Almost a generation ago, the University of Oklahoma set out to raise its profile, seeking to build a regional school that served mostly students from the Southwest into a leading institution that attracted top scholars.
President David Boren made striking progress, achieving a reputation that now extends well beyond the Sooners football team that once defined the campus. But those improvements seem in peril after members of a fraternity were caught on video making a racist chant that referenced lynching and indicated black students would never be admitted to OU’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator with 20 years at the helm of the state’s flagship university, acted swiftly. He immediately severed ties with the fraternity and ordered members to vacate their house by midnight.
On Tuesday, he expelled the two students who appeared to be leading the chant for creating a hostile educational environment and promised others involved would face disciplinary action.
“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said in a statement.
But some students at OU, particularly African-Americans who make up about 5 percent of the campus population, said racism is alive and well and that a mostly segregated fraternity and sorority system is at least partially to blame for creating an environment where racism can thrive.
The video also revived painful memories of the state’s history of racial violence.
In 1921, a race riot in Tulsa left some 300 blacks dead and an entire section of town in economic turmoil — scars that remain today in the state’s second-largest city.
Only two years ago, the Tulsa City Council voted to rename the city’s glitzy arts district, which had been named after Wyatt Tate Brady, the son of a Confederate veteran and Ku Klux Klan member. But the change was vehemently opposed by some locals.