The disturbing video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity members singing a racist chant has gone viral within the past few weeks, shedding light on the ever-growing issue of race and diversity in universities.
Since the viral outbreak, the Oklahoma chapter of SAE has expelled two of its members seen in the video and has banned the fraternity from the university. The fraternity also issued a national apology and has announced that it will begin a mandatory diversity and education program in addition to appointing a national advisory committee on diversity and inclusion.
In light of this recent scandal, however, a recent CNN op-ed piece brought up a different angle to this story.
The post, entitled “What we risk when we ban racist speech”, talks about the importance of our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The theory here is, essentially, that it’s unfair for the SAE brothers to receive punishment for saying what they wanted to say. Here’s an excerpt of the article:
“Forget whether you like the speech or not. That is not relevant. These boys got kicked out of a public school for singing a song, on their own time, in a privately rented bus, simply because the government didn’t like the content of their song. Censors overstepping their bounds is no surprise. What surprises me is how readily the public supported the expulsions, and how many supposedly intelligent people were willing to turn the First Amendment on its head, because of nine seconds of video.”
Is the content of the speech relevant? Does it matter that a bunch of students were alluding to lynching in a “harmless” song?
What needs to be focused on is the fact that these students thought this was merely a fun act. The perpetuation of racist ideologies is seen constantly within social media and our society’s culture. Rape culture, racism, sexism…it’s all clearly there, yet there are people willing to turn a blind eye rather than accept the fact that it’s really happening.
Bottom line is that these things are learned behaviors. How can we expect to change the future if we won’t take the time to educate ourselves and reflect on what we are perpetuating?