OK Frat Learned Racist Chant at National Frat Gathering

In an incredibly unsurprising story, it turns out that those guys from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma didn’t make up that racist chant on their own, they learned it on a cruise sponsored by the national fraternity and it’s something routinely used at SAE chapters around the country.

Members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity learned the racist chant that got it kicked off campus at a leadership event sponsored by the national fraternity, President David Boren said Friday.

Boren said in a news conference that the the school’s investigation into the local SAE chapter found frat members learned the chant four years ago during a leadership cruise sponsored by the fraternity’s national organization. Local chapter members who attended that event then brought the chant back to OU, where they incorporated it into their pledging process, Boren said.

The OU president also read out a letter he sent to the national SAE organization seeking information as to whether the fraternity has looked into how widespread the chant was among its various local chapters.

“While there is no indication that the chant was part of the formal teaching of the national organization, it does appear that the chant was widely known and informally shared amongst members on the leadership cruise,” Boren wrote in the letter.

Could anyone possibly be shocked by this? I don’t think all fraternities and sororities are like this. One of my best friends is a national leader with a sorority and there’s no way this kind of thing would be tolerated for a second. But a whole lot of them are little more than cabals of rich white kids making connections that ensure that rich white kids continue to enjoy all their privileges in their generation. Racism of this type is the rule, not the exception (and there are exceptions).

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  • fleetfootphilo

    I guess I can’t wrap my head around a context where learning such a chant – at a ‘leadership cruise’ no less – would be an acceptable thing to do.

    “Psst, hey guys. Over here. Have I got a chant for you!”

    Where there no non-white folks on the cruise, and if so, did they have to whisper the chants lest the rest of the passengers hear them?

  • matty1

    I’m guessing the cruise was an invite only thing so they knew there were no non-whites about and that it included social time when it would have been easy to say “hey do you guys know this chant?”

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Such a tragic missed opportunity. Next time that ∑AE does a national leadership cruise, let’s hope the crew gets it together to scuttle the ship and take all the lifeboats.

  • Erp

    Large enough group and they probably had private meeting/party rooms on the cruise.

    One need only look at the history of many of the traditionally white fraternities to know this is not surprising. SAE prides itself on its history (antebellum south with almost all of the early members serving in the Confederate army). Or the Lexington Triad fraternities: Alpha Tau Omega, Kappa Alpha Order, and Sigma Nu founded in the immediate post-Civil War South. Officially no non-whites, no non-Christians (and I’m not so sure how welcome Catholics were) well into the 1960s and 1970s (and this included many if not all the northern traditionally white fraternities also) and unofficially until this day for many of the chapters of some of the fraternities.

    This is also something that gets whitewashed in their histories. For instance Sigma Chi only has “1971 – The Grand Chapter marked the climax and resolution of nearly 15 years of internal strife in the Fraternity over the proposed initiation of members of minority groups. Grand Chapter delegates voted to remove restrictive passages in the Fraternity’s Governing Laws, validating the 1970 decision of the Executive Committee and granting active chapters increased autonomy in membership selection.” But no earlier mention on the main website of the fraternity of the suspension of chapters for admitting non-whites (on the other hand the chapter at one of my local universities is quite proud that it was among those suspended). Couldn’t find anything on the Kappa Alpha Order website about their history in regards to discrimination (not even in a timeline) though you can find it elsewhere.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Evolutionary psychology proponentists probably could explain the development of racist chants as an evolved behavior, not something learned at leadership meetings.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Personally, I blame the rappers for teaching them the “N” word.

  • dugglebogey

    I guess I understand your reluctance to blame all fraternities for the behavior of one bad one, because generalizations are unfair.

    But can you give me an example of something good fraternities do that would make me think that the bad things (which are proved to exist) are worth it?

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Evolutionary psychology proponentists probably could explain the development of racist chants as an evolved behavior, not something learned at leadership meetings.

    No they couldn’t and wouldn’t. They’re well aware of learning and situational factors in behavior. There are, however, cognitive heuristics and tendencies that are difficult to explain without also considering the possible net adpative advantages and role of selection.

    Evo psychologists would more likely discuss possible adaptivity and selection of widespread preference for clan, similarity and more immediate community over difference. That doesn’t imply immutability, irrelevance of social context, sitautional activation or moral approval.

    Trying to understand brain, mind/behavior without an adaptive framework is as ludicous as trying to understand biology without reference to adaptation and selection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    Here’s a historian pointing out the striking similarity between the Oklahoma frat chant and an equally racist chant performed at an anti-immigration rally at the University of Georgia in 1961: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158761. I don’t think it unlikely that these chants have a familial relation to each other (maybe a common ancestor).

  • Childermass

    It should be pointed out the UT at Austin SAE while denying it used the chant had been doing so. Someone posted the Texas version on Reddit a few weeks prior to the OU story breaking. The difference was instead of hanging them from a tree the lyrics went “Abe set them free.” New Evidence Suggests The SAE Racist Chant Is Not Just An OU Thing, Other Chapters Called Into Question. I don’t have time but to look for it at the moment but people also reported hearing it in Texas in the 1970s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    I meant to write “integration,” not “immigration.”

  • sugarfrosted

    @7 Networking, really. Social Fraternities, like SAE, tend to be mostly awful though and tend to be the ones you read about in stories like this. Academic ones (like for premed majors, mathematics majors, engineering majors, ect.) tend to be better, and are about making connections in the field. (Business frats are often an exception to the rule.)

  • sugarfrosted

    @7 Should also mention, nowadays most academically oriented frats are often not gender segregated, like that math one I mentioned.

  • StevoR

    Wherever they learnt it from none of them had the smarts or ethics or basic decency to refuse to sing it and point out to the others why it shouldn’t be sung /chanted.

    Don’t that say it all really?

  • abb3w

    Hah — Ingroup meme turns costly signal; film at 11.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Why does Ed think this frat was okay? Sure, they didn’t kill anyone, but I still think they are jerks!

  • doublereed

    Isn’t greek life on the decline anyway? It’s basically outdated and dwindling fast.

    I know some schools don’t even have greek life, but they might have other things like eating clubs.