By Ari Schnitzer | Copy Editor
Many people by now are well aware by now of the situation at the University of Oklahoma involving one of their fraternities.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, more commonly referred to as SAE, is a fraternity founded in Illinois but is also one with great influence among Southern universities. The fraternity at OU has recently come under fire because many of the frat members were recorded singing a racist chant on one of their buses.
The two students leading the chant – Levi Pettit and Parker Rice from Dallas – were expelled from the university.
A few things need to be understood about this incident. First, the chant was racist. The lyrics of the chant don’t need to be repeated, but the chant included frequent use of an offensive racial slur and an equally offensive slavery reference. If the fraternity brothers sang this in public, one would fully expect the same kind of outrage the video has drawn.
Any argument over the students’ punishment can’t be over whether or not the chant was racist, because it was as racist as a chant of that length could be, regardless of the fact that it was sung to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It.
However, there is more to this story. The song that the frat members on their bus was indeed racist, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the punishment for the two students was excessive. They were expelled permanently from the university.
People are naive if they truly believe that this occurrence of racism is a rare and isolated incident. What was so bad about it was the fact that they were recorded and caught performing a racist act.
Were they out in the dorms singing this chant? Were they running through the campus streets singing this chant? No. They were in the privacy of their own bus, with the key word there being “privacy.”
This story draws some parallels to the removal of ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the NBA. Nobody denied that he was a racist who said some very offensive things. But he spoke in the privacy of his own home and had no idea he was being recorded, and because of this his lawyers drew into question the violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.
The same can be done for Levi Pettit and Parker Rice.
For all we know, they’re not racists at all. They could very well be good kids who were surrounded by a negative culture. Both of the students admitted that they were taught the chant. At no point, though, does anybody want to focus on the degree of punishment dealt out to these kids whose right to free speech was utterly ignored.
No one is saying the kids deserve no punishment. But to be kicked out altogether from the university is too much. The University of Oklahoma should have recognized that these students’ constitutional rights were ignored and then balanced that fact with their participation in the singing of the racist chant.
The resulting punishment should have included a formal apology (which was given anyway) and no more than a month’s worth of academic suspension, along with some possible community service or something of the sort.
Fraternities are entitled to be as selective with their members as they please, just like country clubs are. Racism should not be condoned in society, but a fraternity is not something that racism can be feasibly removed from.
As long as that is clear, the students should serve their punishment and return to school after it has ended. Universities can try to limit the offensiveness of some fraternities’ racism, but that’s as far as they can go in terms of eradicating racism in frats and other private organizations.