A recent video that popped up on the Internet showing Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma chanting a racially charged tune is yet another blemish for the more than 150-year-old fraternity that has a history of hazing, alcohol abuse and racially insensitive actions, some of which have landed it in trouble at Florida’s universities.
SAE’s national leadership on Sunday shuttered the Oklahoma chapter. The university severed its ties with SAE and expelled two students Tuesday, charging them with playing a “leadership role’’ in a widely circulated video showing the fraternity brothers in a bus singing a song that used the N word and referred to lynching to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.
The fraternity, which was formed in 1856 at the University of Alabama, recently faced harsh scrutiny after chapters at Clemson University in South Carolina and University of Arizona were suspended because of racial and anti-Semitic actions. At Clemson, SAE threw a Cripmas Party in December, posting offensive photos on the Web posing as the African-American Crips’ gang in California. In November, about 20 SAE brothers at the University of Arizona attacked four members of a Jewish fraternity with punches and “Anti-Jewish slurs,’’ according to Arizona newspaper reports.
SAE chapters in Florida have also had issues throughout the years — mostly dealing with drinking and hazing of new pledges — leading to closures or probationary periods at most of Florida’s major universities, including the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida State University. The University of Miami has a longstanding SAE chapter; its members referred the Herald to its national organization.
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Bloomberg called the frat the deadliest in the nation after nine people died at SAE events between 2006 and 2013 — more than any other fraternity in the country. A New York Daily News story detailed a host of SAE brutal hazing rituals and racially or ethnically insensitive antics at a host of universities across the country, including at Washington University in St. Louis, Syracuse University and the University of Arizona.
Susan Limpkins, a New York-based psychologist and author, who is an expert on hazing, said that SAE’s behavior is “unfortunately commonplace,” for Greek organizations.
“What makes this special is someone was brave enough to videotape it and put it out there,” she said. “This is so standard; it is like baby powder for babies.”
Limpkins said she was “ecstatic that it’s being exposed and the public is having a tiny view of what is considered standard operating procedures.”
On the fraternity’s website, the SAE leadership said they “acted swiftly to the video and closed the chapter within hours of learning about it.”
“We apologize for the unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video, and we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way,” the SAE website says. “Furthermore, we are embarrassed by this video and offer our empathy not only to anyone outside the organization who is offended but also to our brothers who come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.”
SAE, which has about 240 chapters around the nation and represents about 15,000 members, celebrated its 159th birthday a day after the video surfaced.
The group formed in the Confederate South at the University of Alabama. It is a predominantly white fraternity, Limpkins said.
In Florida, SAE has a peppered history.
At the University of Florida, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was sanctioned following hazing charges in the fall of 2010. The chapter received deferred suspension and educational sanctions through Dec. 1, 2013, and probation and educational sanctions through Jan. 24 of this year, said Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of media relations and public affairs at UF.
She explained that deferred suspension means the behavior warranted suspension but there were mitigating factors that caused the university not to impose the suspension. Probation means the fraternity is not currently in good standing with the university and if it violated the conduct code during that period it could face suspension. Educational sanctions include stipulations like community service, required educational training or hosting a campus wide speaking event.
“The problems we’ve had predate the membership active now,” said UF’s SAE president Tommy Hart, who declined to comment further and referred the call to the national headquarters.
In 2012, SAE at the University of South Florida was suspended for four years for violating three university policies outlined in the Standards for Student Organization Conduct including harassment, hazing and a failure to adhere to organization, local and national policies, according to an article in the Oracle, USF’s student newspaper. “There is no active chapter at USF currently,” said Lara Wade-Martinez, who directs media and public affairs for USF, who would only confirm that the fraternity was suspended for violating university policies.
In 2006, the University of Central Florida shut down its SAE chapter after a hazing incident that included disorderly conduct, alcohol and drugs, the Orlando Sentinel reported at the time.
The closure came after campus police found SAE brothers crawling on the floor in outfits including pink fairy wings. Three students were taken to the hospital for being highly intoxicated, the newspaper reported.
UCF closed the chapter for eight years, but “recolonized in 2014,” according to the UCF chapter’s website.
Board members of UCF’s chapter, who are on spring break, could not be reached for comment.
Frederick Kenley, who works in the office of Fraternity and Sorority life at UCF, said Tuesday that staff discussed the video incident and they will use it as an “educational moment,” for the students.
“When the break is over we will be meeting with the students,” he said.
In 2000, Florida State University’s chapter was closed for several years after an investigation revealed hazing incidents and underage drinking. The chapter could not be reached for comment.
But on Tuesday, the chapter posted on its Facebook page that the group does not “condone racism in any way.”
“The individuals in the video from OU do not speak on behalf of our fraternity,” the group wrote. “We at the Florida Beta chapter hold our creed in the highest regard. A True Gentleman treats all people with respect regardless of color, creed, or gender. We are extremely offended by their actions and would like to apologize to any and all that were hurt by the video.”
The post, which was added at 9 a.m., had one single like as of Tuesday evening.