When members of its University of Oklahoma chapter were caught on video singing a racist chant, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity immediately shut down its Oklahoma chapter and announced new diversity and sensitivity initiatives. But those steps are now overshadowed by a rant from the group’s national president that calls into question how seriously the organization takes the issue of racial bigotry.

At issue are comments posted last Monday on Facebook by SAE President Brad Cohen, criticizing University of Oklahoma President David Boren.

Boren had said that the racist chant sung during a fraternity bus outing March 7 could be traced to an annual SAE national leadership event four years ago. “That chant was learned and brought back to the local chapter,” Boren said as he called on the national organization to address a culture that could lead to such behavior.

Cohen instead nitpicked Boren’s semantics (“I’m amazed that a University President such as Boren of OU does not know the difference between ‘learned’ and ‘heard’ “), and he refused to accept any responsibility (“At the end of the day, it was his students that chose to hear a vile chant, take it back to their university and make it part of their culture in their chapter”).

It’s worth contrasting those mealy-mouthed sentiments with the forthright apology of one of the students who sang the song. “There are no excuses for my behavior … . The truth is that what was said in that chant is disgusting,” said ex-student Levi Pettit.

Cohen’s comments have since been deleted from Facebook. Boren reportedly received a letter of apology from Cohen last Thursday. We hope that means there is finally some recognition by fraternity officials that they have a problem and they are prepared to address it.

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