Greek racial tensions in Oklahoma raise concerns

Roberto Hodge, Multicultural Editor

The Oklahoma Kappa chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has been closed permanently following a video surfacing online with members of the organization chanting racially harmful words; words informing others that African-Americans through the usage of a racially charged chant.

“There will never be a n****r SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.”

Following the video, both the president of the University of Oklahoma and the president of the national SAE headquarters have made quick responses to the issues both suspended the men of the chapter and closing it entirely.

However, what of the African-American members of traditionally white Greek organizations like SAE.

Erien Rounds, a sophomore kinesiology major, said he liked the friendly atmosphere of Sigma Chi, a predominantly white Greek organization, because of how eager the members were to meet and speak to him.

Rounds, who is African-American, said he feels some African-American fraternities don’t like it when other African-Americans join white Greek organizations.

When Rounds told his mother about joining Sigma Chi, he said her first reaction was utter confusion because she knew about the Divine Nine and not the white Greek organizations.

The Divine Nine or “D9” as many students refer to them as, are the nine predominantly African-American Greek-Lettered organizations. The five fraternities are: Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Iota Phi Theta; while the sororities are: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho.

“She asked me how many black kids were in my house,” Rounds said.

Rounds said he didn’t know much about Divine Nine, and wasn’t sure if they had a recruitment process, but even though he didn’t know much about the organizations he fully supports them and what they all stand for.

Much of the recruitment process for the Divine Nine is secretive because they have what is often called a “coming out” show or a probate, which is when members of the new line are publicly revealed to college campuses in an elaborate fashion.

These organizations also have a recruitment process called membership intake, which is when student go to these meetings dresses professionally, they learn the bare essentials of an organization and from then on they can decide if they want to continue the process of becoming a member.

“It’s not an Uncle Tom thing,” Rounds said.

An Uncle Tom is a derogatory term used by African-Americans to refer to other fellow blacks as someone that is a “sellout” of the black culture and embraces more ideals and notions of whites.

Some may believe people who are not African-American may not join black Greek-lettered organizations, which is entirely false. Both nationally and on Eastern’s campus there have been numerous accounts of white students, Latinos and even Asians joining these fraternities and sororities.

Rounds said he has seen a lot of diversity amongst members in Sigma Chi and there are four Asians and biracial individuals, 11 Latinos and nine African-Americans, according to the 2014 Greek demographic report by Eastern’s Planning and Institutional Research office.

Instances like SAE are not isolated. Numerous accounts of racist acts done by predominantly white Greek organizations nationally have been reported. Chi Omega at Penn State hosted a “Mexican themed” party wearing sombreros and ponchos holding cardboard signs that read “Will mow lawn for weed + beer,” SAE at Clemson University hosted a “Clemson Cripmas,” which was a reference to the Los Angeles based Crip gang according to the Identities.Mic website.

In fact, in the film “Dear White People” the satirical movie pokes at the issue of white students throwing Black-themed party making fun of African-Americans with harmful stereotypes such as gold mouth pieces, using blackface and sagging their pants. Though the film addresses the issue for a reason, the ending credits of the movie show actual photos from real colleges throwing these parties signifying it’s a deeper issue in America.

Alex Lima, an alumnus is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the black Greek fraternities—Lima is also a Latino.

Lima, who is half Mexican and Salvadorian, said he was drawn to the Alphas because they seemed to have more of a brotherhood are more than just a social organization.

Lima said there are stereotypes from movies and TV shows about Greek life showing them as more party related and usually those images surround white Greek organization. When he decided he wanted to be a part of the Alphas, he saw how they were more about community service than parties.

“It’s looked up to and looked at as more of an accomplishment,” Lima said because of the differences of the two.

Lima said those in black Greek plan out service events and volunteer options for the community, which does happen in white Greek organization, but not as common.

When Lima informed his family about his wishes to join the Alphas, they were not exactly sold on the fact, but not because it was predominantly African-American, because they felt college should be all about an education and Greek life would take away from that. He said because the organization was Greek, his parents did research regarding issues of hazing and were a little worried.

“I remember they called the adviser to make sure I was ok just to be safe,” Lima said.

Lima said they didn’t like the idea of him joining Greek and they still don’t to this day, but now it’s something they tolerate. He said once he told them they also have a GPA requirement, his family lightened up a little because education was always their number one priority for him.

Lima, who heard about the incident regarding SAE, said what happened with the chapter and it’s suspension and closing on campus was the right thing to do; however, as someone who is in Greek he understands how those who might have had nothing to do with the incident were unfairly punished.

The actions of one member in a Greek organization can reflect on all of the members, Lima said.

“When one chapter of a fraternity does something bad they all feel it as an organization,” Lima said, “They got what they deserved—they should have never done it.”

It was reported by CNN that David Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma, closed the chapter on the campus following the incident and said as long as he is president of that university that chapter will never open again, which is how the United States should handle racism—zero tolerance.

However, the thought of joining Greek for one student was an aspiration to pursue since childhood for Leah Davis.

Davis, a junior communications studies major, is biracial; her mother is white while her father is black and she is a member of Alpha Phi—a predominately white sorority.

Davis said because she is closer to her mother’s side of the family, she identifies more with culture surrounding whites; however, it is only out of coincidence due to her father’s half of the family living on the South Side of Chicago.

Joining Alpha Phi would not have happened if she identified more with the black side of her family, Davis said.

“The sorority culture I was family with is what lead me to this side,” Davis said.

Davis said her father is well aware that she is disconnected from her African-American side, but supports that she is in Greek life and that Davis is enjoying it.


 Roberto Hodge can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]