The recent reciting of a racist chant by members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma -- which led to outrage and spawned the hashtag #SAEHatesMe on Twitter -- isn’t the first incident of allegedly racist behavior linked to the fraternity. In February 2013, SAE members at Washington University in St. Louis allegedly used racial slurs while reciting a rap song to black students.
The two incidents are among a long list of improprieties that have dogged the fraternity. Past incidents associated with SAE have included the alcohol-related death of a black SAE member, the demeaning of some sorority members, the rape of a teenager at an SAE-sponsored party and an alleged assault on members of a Jewish fraternity. The incidents spanned SAE chapters across the country, including in Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, New York and Arizona.
The fraternity’s chapter at the University of Oklahoma came under fire after a video was posted Sunday to YouTube showing SAE members engaged in a chant that included the words, “There will never be a n----- in SAE. You can hang them from a tree but they’ll never sign with me.” On Monday, University of Oklahoma President David Boren ordered the closing of the local SAE chapter's fraternity house and severed ties between the fraternity and the school. “There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in this nation,” Boren said.
The incident over the weekend wasn’t the first in which an SAE chapter was accused of racism. In February 2013, SAE pledges at Washington University in St. Louis allegedly recited the rap song “B------ Ain’t S---" by Dr. Dre, a song whose lyrics include the N-word, in the school’s dining hall, prompting a black student there to say the performance was offensive, according to the Huffington Post. One of the pledges later apologized and said SAE made him participate because he used to be the only white member of a slam poetry team in Atlanta and they thought his inclusion in the singing would be funny. The performance was allegedly part of a scavenger hunt created by SAE.
In February 2011, George Desdunes, a black sophomore at an SAE chapter at Cornell University, died from alcohol poising after being kidnapped, bound and forced to drink alcohol as part of a hazing ritual, according to the New York Times. Three SAE fraternity brothers were charged in his death but acquitted, according to the Ithaca Journal. Desdunes’ family filed a $25 million civil suit against the fraternity, claiming SAE was liable for the 19-year-old student’s wrongful death. The case is pending.
Meanwhile, an SAE chapter at the University of Arizona was placed on interim suspension late last year following allegations that some of its members assaulted four brothers in the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, according to Tucson News Now. Tucson police didn’t characterize the incident as a hate crime despite racial slurs being involved, the media outlet reported. One student not involved with either fraternity said it wasn’t that shocking that Sigma Alpha Epsilon was involved. “I guess with SAE it’s not too surprising,” the student said.
An SAE member at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Andrew Lohse, opened up about the fraternity’s hazing rituals in his book, “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: A Memoir,” that detailed “disgusting, traumatic” practices. When he was a senior, Lohse said, he remembered seeing sophomores “swimming in a pool of urine and vomit,” he told HuffPost Live in August 2014.
The fraternity’s chapter at the University of Connecticut was accused in the hazing of sorority members. The hazing included forcing the young women to lie on the floor and “sizzle like bacon” and drink until they passed out, according to the Associated Press. The allegations led to the banning of SAE from the college’s campus in Storrs, Connecticut.
And in December 2014, SAE’s chapter at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was embroiled in further controversy after a 16-year-old girl was raped at an SAE-sponsored party. The two men arrested in the case weren’t SAE members or Johns Hopkins students, but the incident led Sigma Alpha Epsilon and other Johns Hopkins fraternities to make parties invitation-only, according to the Huffington Post.