Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) scoured Occidental’s campus Thursday night tearing down more than 20 posters reading, “What did we ever do to you? #staystrongSAE,”––a possible reference to a recent scandal at the University of Oklahoma. According to SAE Social Chair Eddy Perezic (sophomore), a brother found one of the posters around 9:30 p.m. on the side of Bell Young Hall and immediately contacted Perezic. Perezic relayed the information to the rest of the chapter, prompting members to search campus and remove any posters they could find. The culprit remains unknown.
The posters came in the wake of a viral video of the brothers of the University of Oklahoma’s SAE chapter singing a racist chant. The school has since disbanded the chapter and expelled two of its students.
Though the incident took place at another institution, the members of SAE at Occidental said they take accountability for the actions of their brothers. The brothers added that they recognize the responsibility they bear in confronting issues of institutional racism on Occidental’s campus.
“From the beginning our whole goal has not been to be the victim or to ever, ever say where we have been wronged but recognize that the problem that is existing right here has wronged people to the ultimate price for hundreds of years,” California Epsilon Eminent Archon Torey Ortmayer (junior) said.
Since the release of the video, the Occidental chapter has been the subject of scrutiny on and off campus. Students have taken to social media to express a range of opinions on the fraternity, and one news station placed cameras outside of the SAE house.
One criticism by students is that the Occidental chapter’s response has not been fast or strong enough.
“Their response was bogus and embarrassing,” Emma Cones (sophomore) said. “They honestly did what was least possible so people could be satisfied, but their lack of true apology just proves that they’re racist hypocrites trying not to get a bad rep.”
Assistant Director of Student Life Diego Silva sent out a statement March 10 on behalf of Occidental’s SAE denouncing the events at the University of Oklahoma via the root. A second statement was sent on behalf of Greek Council three days later. Several students felt the root was an inappropriate and ineffective means of reaching the largest audience possible.
“I don’t think it would’ve been that difficult to just send out an email to the student body,” Kappa Alpha Psi President Jesse Wong (senior) said. “I don’t really check the root. I feel like many people also don’t check the root, so I don’t know if that was necessarily the best way to get that word out.”
Silva claimed responsibility for the choice of medium.
“I’ll be honest, I’ll own that it was my suggestion to go through the root and not go through a direct email,” Silva said. “We had to ask ourselves, we’re going to get criticism regardless, do we throw [Oklahoma’s actions] onto the SAE chapter here by giving [the statement] that level of weight to make sure that it gets to every individual’s inbox? It was essentially a judgement call.”
Silva added that the criticism of the organization has prompted the administration to halt its approval process for a new fraternity.
“I think that our senior staff is not interested right now in considering bringing on a new fraternity until we know what’s going on with our current greek system given recent events,” Silva said.
Ortmayer said that members of SAE are working to develop plans to advocate for greater diversity on campus. March 21, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein sent a direct email to the Occidental community with a follow-up message from SAE detailing their course of action.
Their first event will be a Town Hall on Greek Life and Diversity March 26, as well as a lecture from guest speaker Dr. Joyce Friday presented by Greek Council and Programming Board. Dr. Joyce is a hip-hop generation scholar of social and cultural foundations of education and ethnographic methodologies.
“Dr. Joyce I think is coming at the absolute perfect time,” Greek Council President and SAE member Christian Wolfgram (senior) said. “She’s an incredibly brilliant woman who’s had a lot of exposure both in the pop culture side and the academic side and translating all of that to young adults, and we’re looking forward to a constructive and enlightening evening of education.”
With the help of Jesus Maldonado, SAE’s regional president and the chairman of the fraternity’s national convention, Ortmayer wants to utilize SAE’s extensive network to effect change at the national level.
“I think that we underestimate our ability to create positive change by giving up on the systems that have, in very substantive ways, been the avenues of change,” Wolfgram said.
SAE national leadership is reelected biennially. As chairman, Maldonado will oversee the next reelection this summer. He will also be involved in the disciplinary process with Oklahoma. Since the incident, the national leadership has begun to create various educational and training programs, as well as create an investigative body to inspect each chapter to ensure that the racism prevalent in the Oklahoma chapter is not representative of the present culture of the institution nationally.
Next week, Ortmayer and Maldonado will attend a national leadership conference to push for further institution-wide changes to guarantee accountability within all SAE chapters. Ortmayer hopes to spark dialogue that will force every member of SAE to reflect on the organization’s problematic history and think of ways to improve diversity moving forward.
“I can’t even begin to start thinking about how to push my national organization into reflecting on its history, in having a different interpretation of it to inform our current situation, if I can’t show that we have any kind of sway here at Oxy,” Ortmayer said. “My credibility in making that change happen is only so far as what I can prove I’m doing right here on my campus.”