Editorial: Prejudice and fraternity culture


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On Sunday, a video surfaced showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chanting, among other things, “There will never be a [slur for African American] in SAE.”

Following the surfacing of the video, the national fraternity office made the following statement, according to the Huffington Post: “All members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently.”

Fortunately, University of Oklahoma President David Boren decided to take the reprimanding one step further on Tuesday by ordering the house to be closed immediately and expelling two of the students leading the chant.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that not only are the actions of the individual Oklahoma chapter shameful and abhorrent but that the punishments by the fraternity’s national office were not harsh enough. Furthermore, the Editorial Board fears that there may be a culture of fraternity-based prejudice that encompasses much more than the Oklahoma chapter.

On Tuesday, The Atlantic reported a story with the headline “A Brief and Recent History of Bigotry at Fraternities.” The article included a long list with just a few examples of the racism that is prevalent in culture around the country at fraternities.

In 2012, for example, Duke’s Kappa Sigma fraternity was suspended following an Asian-theme party that included an invitation with the intentionally augmented greeting, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre” and a meme based on a Kim Jong Il character from a Team America comedy movies.

It is important to note, that fraternities across the board do not have a culture of racism. In fact, many fraternities, including many present on the University of Iowa campus, have strong track records of community service. Furthermore, many students argue that fraternity involvement leads to a more complete college experience.

Yet, racism is not the only problem that faces many fraternities. Even worse, it’s not the only problem facing Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In 2012, the chapter at the UI was suspended and the house was closed following instances of hazing and violations regarding the national fraternity’s governing rules.

While the instances are separate and undoubtedly unrelated, it is important to note the pattern of inappropriate behavior exhibited by several fraternities. And while the national components of such fraternities usually respond swiftly with disciplinary action, such actions are typically not strict enough.

Take for example the most recent example of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Such a blatant and offensive example of racism resulted only in comments from the national offices offering suspensions and the mere potential that some members will have their membership revoked. Fortunately, the University of Oklahoma has a president who is intent on proving his efforts to counteract this racist behavior and ensuring beyond a shadow of a doubt that Oklahoma’s chapter will no longer be able to make such chants.

The story of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter is disturbing to say the least. But the silver lining comes in the exposure of a flawed fraternity system that allows such behavior to occur in the first place.

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