In the wake of SAE incident, a measured approach towards college fraternities
Courtesy of Mark Satter

In the wake of SAE incident, a measured approach towards college fraternities

Compiled by the Retriever Weekly Senior Staff

Demand better from chapters engaged in wrongdoing, but don’t group all fraternities together

   Last weekend, The national fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) found itself at the center of controversy concerning misconduct by some of its members. A video capturing some of its members making racist chants has revived debates about the culture of college fraternities across the country.

A video surfaced on Youtube and Twitter depicting members of SAE’s University of Oklahoma chapter chanting racial slurs against African Americans. The young men in the video chant “There will never be a n***** in SAE, You can hang ‘em from a tree but they’ll never sign with me, There will never be a n***** in SAE.”

Their actions have provoked condemnation from various parties. Brad Cohen, the organization’s national president, asserted that “ “I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism in the video.” David Boren the University of Oklahoma’s president, called the video’s contents “reprehensible and contrary to all of our values.”

Outcry over the incident has progressed to constructive action as well. Students at the University of Oklahoma have protested on campus in the days following the video’s release. The university has expelled two students found to have led the chant in the video.

Unfortunately, fraternities have been involved in reprehensible misconduct before. At times, this has involved racism and bigotry. In other cases, it has involved sexual assault or excessive hazing. In the eyes of some, these problems stem from faults within the overriding culture of fraternities themselves.

Yet it is important to note that not all Greek life organizations engage or tolerate such abhorrent actions. Nor can any one fraternity, SAE included, be broadly associated with hazing, racism, or sexual misconduct. To claim such would be unfair to individual fraternity chapters that instead demonstrate upstanding character.

Susan DuMont, who has worked as Coordinator of Student Life for UMBC’s Greek life, pointed to her own experiences working with UMBC chapters to support this point. She pointed to UMBC’s own SAE chapter as an example, saying that “the UMBC chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon certainly does not need to be taught not to use racially charged hate speech.”

DuMont also emphasized the importance of diversity in UMBC’s fraternities and sororities, saying that “Our Greek Community is almost exactly reflective of the diversity in the student body.”

Across college campuses, many fraternities have worked to address and prevent the sort of wrongdoing that has surrounded their counterparts. The University of Utah’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter recently met with Latino students to proactively discuss race and identity issues. At Dartmouth, fraternities have held campus forums to prevent campus sexual assault and have incorporated bystander intervention training into recruitment and rushing.

Other chapters have have gone beyond addressing on-campus issues and have expanded a constructive imprint in their communities. Many fraternities engage in service projects within their surrounding communities or focus their efforts to highlight ongoing social issues.

The solution to addressing misconduct among fraternities may not be to condemn or demand change from fraternities as whole. This unfairly groups all fraternities and their individual chapters together, regardless of their actual conduct. A more constructive strategy may be to demand greater accountability from chapters individually.

Campuses themselves may have a major role to play in this regard. As DuMont conceded, “the challenge is offering the education and intervention that each chapter needs and offices can only respond to what they know about.” Student bodies then could foster the overriding culture that demands accountability from its Greek life organizations on each campus.

 

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