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University of Oklahoma’s Powerful Response to Racism

The university stood together to oppose one fraternity’s gross display of bigotry

The video is as stomach-turning as it is short. Uploaded to YouTube by University of Oklahoma black student group Unheard OU, the 10-second long video shows a group of white, tuxedo-clad young men on a bus (and cheering, formally attired women) chanting a song about never letting blacks into their fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. As if this smug display didn’t already confirm every bad stereotype you’ve already heard about the greek system, the lyrics included the penultimate black slur as well as references to lynching.

Last night, Unheard, which formed to address issues of racism and equality on OU’s campus, tweeted the video to OU president David Boren with the message, “Racism is alive at the University of Oklahoma.”

That evening, SAE’s national president said via Twitter that the board had quickly decided to close the OU chapter immediately. By early Monday morning there were massive peaceful protests, attended by Boren as well as noted OU Sooners football coach Bob Stoops in solidarity with several members of his team, who stood in silent protest. Stoops told the Tulsa World, "It’s sad the ignorance that can still be there with some people. It’s just appalling … It’s just, you know, very little gets me choked up. But that hurt."

Later in the day, Boren was even more forceful, releasing a statement and speaking on campus during the protest. Boren said he was “sickened” after watching the video, and couldn’t sleep last night. He demanded that the “disgraceful” frat remove their personal belongings from the now-shuttered SAE house by midnight. Speaking at the university later, he hinted that expulsion would likely be explored as an option for the members and that “we don’t provide student services to bigots.” His full statement, which is both powerful and spare, is below.

It’s also worth noting that previous to this incident Boren was already in talks with Unheard OU. Earlier this year the group issued a 12-page letter of grievances against the University. The Washington Post reported that Boren said “Upon reflection, I found myself agreeing with them; let’s do it,” and that he planned to work on “95 percent” of the issues raised, which included black student retention and recruitment (only five percent of OU students are black) as well as the need for a more diverse faculty. Unheard’s leadership is reportedly optimistic about future communications and plans.

A day after the 50th anniversary of Selma, while shocking incidents of racism continue to occur across the nation, the swift, forceful action of Unheard OU and equally swift, supportive response by the University provide a model for activists and institutions alike.

Read Boren’s statement below:

To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

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. Those needing to make special arrangements for possessions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

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