The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon video is all over CNN and my timeline on Facebook and Twitter. I have never seen a university react so quickly to anything. Universities are bureaucratic mines where ideas rarely lead to action with any sort of speed. However, I question whether they acted too quickly.
The fraternity members were absolutely wrong and should be ashamed for their words and actions, but hate speech is protected under the first amendment. The psychological damage of hearing the n-word is very real, but does completely suspending the fraternity set a bad precedent for universities being able to suspend students who say something they don’t agree with? There are deep-rooted institutional injustices that students of color face at predominantly white institutions everyday, and many of them chant in protest. Are they now subject to suspension if the administration does not agree? The fraternity has been suspended from campus for at least four years and fraternity members have been kicked off of the football team. This is serious.
I appreciate the message of an intolerance of bigotry that the University of Oklahoma president and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are trying to send by acting in this way, but I’m not sure these actions will yield the results they want. The 2014 movie Dear White People put incidents just like this one on the silver screen to show us who we are and how we react in the face of difference. It also showed us that the change in campus culture has to be within the student body, not the administration. This is not the first time that SAE chanted the n-word on the bus, and they are not the only Greek organization doing it. However, silencing the racists by taking away their frat house does not solve the problem. And condemning teenagers who want to be everything except different does not solve anything either. To what extent do you create a safer campus environment for some students, while silencing another group?
This is a many layered complex issue, and I certainly don’t have the answer to solve the problem. I just returned from Selma, Alabama where I participated in the activities commemorating the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and incidents like this are just another reminder that we have so much work to do. But, I believe we can all start with love. Love is patient and kind. You can never lose anything from showing love.
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Happy that you were in Selma this weekend, and that you understand the depth of the struggle. And I understand that you may be worried about backlash from the college’s actions. But someone needs to start to model once again that hate is unacceptable. I was an adult already 50 years ago, although i wasn’t there, and I know how far we have come. I also know that we have been backsliding in our country – In just the past few years, since we we elected a black President, it has somehow become acceptable again to be a bigot – it started as a political tactic from the opposition party to try to drive down the President’s popularity. People are suddenly proud of their bigotry instead of knowing it is shameful. It sorrows me greatly. I know it sorrows you too.
Hateful speech is protected from government intervention – by and large, although protestors might say that is not always the case – but it is not protected from other consequences. Like losing your fraternity. To me, I say thank God the University president had the courage to let students know that, at least on this campus, hate is once again unacceptable. His action is also a nonviolent protest.