On Monday, March 9, the 100 members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter were suspended as a result of a video that captured SAE members singing a racist song on a bus, The Washington Post reported.
A video posted by Twitter account @ OU_Unheard, an alliance group for black students at the university, depicts members of the fraternity singing, “There will never be a n—– SAE/There will never be a n—– SAE/You can hang ‘em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a n—– SAE.”
The chant was sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it.”
Early on March 9, SAE’s national organization announced that the University of Oklahoma chapter would be suspended.
In a statement posted on the Fraternity’s Web site, the organization announced, “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. “
Oklahoma’s President David Boren announced on March 10 that two students that could be identified leading the song would be expelled from the university.
“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren stated in a press release.
Boren’s expulsion of the two students has drawn critics that note the students did not receive any trial within the school’s judicial process.
In an interview with The Yellow Jacket, R-MC’s Assistant Dean of Students James McGhee noted that had a similar situation occurred at R-MC, the students’ conduct would have been adjudicated through the established judicial process.
“Although I applaud the president of OU for taking a decisive stand, the judicial process is there to protect the instruction and the students, and to make sure whatever is applied is applied consistently across the board,” McGhee said.
“Obviously we would want to hold people accountable for behavior like that, but we would want to do it through our process.”
R-MC recently drew criticism for a racist incident involving a party held at R-MC’s Kappa Alpha chapter that denigrated Hispanic and Latino individuals.
“All of the groups that were involved in that [incident] were adjudicated through the judicial system and held accountable,” McGhee said.
The Oklahoma SAE chapter has hired high-profile lawyer Stephen Jones to represent the suspended members, although Jones said in a press conference Friday that currently the fraternity is not looking to
pursue action against the university.
If action were to be taken, the fraternity could seek to challenge Boren’s expulsion of the two members leading the song as a violation of the members’ rights under the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause.
In an interview with The Yellow Jacket, R-MC’s Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Lauren Bell (who is also an alumna of the University of Oklahoma) noted that the two students withdrew from the university
before they were expelled, essentially giving up their right to a formal proceeding.
Assuming the students had not withdrawn, though, Bell said she believes Boren’s actions could still be justified under the school’s constitution.
“Oklahoma’s code of student conduct gives the president the authority to act unilaterally to remove a student from campus if their conduct created a disruption to the educational environment,” Bell said.
Bell noted that there is a reading of OU’s code of student conduct that would justify Boren’s actions under the First Amendment.
“He’s not removing them for their speech as their speech,” Bell said. “He’s removing them because their speech caused a disruption to the learning environment.”
Bell told The Yellow Jacket that the matter could still be open to a challenge pursuant to the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause.
“The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on First Amendment speech cases where there is no threat of violence or documented disruption is to say that no matter how horrible the speech is, that speech is protected,” Bell said.
“But I think on the First Amendment questions if it boils down to the president expelling students for offensive speech, then that would clearly be a violation.”
-Henry Ashton ’15, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor