NORMAN, Okla. — The national office of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity changed its tune.
Just two weeks ago, the national office condemned a racist chant that resulted in the shutdown of the University of Oklahoma SAE chapter, saying, “The national fraternity does not teach such a racist, hateful chant, and this chant is not part of any education or training.” The fraternity brothers probably “learned the song from fellow chapter members,” SAE said.
But in a Friday statement, the SAE national office said otherwise.
The OU chapter, SAE said, “likely learned a racist chant while attending a national leadership school about four years ago.”
The fraternity invites hundreds of leaders to a six-day conference every year, SAE said.
“While attendees have little social time, there are occasions when participants can gather socially,” the statement said. “[Executive Director Blaine] Ayers said it is likely that during one of these social gatherings, some members shared the racist song that was recorded on video at the University of Oklahoma and shared through social media earlier this month.”
Ayers said the organization has no evidence the chant is widespread across the fraternity’s 237 groups.
“Our investigation to date shows no evidence the song was widely shared across the broader organization,” Ayers said. “The song is horrific and does not at all reflect our values as an organization.”
But OU President David Boren, in revealing details of the university investigation on Friday, said the chant was an integral part of life in the local chapter.
“Over time the chant was formalized in the local SAE chapter and was taught to pledges as part of the formal and informal leadership process,” he said. “It is clear that during the four years since the chant was brought to the university campus, its existence was known by recent members and … it became part of the institutionalized culture of the chapter.”
Boren said “alcohol was readily available at the fraternity house” on March 7 and some chapter members were drinking. He also said about a dozen high school students had been invited to the event and “were exposed to the chant.”
The chant was discovered by the school newspaper and a student organization, which received the video clip via anonymous messages.
The video shows party-bound students on a bus clapping, pumping their fists and laughing as they chant, “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** SAE.”
The university cut ties with Sigma Alpha Epsilon after the video surfaced, as did the national fraternity, and both launched investigations. The university has disciplined fraternity members with punishment ranging from permanent withdrawals to sensitivity training. Fraternity officers have issued apologies.
SAE issued questions-and-answers about the controversy, noting the fraternity plans to hire a director of diversity and inclusion. About 20 percent of SAE members self-identify as a minority or non-Caucasian, SAE said.