Following in the footsteps of other Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters nationwide, Yale SAE denounced the actions of fellow fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma.
On March 8, a video surfaced online of SAE members at Oklahoma singing along to a racist chant on a bus that took them to a formal event. Since then, allegations of racism have been brought forth against SAE chapters at the University of Washington, Louisiana Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin, prompting nationwide discussions about the fraternity’s overall culture. In response, chapters at other universities including Vanderbilt, the University of Richmond and the University of Minnesota have acted to distance themselves from allegations of racism leveled toward the fraternity’s national structure.
Members of Yale’s SAE chapter also quickly condemned the events at Oklahoma.
“Like many others, we … were shocked and disgusted by the racist chants made by members of Oklahoma University SAE,” Yale’s chapter said in a statement. “Though we may share the same name, we certainly do not share their morals. Our chapter is a diverse organization with members from all different backgrounds, and there is absolutely no tolerance for racism or bigotry.”
The national SAE organization reacted to news of the bus video within hours by closing the Oklahoma chapter. The national chapter also announced a host of measures, including a mandatory diversity education program for all members, the establishment of a hotline to report offensive behavior, the appointment of a national committee on diversity and inclusion and a new director of diversity and inclusion.
According to the national SAE office, this new post is the first such executive-level position at any major North American Greek organization. Last year, the fraternity created a separate hotline to report hazing amid concerns raised at several universities.
“We intend to root out and eliminate this sort of reprehensible behavior from our organization,” SAE Executive Director Blaine Ayers said in a press conference last week. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon intends to be a leader among fraternities when it comes to ensuring our members are upholding our values, mission and creed.”
According to a statement on SAE’s website, the fraternity has initiated a review of all of its 237 chapters to determine if any are engaging in behavior like that caught on film at Oklahoma. However, Patrick McGee, former president of SAE at Vanderbilt, said he was not aware of any impending review and that the national organization contacted them just to offer assistance with communicating with the media.
Yale SAE declined to specify whether they had been contacted by the national organization about a review.
Alpha Delta Phi President Connor Durkin ’16 said that while he hoped SAE’s measures would be effective at combating racism, he doubted that a review of every chapter would be feasible.
“Short of planting someone from nationals to sit in that room and listen to see if people are saying racist things, I don’t know how they would do that,” he said. “I think it’s a great piece of publicity, but most people don’t document their racism and leave that open to be investigated.”
McGee echoed Durkin’s concern, saying that he did not know what such a review would look like from a practical standpoint.
Edwin Prince ’18, a member of the Yale Black Men’s Union, said that though SAE’s most recent initiative will not solve the problem of racism, it will create more awareness that the issue needs to be confronted.
Despite Durkin’s support for the diversity education course, he said his fraternity has not had any issues that would prompt them to institute a similar measure. He added that the only real way to combat racism at a fraternity is through leadership from within the chapter, since individual chapters are so independent and vary from school to school.
“Fraternities do what they want, no matter what nationals tell them,” he said. “Nationals can revoke their charter, universities can kick them off, but for most fraternities, nationals don’t have any administrative power beyond that. They have no idea what goes on at the actual fraternity houses.”
A Yale fraternity president, who asked not to be identified due to chapter policy on commenting on other fraternities, said the allegations against SAE reveal problems only at the individual chapters in question and that he would be surprised to find out that racism was a part of the culture at a national level.
Three other Yale fraternity presidents did not respond to requests for comment, and one more declined to comment.
McGee agreed with Durkin that SAE chapters are very different at every school, but added that the problem of racism is not unique to SAE or even Greek life.
“It’s not just an SAE problem,” he said. “It’s an American problem. [Racism] is a problem that is pervasive in our society.”
SAE was founded in 1856 at the University of Alabama.