The Way to Lead

Two students expelled at the University of Oklahoma for racist video

University of Oklahoma Expels Two Students Over Racist Video

Just one day after President Obama and 100 members of Congress gathered in Selma to honor the historic march and its brave civil rights leaders, a video surfaced showing fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist chant. The response from the university, the fraternity, and the broader community was swift and strong and, in the midst of a national discussion on race relations in our country, it shows both how far we have come and how far we still need to go in working to create a truly just nation.

The video was first posted Sunday by OU Unheard, a student group dedicated to fighting racism at the University. By Sunday night, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national chapter had suspended the University’s members and threatened lifelong suspension for those responsible for the chant. When it comes to race relations, Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a troubled history—their website touts their historic connection to the confederacy and other chapters have gotten in trouble for racism in the recent and not so recent past.

Today two students were expelled for their roles as leaders of the chant. University of Oklahoma President David Boren has been decisive, serving as an example to community leaders everywhere of how to respond to this type of prejudice. In a letter announcing the expulsions Boren said, “I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma. I hope that the entire nation will join us in having zero tolerance of such racism when it raises its ugly head in other situations across our country.”

Students and community members have joined together in condemning the brothers’ actions. University of Oklahoma football players and coaches skipped practice to join protesters who gathered on campus. Many of the demonstrators wore tape over their mouths with “unheard” written across it. OU’s response, led by President Boren, stands in stark contrast to a similar incident that occurred at UT Austin earlier this week. After a UT fraternity threw a racist themed party, UT’s official response was, “While the behavior doesn’t mirror UT core values, it’s within students’ right to freedom of speech at private off campus event.”

BOTTOM LINE: In his speech commemorating the anniversary of the historic voting rights march in Selma last weekend president Obama said, “We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America.” The decisive action by President Boren reminds us that while we may have far to go, we should not deny our progress.

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