After careful thought and consideration, I am ready to discuss publicly my feelings about the recent events that have occurred concerning the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity organization at the University of Oklahoma. Even though it has been over a week, my thoughts are still a bit jumbled. The event, and specifically the fact that such a heinous chant could be produced and repeated by students at my own University, hit me deep in my gut. I wouldn’t say it was a stab, because that’s too sharp of a pain. The feeling that rests within my stomach is a deep, devouring pit of sadness and shame. Embarrassment is too kind a word.
The Monday after the video surfaced, the weather in Norman was drizzly and wet, overcast and thoughtful. Although I usually appreciate such weather, there was a tension in the air as I walked down the South Oval that could not be removed. I would not have wanted it to be removed, because then I might have been able to forget how ashamed I was of our student body.
There was a bond between every Sooner that was broken on the Sunday the racist video from the SAE party bus surfaced. Unfortunately, it had been broken for quite some time without the majority of us realizing it. As Sooners we are all connected by our choice of being here, of attending a great University on a beautiful campus in a wonderful town. By allowing evil thoughts to be formed into a rhyming chant, and then allowing such a mantra to recur in a large group without anyone calling out the malevolence within it, the student body failed itself.
There is a Student Honor Code, and everyone on the bus that night failed to abide by it. Group mentality can be a powerfully wicked thing, and I accept the fact that there were people on the bus who did not agree with the chant but were simply too shocked, and possibly afraid, to stand up against it. However, I am not so dull as to believe that was the first time the chant had ever been recited. The incantation was practiced and calculated and had been going on for some time, most definitely in various places, yet a single student never voiced an opposing opinion loud enough to be heard.
I myself had never heard anything akin to the vicious racist chant that was captured on video, as with many other students on campus, but at least an entire organization tied to our campus had actively participated and taught it to others. As students attending the same University, we all come together as an individual unit, no matter our differences. This is why the student body as an entity should feel ashamed. We are all connected, and we failed each other.
Our brother and sister Sooners of every minority have a right and a duty as human beings to stand up for these basic rights, and as a human being myself and also as a Globally Engaged Fellow who will soon be representing my University abroad, I stand in solidarity beside them. As our eloquent and fearless leader President David Boren said, real Sooners are not bigots. They take care of each other and treat each other with respect. There will be no room for bigotry abroad in my studies and journeys in Tanzania and elsewhere.
Although I had an open and welcoming mind to all people before this tragedy of passivity occurred, I will carry this event with me abroad and continue to learn from it. I will not fall victim to the injustice that can be carried out in groups. I will think and act as a mindful individual who cares for all others as if they were my family, because they are my family. As a real Sooner who will be representing true Sooner values, I will treat each person I meet with the respect they deserve.
The pit of shame in my gut, although temporarily a negative feeling, will deepen and grow to enact a powerful change in my world. I will not allow anyone I have influence over to carry out heinous acts, be they verbal or physical, against anyone else. I will urge myself and others to behave as we all should, in a way that allows us to grow respect for ourselves, even when no one is looking or listening.
The University and its students will all grow from this debacle. As a Global Engagement Fellow, I will spread this growth throughout the world, working toward a place for all people to live where racism and bigotry do not exist. We are all equal beings on this earth, and I will not stand for anyone who thinks or says differently. Such is my duty.