On Saturday evening, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma was recorded singing a racist chant on a charter bus.
The video shows several people on a bus participating in a chant that included a racial slur, referenced lynching and indicated black students would never be admitted to Oklahoma's chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
According to the Associated Press, the president of the University of Oklahoma wasted little time Monday, ordering that Sigma Alpha Epsilon's on-campus house be shut down.
President David Boren said, "These people have acted in a way that is absolutely reprehensible and disgraceful. We cannot put up with it. They should not even be allowed to call themselves 'Sooners.' They are not real 'Sooners.' Real 'Sooners' are not racist bigots. Real Sooners respect each other and care about each other and take care of each other." T
he Delta has it's own community of Greek men and Delta State University has a Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapter —with an African American president, Mikel Sykes.
Not only is Sykes president of the MS Delta Sigma chapter of SAE, he is also president of DSU's student government association, a position to which he was elected and voted on by his peers.
DSU has a history of promoting diversity and rather than looking at black and white, all students and alum bleed green so when Sykes heard about what some of his brothers in Oklahoma had said, he and his chapter were very upset.
"We are extremely saddened and disturbed by the views of young men who we once called brothers. Their ideals in no way reflect SAE as a national organization or our local chapter here at Delta State University. I echo the sentiments of our national president who was quoted as saying there is 'no place for racism in this organization,'" said Sykes.
As an African American president of SAE, Sykes said he feels extremely proud knowing his chapter is diverse and supports men of all ethnicities. "It makes me extremely proud. We believe that it is essential to have and recruit members who exemplify our creed 'The True Gentleman.' Our diversity is simply a by-product of that. Great people can come from a variety of different backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations and races.
"We simply encourage our members to be the best version of themselves that they can be and we appreciate the fact that we all are different. We are able to learn from each other and this helps us grow and mature as young men," he said.
Sykes said he had a few things he'd like to say about his former fraternity brothers' actions.
"Throughout history and even now people have always generalized entire groups of people based on the actions of a few. It is extremely easy to do this, but I'd like to encourage the readers of this article to not take the easy way out. It's difficult to give people the benefit of the doubt and to suspend preconceived notions.
"However, there are some upstanding members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, not only here, but in many other places around the nation. With 15,000 undergraduates and over 200,000 living alumni, SAE is the largest national fraternity and even though any organization has bad apples, there are a lot of members of this fraternity who live out the true gentleman," he said.
The SAE chapter at DSU is proof that these fraternities can do well and make a difference.
Since SAE has been on the DSU campus they have had the highest fraternity grade point average seven out of 10 semester and won SAE best chapter in Mississippi for the past three years.
"We also won the chapter of the year award here at Delta State last year. However, as our faculty advisor Dr. Clint Wood once said, 'The true gentleman looks in the mirror and not the trophy case.' This has been something that has always stuck with me and the members of this chapter," he said.
"There are many things that we have done as a chapter to serve DSU and the Cleveland community. Last semester we partnered with members Alpha Phi Alpha to collect articles of clothing for the less fortunate. We have worked the past two Crosstie marathons. We have volunteered at local churches working in kitchens and serving food. We worked as chaperones for the Hayes Cooper Physical Education club during the Cleveland/East Side Homecoming parade.
"We have had multiple brothers serve as orientation leaders and as student governments officers. Last year we raised approximately $5,000 for Children's Miracle Network and we visit the Le Bohneur hospital every year with the Phi Mu fraternity who share the same philanthropy," said Sykes.
"We have members, such our vice president Andrew Van Velsor, who is the acting worship pastor at First Baptist Church and Jake Pritchard who is a youth minister at a church in Greenwood. Caleb Chambers, who is from Greenville, is one of the core members of a group that is working on a documentary about race relations at Delta State that will be apart of the annual race relations conference," said Sykes.
Sykes said, while the chapter is active in the community and on campus, there is one thing that makes them special.
"There are many other individuals in this chapter who do fantastic things and there are also more things we do as a chapter, however, I think it's extremely important that I point out one of the best things about being in this organization. We support each other. Through all of the stressful, difficult, and sad times I have always had brothers who I can truly rely on to be there for me. 'The True Gentleman’ is a man who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own.' When you have 40 guys doing that for each other and for all of the people in their lives it's really something special and I'm proud to be a part of it," said Sykes.
Sykes said he believes SAE's national supreme council is doing all it can to fix the damaged image of the fraternity but it will take time.
"Locally, we are the most diverse fraternity on campus and I, as a black male, was elected president. Even before this incident in Oklahoma our chapter has always embraced diversity and we will continue to do so. We believe that men should be judged solely on the contents of character," he said.
Sykes said, no matter what, he wants people to understand that SAE, both nationally and locally, is not an organization that tolerates racism.
"There are bad chapters out there. Any organization that has large numbers will be unable to avoid bad members, however, the Cleveland community can rest assured that the quality of this SAE chapter, as well as our Greek system as a whole, is nothing short of exemplary.
"Being in the heart of the Mississippi Delta I think we are well aware that race relations are not perfect, but within the chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon here at Delta State University you will find people who are embracing differences, embracing diversity, and becoming better men because of it. Not because we have to, but because it is what we should do as productive citizens to society and as true gentleman," said Sykes.
Delta State University President Bill LaForge had several comments to make about the incident and knows the University of Oklahoma President David Boran personally.
"The event at the University of Oklahoma is very sad and disappointing. I know President Boran and I know the national SAE organization. I feel terrible for them all. That isolated incident is no more representative of that university than it is of SAE, which is an outstanding national fraternity," said LaForge.
"The SAE chapter at Delta State is excellent and I'm very proud of them, and especially of their president, Mikel Sykes, who is also president of the student body at Delta State. He did an excellent job speaking up on Anderson Cooper's television program (Tuesday night). This chapter of SAE maintains very high standards and has always been inclusive and hospitable. Mikel was spot on in his comments and I told him so," said LaForge.
"Diversity is a way of life at Delta State. It's part of our culture. We celebrate the concept by the way we live and conduct business. Our students are our most important commodity and they need to feel comfortable in this place they call their university home.
"Our diversity committee is very active on campus and we are just two and a half weeks away from our second annual race relations conference. As I tell students when I visit high schools and community colleges to recruit, we are a very welcoming and hospitable university and when it comes to matters of diversity, we get it," he said.
For more information on diversity at Delta State University visit www.deltastate.edu/winning-the-race. For more information on Sigma Alpha Epsilon visit www.sae.net.