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Why The Oklahoma SAE Students Should Not Be Expelled For Racist Chant Video

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This Op-ed was written exclusively for WatchTheYard.com by Abdul M. Omari who is a Regent at the University of Minnesota, 2006 Mu Chapter initiate of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founder/CEO of AMO Enterprise, and doctoral candidate in comparative and international development education at the University of Minnesota. These are personal opinions and not those of the University of Minnesota.

At approximately 10:02pm on March 8, 2015 (the 50 year mark of Bloody Sunday) I was alerted via Instagram that a video had leaked showing alleged members University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity performing a sickening racist chant. I had just finished watching the famous ESPN 30 for 30 “The Fab Five.” If you’ve seen this specific 30 for 30 then you know that in the early 1990s five African American men showed up on the University of Michigan campus and quickly became internationally famed basketball stars. Unfortunately, with that fame also came a tremendous amount of hate and bigotry because of their non-conforming approach to the sport and society at-large. As I watched this documentary, for the second time, I channeled my inner 6-7 year old self and was almost brought to tears of sadness knowing that early in my life the world remained so full of hate and filled with a lack of understanding. Today, on the brink of turning 30, I unfortunately, was not surprised by the video portraying young men and women use hateful and hurtful language with such conviction and joy.

As the seventh Black Regent at the University of Minnesota, a soon-to-be three-time alum, and proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, I urge people to use this as an opportunity for growth. No doubt, there is justified emotion in the form of anger and sadness. However, this should not be a debate about Predominantly White Institutions versus Historically Black Colleges and Universities or African American and Multi-Cultural fraternities versus White fraternities. This is an issue for all of US. The harsh reality is that this not an isolated incident. This is not an “OU problem” or an “SAE problem”. This happens all around our country and these are thoughts that people carry with them; either locked away deep inside or expressed overtly, as in the video we have seen.

I will admit that I am torn. While I am appreciative of the swift response by the OU president, I do not think these individuals should be expelled from their university as many online have suggested. I do, however, believe they should be expelled from their fraternity, if, in fact, SAE is going to live out its values that contradict those expressed in this video. At a public institution, they have the right to their beliefs and their thoughts. If we cannot express ourselves at a public institute of higher education then where can we?

My hope is that those in the video are mature enough to be educated about their bigotry, which could lead to a change in attitude. My hope is that they will be open to seeing the role that the media, television, and social constructions have played in their attitudes towards people of varying backgrounds. My hope is that they will join the movement to make this country and our world an inclusive one. My hope is that they will recognize the unearned privileges they have been and are afforded. My hope is that they understand the sheer audacity required to maintain such thoughts and lack of critical thinking they exude. My hope is that they, along with all of us, will be able to unpack our own biases and experiences that lead to our views of the world. My hope is that eventually they will join this exhausting work that must be done by us all.

As I return to working on my own research I recognize that this op-ed only begins to capture the nuances and complexities of this issue. However, I felt obligated to make an attempt at beginning a conversation with humanity at the forefront. Let us have a conversation of productivity rather than cyclical discussions that lead to no end.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Saphyre Willis

    March 9, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I find it amazingly refreshing to hear someone’s opinion being to solve the actual problem then to just punish. Nothing is being taught to prevent these beliefs, but reinforced with stereotypes that the media pushes rather then the advancements and overall strides that minorities accomplish. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it breeds and teaches more ignorance. I am black and I go to a university in Oklahoma, so it hits home. I was sad to hear and see their level of comfort with their racism, and that they even bonded with eachother with chants on the topic, but by kicking them out they don’t learn anything. No minds were changed. They just keep their feelings of hate bottled inside, and, after being punished for their personal beliefs, could more then likely harbor a bigger hatred as a result. Punishment feels good as a type of revenge, but there is no justice in that.
    ~Saphyre

  2. Jennifer (Hudsonville)

    March 9, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    First of all, thank you Mr. Omari for giving your thoughts in such a positive and constructive manner. Your show of grace and calm to this cruel, dark, and ugly video is something we all can learn from. We lived in several places throughout my childhood, Oklahoma being one of them. Regardless of where we were, racism was present and oftentimes encouraged. I was fortunate enough to have been raised by parents who believed in equality, regardless of race or gender. My teenage daughter came home not long ago wanting to talk to me about something she’d heard at school. She proceeded to tell me she didn’t know what the word meant, but it made her “feel bad.” She’d heard some students at school using the n-word. While I’m very aware of and have witnessed racist behavior throughout my life, it broke my heart when she told me what she’d heard. Initially, I was incredibly angry someone had introduced her to this ugliness and saw it as a loss of innocence. However, after we talked about what it meant, ways it’s used and how hurtful it is to others; I was actually grateful for the discussion. It provided an opportunity for us to discuss values, why they’re an important part of who we are, and how we can educate others in a kind and respectful manner. She was saddened by our conversation as she saw these kids as her friends and was disappointed in their behavior. Yes, she did lose some of her innocence that day, but hopefully she won’t show acceptance by remaining silent the next time she hears it. Fighting racism, to me is accepting differences. I tell my daughter it’s her uniqueness I love most about her. It’s what sets her apart, makes her special. I think encouraging, not condemning, diversity is a great way to fight racism at it’s core. Celebrate each other’s differences!! I hope this post is taken as intended, while it may be a small part, there are people who are doing what they can to end this hurtful behavior…..

  3. MCW

    March 10, 2015 at 10:57 am

    After learning about the Oklahoma incident, I examined the SAE member (TGE) education guide and related training materials athttp://thetgi.sae.net/visitor. Unless I am missing something, there appears to be a perfunctory treatment of diversity as a compelling campus and off-campus topic. And I did a lengthy search. While references to diversity training appear in the education guide, there is no substantive commentary about its importance. And while there is a recommendation that an “etiquette speaker” address a chapter, there is not similar recommendation for a “diversity speaker.”

    While I agree that the suspension of the Oklahoma chapter was necessary and appropriate, it seems to be another startling example of the SAE national office’s approach: “Close the barn door after the horses have already left.” SAE’s National Office l(and its affiliates) leadership appears to have one goal for its so-called stewardship of the SAE fraternity: to maintain a clubby, well-paid existence for its administrators.The National Office appears to have fallen victim to the great plague of institutional existence. It exists only to serve itself. Case in point: The Founders Day message from Mr. Cohen includes no reference to the Oklahoma incident. Embarrassing.

  4. Brandon Payne

    March 11, 2015 at 7:00 am

    I support the efforts of human beings being pushed to be human beings. This is not about one side versus any other side, but merely a problem we must all pitch in a hand to overcome. Sad to say, it is not those guys fault that they were raised with a feeling of joy by hating another race. It’s something that they must open their eyes to and realize is wrong. It is our job as human beings to help them, even if through punishment. THE GOAL IS TO IMPROVE THEIR MINDS.

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