fraternity event.

Boren said the students who played a leadership role had created a hostile learning environment for others.

“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma. I hope that the entire nation will join us in having zero tolerance of such racism when it raises its ugly head in other situations across our country. I am extremely proud of the reaction and response expressed by our entire university family – students,faculty, staff, and alumni about this incident. They are “Real Sooners” who believe in mutual respect for all. I hope that students involved in this incident will learn from this experience and realize that it is wrong to use words to hurt, threaten, and exclude other people. We will continue our investigation of all the students engaged in the singing of this chant. Once their identities have been confirmed, they will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action,” Boren said in a news release.

Boran’s action of expelling the students was met with praise in many quarters.

Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows what Raised on Hoecakes stands for, the move was met with the reaction of “another case of the First Amendment going down the tubes.”

We hate what the SAE fraternity did. As we have said, it is despicable and morally wrong. It is not, however, illegal.

First Amendment advocate and UCLA law professor Eugene Volkh agrees. (Perhaps it is better to say that we agree with him.)

1. First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise; see Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University (4th Cir. 1993). (I set aside the separate question of student speech that is evaluated as part of coursework or class participation, which necessarily must be evaluated based on its content; this speech clearly doesn’t qualify.)

UPDATE: The university president wrote that the students are being expelled for “your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” But there is no First Amendment exception for racist speech, or exclusionary speech, or — as the cases I mentioned above — for speech by university students that “has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

2. Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.”


Clearly OU overstepped it bounds legally, but other issues remain as well.

The question we would ask President Boran and those who support his actions of expelling the students is a simple one: “Did expelling the students educate them on why racism is wrong, or did you just kick the problem out and now can pretend it isn’t on your campus?

We have seen examples of students that have been forced to attend “diversity training” in cases where there is no racism to be found and yet here, when there is actual racism to be confronted, the great University of Oklahoma simply says “get out.”

An institution that prides itself on the diversity of ideas, freedom of expression and quality education can do no better than “leave” when confronted with speech of which it does not approve and a real chance to change ideas and thoughts of people in regard to race.

We suspect that some of the students formerly of SAE will look at what happened and change their lives or at least their outlook. Yet we guarantee that some will keep the same attitudes and maybe even blame people of color or “n****r lovers” for what happened to them. In some cases, we suspect that the racism in some of these men will increase instead of die. Their hatred will grow instead of diminish.

The so called “True Gentlemen” did not live up to their creed but it can be said that the University did not live up to its motto of “Civi et reipublicae” (“For the citizen and for the state”) or its duty to actually educate. In kicking the men out for their speech, the University went against the law. In passing on an opportunity to confront and educate – truly educate – people on how just how wrong and evil racism is, the school punted.

The men of SAE were not True Gentlemen but President Baron was not a true leader or educator.

Both failed their moral and ethical creeds.

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