University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter’s racially charged chant incident ignited interest in greek life diversity at Tennessee Tech.
On March 7, 2015, a video surfaced online showing members of the SAE chapter at OU chanting “There will never be a n—– in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.”
Days later, the fraternity’s chapter was suspended by the parent organization and OU requested the members move out of the house within two days.
Katie Williams, director of Greek Life at Tech, said this kind of activity has no place on Tech’s campus.
“Greek organizations and any organizations that are steeped in tradition and heritage, those things are great, but there’s no place for racism in those traditions,” Williams said. “I’ve spoken with the InterFraternity Council just to say ‘Examine your traditions and examine your chants, examine your songs … I don’t think that there is a problem, but it’s better to be proactive. That doesn’t have any place here in the fraternity system at Tennessee Tech.’”
Tech’s SAE chapter president Ryan Gibbons said the fraternity began reassessing their organization the day the incident made the news.
“I was contacted the day that they decided to suspend the Oklahoma chapter. They created a new position – Diversity and Inclusion Director – and every member will also have mandatory diversity training,” Gibbons said.
Despite being a predominantly white fraternity, Gibbons said Tech’s SAE chapter is diverse.
“I’d say we’re extremely diverse, not just in ethnicity but also in the origin of where everyone comes from … I’d say we’re one of the most diverse on campus,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons however did disagree with the expulsion of the OU students.
“I’ve never even heard of anything like that until that video was posted. I can’t ever see anything like the Oklahoma incident happening at Tennessee Tech,” said Gibbons.
Other fraternity members on Tech’s campus reacted to the Oklahoma situation as well.
“I heard about the chant, I’m still not sure what it was but from what it seemed like, it was something we would not accept,” said Austin Moore, member of the Pi Kappa Phi when asked about his thoughts regarding the chant.
When questioned about OU’s handling of SAE after the video was released, Pi Kappa Phi member Zach Gulledge said, “I think a lot of it was the university trying to save its own image.
“It seemed like they reacted extremely fast. So from the outside looking in, it looks like there was not really an investigation, they were just immediately kicked out of campus and the university will look at it later,” Gulledge finished.
The members of the fraternity defended their own diversity given Tech’s racial makeup.
“Considering the density and the overall demographics of this University, I would consider this chapter to be very open-minded and diverse with its numbers,” Moore said.
Phi Delta Theta president Alex Martin said the SAE chapter at OU made not just their own fraternity look bad, but also all of greek life.
“It was definitely irresponsible and it’s very unfortunate how one part of their chapter can bring shame on not just their entire chapter but on the entire greek world,” Martin said.
Martin said it’s not just greek organizations that may act the way SAE did but that some people just don’t hold themselves to the same standard as the organization to which they belong.
Despite having one Japanese pledge and other members of Asian ethnicity, according to Martin, PhiDelt does not currently have any black members but has in the past.
“That’s not a chapter or cultural thing, there’s only 25 of us,” Martin said.
Martin defended the SAE members’ right to free speech and said they shouldn’t have been expelled, but he did not support what the OU students said.
“If those were everyday students and they hadn’t been part of a greek life organization, I’m very interested to see if they would’ve been expelled. We all know those aren’t the only kids who are saying racial slurs or anything like that and more likely than not, they’re not the only ones who’ve been recorded saying it,” said Martin. “To me I think it’s a huge violation of the first amendment.”
Vice President of Tech Marc Burnett said Tech is making strides to become more racially diverse. He said the situation paints organizations with a broad brush, but efforts have been made at Tech to increase diversity.
Burnett said he sees more separation not in race, but in greeks and non-greeks and that “we can learn from each other.”
Tau Kappa Epsilon president Ethan Jones said race is not a factor for their organization.
“Here at Tech, compared to other campuses, I don’t feel like our chapters aren’t as segregated,” Jones said.
There are currently two black members of TKE and Jones said the fraternity has about 10 different races.
Dean of Students Mark Ochsenbein thinks the students at OU didn’t get due process.
"There is a fundamental freedom of speech. People are innocent until proven guilty,” Ochsenbein said.
Ochsenbein said that greek organizations could be a thing of the past if adjustments aren’t made to the current system.
“The greek system has to be careful. They will be a dinosaur if they don’t adjust with time,” said Ochsenbein. “I’m a believer in the greek system. I’ve got trust in our students. I don’t think there’s a group on campus that would exclude people based on race.”
Ochsenbein said that an incident like the one at OU could happen on Tech’s campus.
“Could it happen tomorrow? Yes it could. Would alcohol be involved? Of course it would be,” Ochsenbein said,
When asked if any chants or songs like the ones sung by the SAE members at OU existed on Tech’s campus, all members said they didn’t and that they had never heard of them before.
“No matter where you come from, if you look out at your friends, they are all different,” said Burnett. “You need to make sure you’re inviting, by doing that you tear down barriers. What’s so different? We’re much more alike than we are different.”