By Hailey Branson-Potts and Matt Pearce at Los Angeles Times
Hours after the University of Oklahoma expelled two members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity Tuesday for leading a racist chant in a video that went viral, one student apologized, and the parents of the other student apologized for him.
The national fraternity said the chant did not reflect its 15,000 collegiate members, but also said that incidents involving other chapters and other members had come to light and would be investigated.
“This is absolutely not who we are,” SAE said in a statement.
“We apologize for the unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video, and we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way,” the fraternity said.
University President David Boren had announced the students’ expulsions for playing a “leadership role” in the chant, which he said created a hostile environment for other students. A day earlier, he banned the fraternity from campus and evicted the members from their house.
Anonymous sources had sent the video to a black activist group on campus and the student newspaper on Sunday.
“We will continue our investigation of all the students engaged in the singing of this chant,” Boren said in a statement Tuesday. “Once their identities have been confirmed, they will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.”
In the video, a bus full of SAE members sing and clap to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The lyrics include several uses of the N-word.
“You can hang ’em from a tree,” they sing. “There will never be a … SAE.”
The university did not identify either expelled student, but their identities came to light later Tuesday. A Catholic high school in Dallas identified one as an alumnus, Parker Rice, who is featured prominently in the video, wearing a tuxedo and smiling as he leads the chant.
Rice, an OU freshman, issued a statement to the Dallas Morning News.
“I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night,” he said. “It was wrong and reckless.”
“I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened,” he said. Alcohol was a factor, but “that’s not an excuse.”
His identity had been confirmed earlier by James Kramer, a spokesman for Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas.
In his lengthy apology, Rice said, “Yes, the song was taught to us, but … it’s more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn’t do. I didn’t say no, and I clearly dismissed an important value I learned at my beloved high school, Dallas Jesuit. We were taught to be ‘Men for Others.’ I failed in that regard, and … completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others.”
Rice said his family had to leave home “because of threatening calls as well as frightening talk on social media.”
He also said he withdrew from the university Monday.
The other student was identified as Levi Pettit. His parents, Brody and Susan Pettit, said they were “shocked and saddened.” Their son “made a horrible mistake and will live with the consequences forever. … He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting.”
The Pettits’ statement, issued on what appeared to be a family website, included apologies to “the entire African American community [and the] University of Oklahoma.”
Also Tuesday, a black former member of SAE at the University of Oklahoma disowned the fraternity.
“They are not my brothers,” William Bruce James II of Edmond, Okla., told CNN. “They all got to go.”
James, a member from 2001 to 2004, said he didn’t recall hearing the racist chant, versions of which have reportedly been heard at other campuses in Texas and elsewhere.
Fallout continued for the university, even for its beloved football team, which participated in an anti-racist demonstration Monday. On Tuesday, a top high school recruit from Texas, Jean Delance, withdrew his commitment to Oklahoma after seeing the video.
Blacks constitute less than 6% of the university’s student body.
Several attorneys said the expulsions were on shaky legal ground. But at least one of them said the university president did the right thing morally, if not legally.
“The irony here is that [Boren is] arguing he’s protecting the rights of some students while infringing on the 1st Amendment rights of other students,” said Joey Senat, an associate professor who teaches media law at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. “The speech is offensive, the speech is abhorrent, but the 1st Amendment protects unpopular speech.”
But an Oklahoma defense attorney who has litigated against the University of Oklahoma in student misconduct and due process cases said he agreed with Boren’s action.
“I’m the person that gets these calls, and I’d tell you, I wouldn’t touch this case with a 10-foot pole,” said the attorney, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue.
“If I was President Boren, I would have done exactly the same thing,” the attorney said. “He found what he needed to do legally and ran it through. … He knew exactly what he could do to push the envelope and pushed it — and it needed to be pushed.”
A black chef for SAE lost his job when the frat was evicted. But by Tuesday evening, an online fundraising website had raised nearly $56,000 for Howard Dixon.
A similar online fundraiser for the fraternity’s white house mother, Beauton Gilbow, was taken down after a short video clip emerged Monday night showing her repeatedly using the N-word while singing along with a popular rap song, “All Gold Everything,” by Trinidad James, which repeatedly uses the slur.
Schools: University of Oklahoma