I’ve heard it and I’ve had it. I’ve heard the OU SAE story all week and I’ve had it up the “here” with it. As an OU grad and the mom of a current OU student, yes I’m biased but I’m also sad and embarrassed. What I am not is unapologetic or insensitive. Both my daughter and me are or were part of the OU Greek system so this story hit especially close to home. It mortified me. It angered me. At the risk of sounding self-important, here are my thoughts on the whole issue:
Did OU President David Boren do the right thing by closing the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house and expelling students known to be involved? Yes. Did President Boren somewhat over-react? Yes. Once the video went viral Sunday night, Boren was looking head on at a rock and a hard place. Report the “formation of a committee to oversee the issue” and OU just may have gone up in flames. I applaud him for acting swiftly and decisively. I also feel his decision was somewhat unfair to the SAE members now left homeless but who had nothing to do with the sickening video. I have dear friends whose family members are both current and former members of SAE and they are anything but racist, prejudice, or evil. Still, they suffer. But, those boys on the bus learned the song from somewhere right? I also know that SAE had “strikes” against it already at OU and that perhaps this embarrassing episode was simply the last straw for the uber-popular OU frat.
Seeing the video for the first time via a text Sunday evening made me sick to my stomach. I also immediately said “this will be on the nightly news by tomorrow.” There are just some things today’s society does not and will not tolerate: berating or insulting African-Americans, gays, and Muslims. Sadly, had the frat boys sang “there will never be a Catholic SAE,” the video would have remained on the implicated girl’s phone and the world would have never seen it. Adding fuel to this viral fire is that people just love to hate on Greeks. Kinda like the Texas A&M Aggie subculture, if you’re not in it you don’t get it and if you are in it you can’t explain it. If you have tried and true distain for anyone with letters on their shirts or a Greek affiliation in their past, you are displaying a level of prejudice yourself. To say you hate them is saying you hate me. And my daughter.
Don’t get me wrong, I know what those SAEs did was wrong on so many levels, but I also feel somewhat bad for the two expelled students. One minute you’re living the college life and the next minute you’re back home with mom and dad with no place to go and your entire beloved university livid with you. What they sang was horrific, but did doing so merit their entire lives being ruined? Did anyone die? Were any laws broken? Will they ever be able to attend another university? Is it right that they have been forced to leave their family homes due to violent death threats? Do two wrongs make a right?
I’ve been reading a lot about this all week, but my favorite was a blog by SMU Professor Maria Dixon who wrote that perhaps a better and more beneficial punishment would have been to make all SAEs sing their dreadful song in front of their beloved black cook and then let him tell them how it makes him feel. Bingo. Perhaps the two “ring leaders” should have been required to stand in front of their adored football and basketball teams and apologize. Ouch. Then, shut down the fraternity but send fraternity members back to class and back to life. Punish them but teach them. Inform them and show them. Make them think but make them feel.
Dixon also talks about the fact that many young men and women arrive at universities across America having never really associated with anyone except people just like them. They live in suburbia, are put in private schools rather than neighborhood public schools, then are dropped off at much more diverse college campuses and expected to “get it.” Yes my daughter is in a sorority and grew up in the suburbs but she also went to public schools and has seen her share of diversity and culture.
Another issue that needs to be addressed and that the “OU SAE” deal has brought to light is that kids today are “okay” with words and language that previous generations would never have approved of much less so pervasively permitted. We have become desensitized to everything from the “f-bomb” to racial slang and no one seems to care. How is it fair for Gen-Xers and Millenials to listen to music that repeatedly employs the “n” word but then be reprimanded when they use it…unless of course they’re black…which makes it all the more confusing and somewhat hypocritical? If the “n” word is such a horrible word, and I firmly believe it is, why isn’t it totally and completely banned from society, including in rap music and in movies? I’m as offended to listen to Lil Wayne say it as I was hearing an SAE say it. Why was it okay for OU football player Eric Striker to use profanity and insult white frat boys and sorority girls in his reactive Snapchat video? Do we all want to make it acceptable to be punished for not only what we do but what we say? Hold on tight, I feel a slippery slope coming.
Am I justifying the busload of SAEs? A strong and emphatic no! What they did was deplorable and deserves consequences that equally discipline them and wake everyone and anyone up who associates with them and that kind of behavior, my daughter included. What I don’t justify is that OU is now associated with being racist. The University of Oklahoma did not sing and post a racial slur, a small group of students did. Let’s get that straight. OU severely punished them so perhaps the university should be applauded rather than condemned. The so-called “four star” football recruit that reportedly changed his signing allegiance upon seeing the video? I call B.S. He’d been talking about doing so for weeks.
I arrived on the OU campus a naive Hispanic woman from New Mexico who know nothing about sororities and fraternities but quickly and fairly found a home in one. Never, ever did I hear or was subjected to any racial taunts or actions. Is the Greek system segregated? Yes, but there are many houses that aren’t. There are also several exclusively black fraternities and sororities. Whether they have any white members I don’t know. Everyone everywhere has their “groups.” There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when any one of them becomes bigoted or profoundly immoral. Are those young SAEs bigots? I’m not so sure. Is Al Sharpton? Probably so.
Oklahomans have been dealt many historic blows. They are not haters and they are truly nice and genuine people. I’m generalizing and making this claim based only on those I know and am well aware that all Okies aren’t good just like all SAEs aren’t bad. Still, protestors are continuing to march at OU, spray paint private property, and harass those involved. I’m not sure what they want though. Those involved have been punished and we’ve all felt the pain of the shocking and depressing events. Wrong is wrong and what’s done is done. Let’s pause but let’s also move on.
One of the first things I asked my daughter was “what would you have done if you were on that bus?” As we discussed things, I also told her that perhaps the biggest lesson learned from this whole debacle is not that “racism is still alive” like many have claimed but the lessons learned regarding social media. If you don’t want it on CNN or Fox News tomorrow, don’t say it or do it tonight. The fact that it was downloaded and uploaded ad nauseam shouldn’t be what troubles us though. What’s most troubling to me is that it was considered fun and okay by so many on that bus to sing and clap along. My hope is that they are feeling true remorse and to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, and not just Greek ones.