M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.
A member of the Oklahoma Legislature’s Black Caucus said Monday the group would contact University of Oklahoma President David Boren after a video surfaced Sunday evening that showed members of an OU fraternity chanting racist slogans during a bus ride.
State Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, said the students involved in the incident should be suspended.
“It’s one thing to try to take the brand of the fraternity off the campus. It’s another thing to expel those kids off the campus,” Shelton said.
On Sunday, a video was posted by the organization, Unheard, a black student organization. The video, which quickly spread across the Internet, reportedly showed members of OU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chanting racist slogans.
“It wasn’t SAE that created it (the chant) it was those young people who, clearly, have been taught wrong,” Shelton said.
Shortly after the video was posted Boren sent a message via Twitter that said racist behavior would not be tolerated at the university. Later, Boren issued a second statement that said the university would respond quickly to the incident.
“If the reports are true the chapter will no longer remain on campus,” Boren’s statement said. “This behavior is reprehensible and contrary to all of our values.”
The fraternity’s national president, Brad Cohen, said he was “not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism in the video.”
“SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior,” Cohen’s statement said. “When we learned about this incident, I called an immediate board meeting, and we determined with no mental reservation whatsoever that this chapter needed to be closed immediately. I am proud of my fellow board members because we mean what we say.”
Shelton said he wasn’t surprised that racist attitudes still exist in Oklahoma.
“This is an example,” Shelton said. “On a daily basis – depending on the shoes you wear – racism is a taught behavior and it continues to be taught to youth today.”
Late Monday afternoon, the full Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement condemning the incident.
“I am pleased with President Boren’s swift action to call for a complete investigation in response to this incident,” said Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, and chairwoman of the Black Caucus. “As an alumnus from the University of Oklahoma and as the state’s only female African American legislator, I am disheartened at the obvious lack of tolerance for diversity within these student fraternities. This is a prime example of how one incident can quickly become systemic and unravel years of hard work by many black and whites who foster diversity and tolerance.”
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said the fraternity’s action didn’t represent Oklahoma values.
“As the outrage among Oklahomans has demonstrated, we are a state that does not tolerate that kind of disrespectful behavior,” Fallin said in a media statement. “I appreciate President Boren as well as OU’s faculty, staff and students for quickly condemning these hurtful words and demonstrating the true nature of our Oklahoma community, which is diverse, compassionate and respectful.”
Shelton said Black students have been protesting for several months and talking about diversity among faculty and staff. “We want address full behavior,” he said. “We don’t our campus to breed the type of behavior you saw from SAE.”
This story was updated at 5:33 p.m. to include new comments from other lawmakers and Governor Mary Fallin.