OU Students Learn ‘A Devastating Lesson’

March 11, 2015

By Nolan Clay & Adam Kemp  at The Oklahoman

Fallout continued Tuesday from videos showing members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity singing a racist song, with the university expelling two students and another video surfacing showing the fraternity’s house mother using racist language.

Also, a second demonstration was held Tuesday evening, with students marching on campus while chanting “not on our campus.”

The first video-recorded incident occurred Saturday evening as members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon rode in buses to a party at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club to celebrate the fraternity’s founding.

Disciplinary action continued Tuesday when shortly before noon, OU President David Boren sent out a tweet saying he had acted to expel two SAE members. He said they were leaders in singing the racist chant.

On Tuesday evening, one fraternity member and the family of another issued statements apologizing for their roles in the bus incident and pleading for forgiveness.

In a message to The Oklahoman, Brody and Susan Pettit, the parents of Levi Pettit, 20, of Dallas, said their son had made a terrible mistake and would live with the consequences forever.

“However, we also know the depth of our son’s character. He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting. While it may be difficult for those who only know Levi from the video to understand, we know his heart, and he is not a racist. We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends.

“We were as shocked and saddened by this news as anyone. Of course, we are sad for our son — but more importantly, we apologize to the community he has hurt. We would also like to apologize to the — entire African American community, University of Oklahoma student body and administration. Our family has the responsibility to apologize, and also to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Our words will only go so far — as a family, we commit to following our words with deeds.”

About the same time, The Dallas Morning News reported that Parker Rice, a 19-year-old freshman from Dallas, had issued his own apology.

“I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night,” Rice wrote. “It was wrong and reckless. I made a horrible mistake by joining into the singing and encouraging others to do the same.”

Rice said he withdrew from the university on Monday and that his family could not stay in their home because of threatening telephone calls and frightening talk on social media.

“I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened,” Rice continued. “I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation. 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 in those moments, I also completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others.”

Rice said he was concerned about his fraternity friends still on campus.

“Apparently, they are feeling unsafe and some have been harassed by others. Hopefully, the university will protect them,” Rice said.

“For me, this is a devastating lesson and I am seeking guidance on how I can learn from this and make sure it never happens again,” he said. “My goal for the long-term is to be a man who has the heart and the courage to reject racism wherever I see or experience it in the future.”

In the videos, fraternity members can be seen laughing and singing racist lyrics to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It.”

In announcing the expulsions, Boren said the students created a hostile learning environment for others and noted the chant was heard not only by those on the bus, but that its distribution through social media “impacted the entire university community.”

“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said in a prepared statement. “I hope that the entire nation will join us in having zero tolerance of such racism when it raises its ugly head in other situations across our country.”

Boren said he was proud of the response from OU students, faculty, staff and alumni in the wake of the release of the videos, which were roundly condemned.

“They are ‘Real Sooners’ who believe in mutual respect for all,” Boren said. “I hope that students involved in this incident will learn from this experience and realize that it is wrong to use words to hurt, threaten, and exclude other people.”

An OU spokesman on Tuesday declined to confirm the names of the expelled students, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which governs the release of student records.

Boren said the university would continue to investigate other students involved in the incident and would take appropriate disciplinary action once they’re identified.

Anil Gollahalli, the university’s legal counsel, said the university’s due process policy requires that the university give students notice that they’re being expelled and give them an opportunity to appeal the decision. The decision is handled as an academic matter, meaning it doesn’t require approval by the board of regents.

The investigation is being handled through OU’s Equal Opportunity office. OU spokeswoman Catherine Bishop wouldn’t comment on what evidence or information the office had to work with. She also said they don’t have any kind of expectation about how long the investigation will take.

“They’ll take the time necessary to conduct a thorough investigation,” Bishop said.

The controversy didn’t even draw a mention at a regularly scheduled OU Board of Regents meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Another video surfaces

Meanwhile, another video surfaced Monday night in which Beauton Gilbow, the fraternity’s house mother, uses racist language.

In the video, which appears to have been posted to Vine, a video-sharing service, in February 2013, Gilbow, 79, repeats a racial epithet several times while singing along to the song “All Gold Everything” by rapper Trinidad James.

The video surfaced after Gilbow appeared in a KWTV-9 interview Monday night with former OU football coach Barry Switzer. During the interview, Gilbow said she was “in shock” over the fraternity’s closure.

Gilbow said she’d never heard the song fraternity members sang in the bus video.

“I’m going to miss them,” Gilbow said. “I just can’t imagine waking up in the morning and not being here.”

During the interview, an emotional Switzer said he supported Boren’s actions, but defended the fraternity. Switzer, an honorary SAE member, said he thought the video represented the actions of a few members, not the fraternity as a whole.

Schools: University of Oklahoma