The Worst Kind of Brotherhood Fraternity’s chant shocks, but fits its history

By now, we’ve all heard of the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, infamous for a leaked video in which fraternity brothers can be heard chanting, “There will never be a n***er SAE. There will never be a n***er SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he will never sign with me. There will never be a n***er SAE.”

Because of the very digital age we live in, this type of behavior is being exposed more often than ever and on such a large scale that it simply can’t be ignored. This video may have come as a shock to some, but the truth is this behavior is not as uncommon as we think, and many of these traditions have been carried over from generation to generation. But is tradition really to blame?

MSNBC’s Morning Joe suggests that rap music and culture is the culprit. Appearing on the March 11 Morning Joe, conservative New York Times columnist Bill Kristol offered this analysis: “Popular culture becomes a cesspool, a lot of corporations profit off it, and then people are surprised when some drunk nineteen-year-old kids repeat what they’ve been hearing.” While popular rap music may have influence in other ways (greed, drug use, the objectification of women), I’d be shocked to find a popular rap song that glorifies the lynching of African Americans. I don’t think you can blame this one on rap, Bill. Rather, a more plausible cause can be found by taking a look at the fraternity’s history and foundation. Who set the ethical code this historic fraternity follows?

SAE was founded in 1856 at the University of Alabama by six upper-class white southerners, whose moral code was driven by their deep-south, pre-Civil War ideology, and SAE’s behaviors reflect remnants of that ideology. When JP Morgan and Chase took a good look at the fraternity’s background and reputation, they swiftly discontinued the management of SAE’s investment accounts. According to a SAE book of rituals from 1903, the membership for the fraternity is reserved for “members of the Caucasian race.” The organization has also had a history of deaths related to alcohol in recent years and has come under scrutiny in the past for their deadly hazing practices that were reportedly discontinued last year. Moreover, the chapter of the fraternity at the University of New Mexico has a history of sexual assault and rape and SAE chapters from all over the country appear on Gawker’s 2014 list of fraternity rapes.

Sadly, SAE’s racism is not unique in the Greek system. Although the University of Oklahoma has closed their chapter of SAE, it still hosts a very like-minded fraternity. The university’s chapter of Kappa Alpha describes themselves as “Southern gentleman,” dressing up in confederate uniforms and bowing down to their “spiritual leader,” Robert E. Lee. The racist activity goes on and on.

While in some cases Greek life can serve to benefit a young college student, many of the organizations’ ethical and moral codes are outdated or simply not enforced. Even fraternities like Phi Kappa Psi, whose creed insists all members should “be ever mindful that loyalty to my fraternity should not weaken loyalty to my college, but rather increase devotion to it, to my country, and to my God,” has seen its share of rape and hazing controversies. With these stories popping up all over the country more frequently, it is puzzling that these institutions still exist. No, racist ideology isn’t always a requirement for membership. Politico seems to think our younger generations are confused about racism and don’t recognize its presence in American society. In a house full of college students where the social pressure remains high even after clearing the exclusive hurdle of entrance, negative ideals can spread pretty quickly and have a huge influence over young men trying to impress their “brothers.”

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