The University of Wisconsin-Madison suspended its chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon after a member reported multiple instances of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay behavior, including one in which he said he was choked and called a racial slur.
The fraternity drew national attention last year after a University of Oklahoma chapter was caught on video shouting a racist chant learned on a “national leadership cruise.” That was followed by other reports of racism at chapters elsewhere in the country, and a national initiative by the fraternity’s leaders to combat the problem.
The Oklahoma incident was noted by University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank in a letter to SAE Executive Director Blaine Ayers.
“I am deeply disappointed in the chapter’s failure to address persistent reports of discriminatory behavior, as well as the national body’s inability to address discrimination within its chapters…I understand that your organization attempted to address these issues across all chapters in the wake of the Oklahoma incident, but clearly incidents such as these persist within SAE. It suggests that your efforts to address an intolerant and discriminatory culture have not been effective. The conduct in this situation must not be repeated,” wrote Blank.
In his response, Ayers said the national SAE was investigating, adding that Wisconsin’s SAEs don’t represent the values of the national chapter. He also took issue with Wisconsin’s assessment of the fraternity.
“We disagree with the university president’s observation that Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization has an inability to address discrimination in our chapters. In fact, the fraternity has enacted a large number of initiatives in the past year to combat intolerance, discrimination or morally unacceptable behavior.” Ayers stated.
The university offered a timeline: in March, a student complained to the university’s committee on student organizations that there had been a pattern of bigoted incidents at the fraternity over the past year-and-a-half. The first was at a Halloween party in 2014 when the student said a fraternity member called him a racial slur and choked him for about five seconds until other members stepped in. Fraternity leaders said they did not know there was a racial element, but the student was disciplined by the chapter.
In March 2015, a fraternity member ran down the street yelling racial slurs. He was expelled from the chapter but continued to hang out there sometimes. That fall, the student who reported problems to the university said he continued to have his objections to members using racial, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay slurs ignored, despite the chapter having undergone training as part of the national initiative in response to racist acts. In December, he heard a member yelling a racial slur outside the house, but fraternity leaders said they couldn’t identify who it was. In February of this year, he said a member kept repeatedly singing lyrics with a racial slur. The member denied it.
In early March, he made his complaint to the university.
After an investigation and hearing with the chapter, the university announced Tuesday that the chapter is suspended until Nov. 1, it cannot recruit new members in the fall, and members will have to undergo mandatory training before it can be reinstated.