This week, The University of Oklahoma has gone from being known as one of the most prestigious schools in the country to being unfairly characterized as a racist institution. The actions of the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity have deeply saddened me and the rest of the OU community, though I do not feel they represent the views of the entire OU Greek community and the University.
As an African American male in the OU Greek community, I was recently elected president of Phi Delta Theta, the highest leadership role in a chapter that is the fourth largest on campus and a regular contender for awards from our headquarters. In my experience, the majority of the OU Greek community is inclusive of all minorities, and it saddens me to see our Greek community being painted as “racist” according to the media and even fellow OU students. While I am in no way excusing the actions of the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, I think it is important that our local community and the rest of our nation do not let one small group overshadow the true nature of Greek life at OU. The actions of the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were rooted purely in ignorance and were those of incredibly immature “children” — but it is not representative of today’s richly diverse culture in our Greek community.
As a member of the African American student body, I am very disappointed with both the initial incident and many of the subsequent reactions of the media and the student body. I believe that the media has neglected to cover all aspects of the events these past few days. I agree with punishing the students responsible for the chant and hosting demonstrations to encourage equality, but I am also deeply troubled by the students who decide to vandalize the property of other Greek houses or members in retaliation. I have heard of tires being slashed on Greek affiliated cars and indiscriminate threats of violence being sent to Greek members, but these incidents fail to be included in news coverage. All of this is completely uncalled for. When students feel hurt, they should not turn around and do the same thing in response. I had hoped that everyone would have been mature and let the University handle the problem at hand. It is pure and simple, you cannot fight hate with hate.
My experience in the OU Greek community has been an incredible one. This community has helped make me into the person I am today. It has never been about color, creed, sexual preference, etc. This Greek community truly is a family, has welcomed me, and is one of the reasons I attend this university. Going through recruitment, I never once felt out of place — not even in my experiences with members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
In regards to inclusiveness within the OU Greek community, other multicultural fraternities and student groups are able to participate alongside the IFC and Panhellenic organizations in many University activities, including homecoming, intramurals, Sooner Scandals, etc., and I encourage them to do so. Being a person of color in a predominately white fraternity has helped me and my fellow brothers learn much from each other by sharing our different backgrounds with one another. But the divisive reactions from many different groups on campus to this current situation has left me feeling as if I am being torn between two major components that make me who I am.
People need to realize that this is not a “minorities” vs. the “Greeks” battle. This is not a choice between two competing cultures. We are one student body. The Greek and African American aspects of my life should not be difficult to balance. The outrage and shock at the actions of a few ignorant, small minded people is equally as great amongst the Greeks that I know and respect as well as among my African American brothers. The anger, however, needs to be directed at those few who should be held accountable for their own bad behavior and not at an entire class of people in one broad stroke.
It disappoints me when the good in Greek life does not make headlines and is overshadowed by this horrible story. For example, last week OU students (mainly Greeks) raised over half a million dollars at Soonerthon which is OU’s official philanthropy benefiting the local Children’s Hospital. That is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Yet today, all we are talking about is the narrow-minded, hateful views of a few individuals.
I do not believe that OU is racist, nor do I believe that racism is prevalent within the OU Greek community, but it will take time to remove this horrible stain that has been brought upon the University. I hope our nation realizes that OU is and always will be a university of acceptance and equal opportunity. You just have to take the time to focus on the right things.
Phi Delta Theta Chapter President
Oklahoma Alpha at the University of Oklahoma