Boren: SAE’s racist chant taught to OU members on national leadership cruise

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NORMAN, Okla. - For the second time in less than a month, OU President David Boren addressed the media on an event that garnered national attention.

Earlier this month, a video that was recorded on a bus to a fraternity party was uploaded to YouTube.

In the video, you can hear the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity cheering “there will never be a nig*** in SAE.”

The chant goes on to say, “you can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me.”

After the video went viral, a separate organization named Unheard confirmed that the men in the video were students at the University of Oklahoma.

As word of the video spread, several student organizations held peaceful protests in response to the racial remarks.

Boren said the best way to send a message to the campus and the nation is to impose a zero-tolerance policy against “racist and bigoted behavior.”

The SAE fraternity house was shut down immediately and two of the members, Levi Pettit and Parker Rice, were expelled from the university.

“We don’t have any room for racists and bigots at this university,” Boren said.

On Wednesday, Levi Pettit issued a statement about the remarks he made on the bus.

“Let me start by saying I’m sorry.  Deeply sorry.  I’m so sorry for all the pain that I’ve caused.  I want you all to know that directly from me,” he said. “There are no excuses for my behavior.  I never thought of myself as a racist.  I never considered it a possibility, but the bottom line is that the words that were said in that chant were mean, hurtful, and racist.”

At the news conference, Pettit would not speak about where he learned the chant, saying he was only there to apologize for his actions.

On Friday, President Boren released the findings on an investigation that delved into the chant.

Click here to read the full investigation.

He said the investigation revealed that the chant was taught to OU's members on a national leadership cruise sponsored by the national organization of Sigma Alpha Epsilon four years ago.

After that, the chant was brought back to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

Earlier this month, the Board of Trustees and Alumni of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter said the song has been going on for years.

Over time, officials say the chant was formalized in the OU chapter and was taught to pledges as part of the formal and informal pledgeship process.

In addition to learning the chant, investigators also learned that SAE members were drinking alcohol at the fraternity house prior to getting on the bus where the chant was sung.

Also, 12 high school students were present at the house and were exposed to the chant while on the bus.

"It is clear that during the four years since the chant was brought to the University campus, its' existence was known by recent members and that it became part of the institutionalized culture of the chapter," the investigate report read.

Boren also wrote a letter to Blaine Ayers, the executive director of the national SAE organization, informing him about the findings of OU's investigation.

"The matter cannot be closed in our view, however, until the culture at the national level has also been addressed," the letter read.

Boren asked if SAE is attempting to determine the extent to which the chant is being taught to other chapters and if any steps have been taken to remedy the situation.

“The recent actions of certain members at the University of Oklahoma do not reflect the fraternity I lead. The chant in the video is ugly, it is demoralizing and absolutely counter to the values of SAE. I want to be crystal clear.  We have a zero-tolerance for that sort of behavior,” said Blaine Ayers, executive director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said earlier this month at a press conference. “As a national organization, however, we must answer for the actions of those whom we have welcomed into our membership. And so today, I want to apologize on behalf of our fraternity for the pain the situation has caused. The words were offensive and harmful, and now we must begin the task of seeking forgiveness and taking steps to ensure that this never happens again.”

Boren said he met with former leaders of OU's SAE fraternity and members of OU's African-American community.

He says the fraternity issued apologies, which were accepted.

Boren said the university is now entering a phase of "rebuilding the strength of our community and moving forward."

In all, he says 25 students have been disciplined related to their actions in the video.

"The University has issued discipline to involved students ranging from permanent withdrawals, community service and mandated cultural sensitivity training. Officers of the fraternity have also personally met with representatives of affected student groups and apologized," the investigative report read.

"We pay a price, and then we move forward," he said.

Boren said this is not just a problem at the University of Oklahoma, but says it is a problem in America.

"We can stop it," he said. "That is not who we are as American people."

Boren said more people need to stand up for their beliefs and take a stance against racism.

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