Wisconsin SAE Chapter Suspended Over Racist, Bigoted Slurs - Higher Education
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Wisconsin SAE Chapter Suspended Over Racist, Bigoted Slurs

by Bryna Godar, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. ― The University of Wisconsin has suspended the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at its flagship campus after finding that members of the fraternity repeatedly used racist and bigoted slurs and ostracized a Black member who tried to stop it.

The suspension handed down Tuesday by the school’s Committee on Student Organizations comes a year after the fraternity’s University of Oklahoma chapter was disbanded after video emerged showing members engaging in a racist chant.

Under the Wisconsin suspension, the chapter cannot participate in any Greek activities until Nov. 1 and can’t recruit new members this fall. Members also have to undergo diversity and mental health training before the chapter can be reinstated. The chapter had already been on probation for an unrelated incident of underage drinking.

The Wisconsin incidents allegedly occurred from the fall of 2014 until February of this year and were reported by a Black member of the fraternity, according to university documents.

That student, who wasn’t named in the report and who was listed as an active member as of its March filing, said fellow members regularly used racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic language. He said a particular anti-Black slur was often used, including in March 2015 when a fraternity member ran down a main commercial street near campus yelling it. School officials said that student was kicked out of the fraternity.

The reporting student also accused a fellow fraternity member of assaulting him, and school officials said that member was disciplined by the fraternity as a result, though it didn’t say how.

After video was posted online last year showing the Oklahoma SAE members engaging in a racist chant on a bus, the fraternity’s Evanston, Illinois-based national leadership made several changes. In addition to disbanding the Oklahoma chapter, it hired a director of diversity and inclusion, said it was reviewing all 237 of its chapters for racially offensive behavior and required all of its members to complete online diversity training.

In February, SAE’s leadership said members at five other chapters acknowledged having heard the racist chant over the past five years.

In a letter sent Tuesday to SAE;s executive director, Blaine Ayers, about the decision to suspend the Madison chapter, school Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote that she understands the organization has tried to address these issues, but that they clearly persist.

“It suggests that your efforts to address an intolerant and discriminatory culture have not been effective,” Blank wrote. “The conduct in this situation must not be repeated.”

Blank wrote she would like Ayers and the chapter president to meet with her before the suspension is lifted to explain how the organization will bring about lasting change.

In a statement, SAE spokesman Brandon Weghorst said the fraternity’s national leadership has been investigating the allegations regarding the Madison chapter. He apologized for the actions of “former members” and said the chapter’s leaders imposed sanctions in response to the behavior.

In a follow-up email, he said he didn’t have more information about former members. He also didn’t specify how many members have been kicked out due the incidents that led to the chapter’s suspension.

Weghorst disputed Blank’s assertion that SAE has an inability to address discrimination.

“In fact, the fraternity has enacted a large number of initiatives in the past year to combat intolerance, discrimination or morally unacceptable behavior,” the statement said. “We view our relationship with colleges and universities as a partnership.”

The national fraternity began collecting racial and ethnic data in 2013. Ayers reported in 2015 that about 3 percent of the fraternity’s reporting members identified as African-American and about 20 percent identified as non-White.

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