Oklahoma fraternity closed after racist incident—but is it enough?

If you haven’t read about the truly upsetting, racist incident at a University of Oklahoma fraternity, you’re going to want to sit down for this. This weekend, an online video circulated that showed brothers from UO’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter singing and clapping along to a deeply troubling, awful racist chant. The Washington Post shared the video, if you have the stomach for it, but the short version are these lyrics: “There will never be a n—-r SAE.” And this one, which invokes the horrifying history of lynching African-Americans: “You can hang them from a tree.”

Response over the video was immediate: Students organized a prayer vigil in response to the abhorrent incident on Sunday evening and by Monday morning hundreds had gathered to protest the frat house—some with duct tape on their mouths reading “unheard”—and raise awareness about the culture of racism so endemic to the campus and country at large.

Students also left notes outside the Student Affairs office about how this incident has affected them and what action needs to be taken. According to the school paper, Oklahoma Daily, the notes including messages like, “Education is always the answer,” “Expel the perpetrators.” and simply, “I’m hurt.”

After concerns that the administration wasn’t doing enough to respond to the situation, President David Boren, who joined in the protests, issued a stern statement Monday morning making clear that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.

The announcement was encouraging but students still want to see more change. Clearly, there is a culture of racism on campus that has to be tamped out. (According to the school paper, the frat house has been vandalized with the words “Tear it down.”)

“It doesn’t stop at this protest,” one student told Oklahoma Daily. “I believe the university still needs to have a plan of action. This is not the first, and it’s not the last.”

“Many people don’t realize the underlying prejudices that do exist in our campus and this issue has opened the eyes of many students,” another student told USA Today. “Students should have to take some kind of diversity training…that makes them aware and responsible for being not only sensitive, but open to diversity.”

According to OU Unheard, the black alliance campus organization that led today’s protests, change is in the works. The organization just tweeted the following: “A new diversity position is being created in recruitment after conversations with OU Unheard.”

While it’s comforting to see the community come together in solidarity, it’s unbelievably upsetting that this intolerable racism is what sparked the movement. This past weekend, when the story broke, was the fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, historic civil protests that lead to the Voting Rights Act. As leaders gathered to celebrate the brave men and women who marched those decades ago, it was a time to reflect and consider how far we’ve come since the days of Jim Crow. And, as the frat brothers of OU’s SAE demonstrated, how deeply entrenched racism is in this country, and just how far we have to go.

(Images via Oklahoma Daily, Miami Herald)