- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - A fraternity that disbanded its University of Oklahoma chapter after members were caught on video engaging in a racist chant is taking steps to become more inclusive, including requiring all of its members, nationwide, to go through diversity training, a fraternity executive said Wednesday.

Blaine Ayers, the executive director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said at a news conference in Chicago that he was personally disgusted and embarrassed by the video that surfaced last week. He apologized for the pain it caused and outlined steps the Evanston-based administration was taking to “ensure that this never happens again.”

The video shows Oklahoma members engaging in a racist chant that referenced lynching and indicated that the chapter would never admit black students. The fraternity disbanded the chapter and the university expelled two who had taken part. One student who took part said in a written apology that “the song was taught to us.”

Ayers said he had never heard the chant before.

“We are focused on trying to determine the root of this song or this chant, where it came from, that’s our primary focus,” he said of the group’s ongoing investigation into the matter.

In addition to having all SAE members undergo a diversity training program, the fraternity has set up a confidential hotline for people to report inappropriate behavior, Ayers said. The fraternity also will appoint a national advisory committee on diversity and inclusion, and will hire a director to oversee those efforts, Ayers said.

The fraternity will review all 237 chapters, specifically looking for racially offensive behaviors, and will report on its findings. An internal process dictated by the group’s bylaws will review suspended members’ standing.

“The chant in the video is ugly. It is demoralizing and absolutely counter to the values of SAE,” Ayers said.

Last year, in response to reports of hazing, SAE became the first large national fraternity to eliminate the pledge process. Chapters now offer invitations to join, spokesman Brandon Weghorst said.

SAE began collecting racial and ethnic data in 2013. Approximately 3 percent of SAE’s reporting members identified themselves as African-Americans and 20 percent identified themselves as non-white, Ayers said.

Twenty percent “is a number we would like to increase,” he said, declining to offer a numeric goal.

“Counting heads isn’t going to tell you much about cultural change,” said Ben Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, who reviewed the SAE plan. Reese said conducting a comprehensive assessment of fraternity culture would be the best way to measure the success or failure of the steps.

“It strikes me as a response to crisis,” Reese said of SAE’s initiative. “I hope the crisis response will evolve into a thoughtful process that brings in a number of stakeholders on campus.” He said his group is available to help SAE.

(The hotline number - 844-257-8723 - was answered by an automated message Wednesday when a reporter called. There was an opportunity to leave a message.)


Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

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