By Candace Kellner
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has faced a firestorm of national attention after a video surfaced in which members from a chapter at the University of Oklahoma sang a racist chant on Saturday, March 7.
According to CNN, the involved students were suspended by SAE’s national chapter, but University of Oklahoma President David Boren was less tolerant. Boren decided to terminate the university’s affiliation with the fraternity altogether. While this news comes as a shock to the community, this is not the first time that SAE has been involved in controversy.
Five years before the American Civil War, SAE was founded at the University of Alabama, according to the fraternity’s website. The number of members drastically dropped when the war began, with 369 members who “went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army,” the website says.
Now, the fraternity is home to more than 200,000 living alumni and 15,000 undergraduates populating 219 chapters and 20 “colonies” seeking full membership at universities, according to CNN.
SAE national President Bradley Cohen wrote in a message on the fraternity’s website that after a sequence of member deaths — many blamed on hazing accidents — SAE has had to work hard to maintain its reputation. According to CNN, SAE’s website lists more than 130 chapters that were cited or suspended for “health and safety incidents” since 2010. These incidents consisted of at least 30 hazing cases and dozens of alcohol-related cases.
Some of the brothers of the now-disbanded University of Oklahoma SAE chapter have been receiving death threats, according to a lawyer for the chapter’s board. Attorney Stephen Jones told CNN that some members of this disbanded chapter of the fraternity have been physically assaulted.
In a news conference, Jones said he does not condone the racist video, saying that there was “no justification for what occurred. Zero.” However, he said he is involved to assist the board of trustees in “evaluating certain legal issues” and protecting the fraternity members rights to due process and the First Amendment.
According to CNN, the fraternity’s national office said that it is looking into the incident.
“We are committed to following the due diligence and protocols that we have set forth in our fraternity laws, as they are designed to enable us to make deliberate decisions that reflect our commitment to our standards and to our members,” the national office said in a statement.
The national office is also investigating incidents that involved other chapters of the fraternity.
“Several other incidents with chapters or members have been brought to the attention of the headquarters … and each of those instances will be investigated,” the national office said in a statement.