Racist chant puts university’s progress in peril
NORMAN, Okla. — Almost a generation ago, the University of Oklahoma set out to raise its profile, seeking to build a regional school that served mostly students from the southwest United States into a leading institution that attracted top scholars.
President David Boren made striking progress, achieving a reputation that now extends well beyond the Sooners football team that once defined the campus. But those improvements seem in peril after members of a fraternity were caught on video making a racist chant that referenced lynching and indicated black students would never be admitted to OU’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator with 20 years at the helm of the state’s flagship university, acted swiftly. He immediately severed ties with the fraternity and ordered members to vacate their house. On Tuesday, he expelled the two students who appeared to be leading the chant for creating a hostile educational environment and promised others involved would face disciplinary action.
“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behaviour at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said.
But some students at OU, particularly African-Americans who make up about five per cent of the campus population, said racism is alive and well and that a mostly segregated fraternity and sorority system is at least partially to blame for creating an environment where racism can thrive.
“It’s too segregated,” said Markeshia Lyon, a junior from Oklahoma City who is black. “That’s something that’s passed down, and that’s something that needs to change.”
Bell said that some fraternities and sororities are more diverse than others, and Boren acknowledged at a news conference Monday that more needs to be done to attract minority students to the university and to the fraternity-sorority system.
Also, the enrolment of black students has declined over the years. Ten years ago, roughly six per cent of students at the Norman campus were black, according to university statistics. Last year, the figure hovered just above five per cent.