The University of Wisconsin-Madison has suspended the school’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) after a member complained to the university about a pattern of bigoted behavior.
In March, the student complained to Wisconsin’s committee on student affairs, alleging that fellow SAEs had pulled his hair and called him a racial slur. He also said that the behavior represented a pattern of racial, anti-gay and anti-Semitic behavior within the fraternity over the past year. The Washington Post reports:
The first was at a Halloween party in 2014, when, the student, said a fraternity member called him a racial slur and choked him for about five seconds until other members stepped in. Fraternity leaders said that they did not know there was a racial element but that the student, who has since graduated, was disciplined by the chapter.
In March 2015, a brother ran down the street yelling racial slurs; that member was suspended from the fraternity, but according to the student, he continued to socialize in the fraternity house. The student who brought the complaints to the university said that, even after the incident, he witnessed members continually use racially charged language, as well as anti-Semitic language. He also said that brothers routinely ignored his objections to their behavior. The student also said that one member sang songs with a racial slur (that member denied that he had done so).
In December of 2015, the Wisconsin chapter was required to undergo training as part of SAE’s “national initiative to eliminate racist acts.” That year, the University of Oklahoma’s SAE chapter garnered national notoriety after a video of them joyfully singing “There will never be a nigger in SAE,” went viral. After the video circulated, it became apparent that the problem wasn’t limited to a single chapter; Oklahoma SAE’s learned the song at a “national leadership cruise,” some four years prior. In a 2015 piece here at Jezebel, Kate Dries noted that SAE has a long and troubled history with racism.
The Oklahoma incident was noted by Wisconsin’s university chancellor, Rebecca Blank, in a letter to SAE Executive Director Blaine Ayers:
I am deeply disappointed in the chapter’s failure to address persistent reports of discriminatory behavior, as well as the national body’s inability to address discrimination within its chapters.
I understand that your organization attempted to address these issues across all chapters in the wake of the Oklahoma incident, but clearly incidents such as these persist within SAE. It suggests that your efforts to address an intolerant and discriminatory culture have not been effective. The conduct in this situation must not be repeated.
In his response, Ayers said that the national SAE was investigating, adding that Wisconsin’s SAE’s do not represent the values of the national chapter. He took issue, however, with Wisconsin’s assessment of the fraternity:
We disagree with the university president’s observation that Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization has an inability to address discrimination in our chapters. In fact, the fraternity has enacted a large number of initiatives in the past year to combat intolerance, discrimination or morally unacceptable behavior.
In July, the national organization hired a director of diversity in an attempt to do something; what that something is, however, seems to be anyone’s guess. The full statements from both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are available here.
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