You just knew it was coming.
This wasn’t going to be a cut and dry case.
The frat kicked off the University of Oklahoma campus after its members sang a racist chant might sue the school for violating its members’ free speech rights. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has hired the big-time lawyer who represented executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to consider the case.
And according to some legal scholars, they may have a strong case.
Legally, I cant argue. It seems straightforward after the Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that even offensive speech is protected speech, that a public university expelling students for tossing nigger in a frat boy chant might not sit well with a judge. The college may have to pay damages and it might be forced to let the SAE house back on campus at some point in the future.
But everything that happens in a courtroom isn’t justice and everything thats legally right isn’t morally exact. OU’s president won even if he loses in court and it costs the university money. And SAE is dead-ass wrong for suing instead of dealing with why it harbors racists.
President David Boren was swift and decisive in kicking the miscreant frat boys off-campus, expelling two of them and banning the organization altogether.
The most important part of his statement was that he meant to send the message that racism wont be tolerated at OU; but while the message is clear through his immediate and resolute actions, l think more is needed from Boren as it relates to racism in general.
It’s obvious that racism is alive and well in America; it won’t disappear from OU because you tell a fraternity it can’t use the N-word. Its impacts are everywhere: from Ferguson’s putrid municipal government to the absurdity of singing about hanging niggers from trees while someone is obviously recording you. We imagine colleges as temples of reason, where students shed biases and put on tolerance but the opposite is often true. Some students come as racists and leave as credentialed racists. Some of them will wind up running companies and be in charge of hiring, and the people they dont want in their frat will wind up the people they dont want in their companies.
What Boren should focus on is making OU a place to equip students with the tools to overcome racism, discrimination and exclusion where it will really count in their lives: in employment, housing and lending, in dismantling the kinds of systems that allowed the abuses of Ferguson and elsewhere to exist and thrive. Boren already gave the frat boys a more valuable lesson than they would have ever learned in class- that free hate speech isn’t without consequence.
Jobs and reputations are lost every day as ignorant, bigoted behavior finds its way onto social media. Its not perfect, but its not wrong. The university may lose in court but by that time the students who got expelled will have found out how hard it is to put their educational lives back on track after doing something so foul.
Let’s hope that everyone pays attention to that lesson.