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College fraternities and sororities are known for their rowdy behavior: stripping naked and running across campus in the dark, partying through the night, and even binge drinking. But does being outright racist cross the line? After the release of a video featuring the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma engaging in a racist chant, outrage from both the white and black community surfaced, leading to the question of how school administrators and students can prevent racism on college campuses.

The video, which is just short of ten seconds long, shows two fraternity brothers, Parker Rice and Levi Pettit, leading their bus of fellow members in a racist song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” In the song, Rice and Pettit called black people a racial slur, while threatening to hang them from a tree and vowing not to allow them into their fraternity.

The video was sent in by an anonymous source to the school’s black student alliance, Unheard, which later posted it to its Twitter and YouTube pages.

Soon afterwards, outrage proliferated throughout campus by both black and white students, catching the attention of the school’s president, David Boren, who promised severe consequences for Rice and Pettit, as well as the entire SAE chapter.

“To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you,” said Boren in a statement released on March 12th. “You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves Sooners (the school’s mascot).”

In addition to expelling Rice and Pettit from the school, Boren announced that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s University of Oklahoma chapter will be closed.

“Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow,” he said.

Although the incident was heavily reported and popularized, it is definitely not the first time college campuses experienced acts of racism. Thus it begs the question of what students and administrators can do about racism, something very prevalent yet complex.

Ending racism has as much to do with the structure of society as it does with the individuals themselves. Rice and Pettit had a choice not to sing those degrading words, but they still did because the structure of society influences them to do such thing. Although race relations have improved with time, we still live in a society where white supremacy infiltrates into the decisions that many people make.

“Well, I think it is significant to consider whether they’re pledged, whether they were told to sing this song, or whether this is something that they embraced,” says Rashid Campbell a senior at the university, explaining the nature of Price and Pettit’s behavior.

Thus, the President’s decision to expel the two individuals was not enough in solving the problem. Taking down the letters of the fraternity and telling Rice and Pettit to never return on campus again are like covering the mess with something superficial. Sure such decisions may help the issue in the short run, but in the long run, the issue of racism is far more complex and cannot be fixed with such simple solutions.

“We have mice. And we cannot exterminate this vermin that’s called racism by hiding it or by putting out one trap,” says Tracie Washington, CEO of the Louisiana Justice Institute.

In addition to closing SAE and expelling the two students, Boren should take a long, hard look at the way things are in society and in the school, and realize that it is not just SAE. Racism happens on all different levels in all sorts of shapes and forms. Boren needs not look further than in the fact that it manifested in the students when they actively chose to join along in Rice and Pettit’s song.

From there, Boren can see that the school needs major reforms when it comes to race relations, and the best way to achieve the reforms is through education. Hire a chief of diversity officer to teach the entire community about anti-racism. Establish more clubs and offices to break down invisible walls between the black and white students and faculty members. Create an open and safe dialogue about racism, why it occurs, and what the individuals think of it. Then, it is up to the students and the faculty members to use what they have learned and apply it in real life.

It may be idealistic, but if these efforts persist for several years, the school will see a much more happier student and faculty body.

 

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