Fraternity’s Racist Song Sparks Media Attention

Photo courtesy of Andrew Goidell, Wikimedia Commons

After mainstream media caught wind of two viral videos in which fraternity members chanted a racist song last week, the University of Oklahoma expelled Parker Rice and Levi Pettit, the students identified as having initiated the chanting, on Tuesday.

The videos were recorded on Saturday as members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and their dates rode a bus to an event celebrating the organization’s Founders Day, and showed members chanting a song with lyrics that included racial slurs and referenced lynching.

One of the nine-second videos shows members chanting, “There will never be a n**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a n**** SAE.”

The fraternity’s national headquarters in Illinois shut down the Oklahoma chapter after the first video appeared, but another video surfaced on Monday, showing the organization’s 78-year-old house mother “rapping” the lyrics to a song that includes the n-word.

Many would argue that public shaming is a form of cruelty and barbaric behavior, but since the recent news and social media uproar, Rice has apologized for his behavior in the video, calling it a “horrible mistake.”

In light of all the negative media attention, the University of Oklahoma severed all ties to the organization on Monday and President David Boren has since issued a statement in which he said his expectation is that more students will be disciplined or expelled as an internal investigation takes place. The University is said to be collecting names of members who may have participated in the racist chanting.

The rise of the social Web may be resurrecting the punishment of “bad behaviors,” which may not be such a bad thing for perpetrators of racist, sexist/misogynistic, homophobic, classist, ableist and transphobic/cissexist conduct.

Rice’s apology and that of the University, while necessary, is not nearly enough, nor the end of a very important conversation for Greek organizations, but the way it was handled by the university administration and the immediate response and attention by the media is a step in the right direction.

I hope that this event is one that produces learning outcomes for people everywhere, especially individuals receiving college acceptance letters and planning their upcoming roles in campus life, or college students interested in pledging for a fraternity or sorority. When it comes to choosing a Greek organization, students should investigate what their sorority or fraternity of interest is involved with in terms of leadership activities, programs or philanthropy to see if it aligns with their personal values.

Since the Internet leaves behind a kind of digital footprint, individuals should really begin to filter their posts, the language used around certain topics or issues and the way they interact with the respective media channels. 

What happened in Oklahoma is not an isolated incident. In fact, the fraternity involved said that it would investigate incidents at other campuses since former members of the fraternity claimed on social media that the same chant was used at colleges in other states, but whether or not the chant originated on the university campus, it certainly can teach us all a valuable lesson about the social repercussions of racist behavior.