On this dayMar 14, 2015

Country's Largest Fraternity Under Scrutiny After Leak of Racist Video By Members

Image | Illustration by Slate, Photos by Thinkstock and Deutschlandreform, Creative Commons.

In early March 2015, a video was released to the public depicting members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) – the country's largest fraternity – chapter chanting a racist song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The song, with lyrics like, “You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me, there will never be a n*gger at SAE,” was deeply disturbing to many on campus, and the video soon spread throughout the nation.

On March 14, 2015, SAE announced that several members of their University of Oklahoma chapter would have their cases reviewed by a national SAE special commission empowered to impose appropriate penalties.

The University of Oklahoma suspended the students in the video, initiated an investigation, and shut down the campus’s SAE chapter and its housing. Two students were ultimately expelled and the university-owned housing was re-purposed as a campus community center  The national chapter of SAE responded to the video's initial release with a statement condemning the behavior and quickly attempted to frame the video as an isolated incident. However, later investigations revealed that at least five other fraternity chapters knew the racist chant depicted in the video, and reports acknowledged that the fraternity --  founded at the University of Alabama in 1856 --  "has a long history of its members exhibiting racist and discriminatory behavior." 

Despite the national SAE's announced plan to review and impose punishment, many saw this incident as a sobering reminder of the fraternity's segregated history, and an indication that it had done little to address and overcome its roots as an organization founded in the antebellum, slave-holding South.

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