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Oklahoma University – Sigma Alpha Epsilon Lessons Learned

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The Oklahoma University racism issues exploded on the scene via mobile video upload. The social media protest quickly turned the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity bus ride song styling into yet another “tweet heard round the world,” driving news headlines at major TV, cable networks and print outlets.

Oddly enough, the harsh, angry response of Oklahoma University President Boren conjured up memories of the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at Foster Auditoriumat the University of Alabama in 1963. Governor George Wallace stood outside the University doors as a segregationist, issuing scathing criticisms of liberals, blockading black students from entering the University. An ironic reverse image of history, President Boren issued scathing criticisms of his own school’s white students, standing inside the University doors and evicting those students who promoted fraternity segregation.

That may not save University President David Boren, who might be packing his things, even at this early stage of the infamous Oklahoma University incident.

The discovery of Osama Bin Laden living large in Pakistan had a profound lesson in logic and in earning credibility. Either the Pakistani government did know Bin Laden was in their midst, or the Pakistani government did not know he was in their midst. Either way it was not good for Pakistan’s government, no longer able to be trusted by the U.S. government.

Did David Boren know about the notorious and reprehensible attitudes/practices of the SAE Fraternity? Did the OU Office of Diversity know about this iconic bastion of racism in their midst? Either Oklahoma University leadership did know, or they didn’t know. Either way it doesn’t speak well for for the University leadership credibility, particularly for David Boren.

The social media blitz by OU students has laid waste to the SAE Frat House, decimated the OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapter and may have momentarily exposed a SAE National Fraternity “deep state.” The mobile media technological tactic won a skirmish for OU’s Diversiphiles. In the longer term, however, the swift shutdown and ostracism of the SAE Fraternity may represent a strategic missed opportunity, a misstep of some magnitude by OU leadership.

What might have been learned and accomplished by a calmer, more rational and reasoned approach to SAE by the adults at Oklahoma University?

The SAE children (or young adults, if you prefer), have been publicly and collectively shamed, now seared for life with the memory of swift retribution for a publicized cultural wrong. As of this writing, most of them are awaiting the tentacles of the OU racist hunt to reach them individually.

The intellectual, cultural and sovereign leader of the organization, David Boren, has excoriated and disavowed the students involved. The SAE Chapter initially cocooned itself, met the media with complete silence. The national SAE organization is humiliated, perhaps. It, too, has disavowed it’s OU children and frat brothers. SAE’s former students and non-member sympathizers, including faculty and staff, will no doubt be driven further underground at Oklahoma University…and across it’s 20 “colonies.”

Argue, if you will, whether the SAE Diversiphobes merited instant exposure and harsh public and punitive measures. The “Diversity Program Life Cycle” has begun. In the short term, the local matters will play themselves out, regrets and apologiesexpressed all around, the wake and aftermath of cliched “diversity” language ofscripted responses and forumulaic wagon-circling and diversity manager and consultants, then the story will fade from the news in a few weeks, perhaps a few months. The canned D&I Programs will be installed (as one already was at OU), and the status quo will be restored in the near term.

In the longer term, will the SAE brotherhood be more caring, or will they just be more careful?

Naturally, there are other questions that are far, far bigger, but ones to which we may never know the answers. Did SAE National have any knowledge of or connection to the OU SAE Chapter policies? Where did SAE children learn their values, how to think and behave that way? Who are the parents of these students?What and/or who has motivated the young people to sustain these behaviors and attitudes over time? How did SAE not only survive but thrive at OU for so many years? Who is running the Office of Diversity & Inclusion at Oklahoma University? Had they, too, absolutely no indication that this might have been an issue on campus?

What was the video? The young people treated it as mere information, and social media has conditioned them to share it. Just let it fly. As if it were Independence Day fireworks, they launched their arrow into the share. It fell to earth they knew not where. These days, that’s a conditioned reflex for our young people. The arrow found its way to the media quickly, and then struck old OU.

What they had in hand, actually, was real intelligence.

Intelligence comes from synthesizing that information into choices – what the impacts are likely to be if one course of action is chosen over another, or if no action is taken at all.

Colleges and Universities are the primary American gateway to political, professional and entrepreneurial participation. Educational institutions export the leaders of tomorrow, who need to know more than simply how to discover and share information. Information creates choices, and the choices each have of potential value that can be extracted and exploited over time.

Those young people got hold of a video that they treated as a ‘smoking gun.’ What, though, if they treated it as if they had found the secret entrance to a munitions factory?

There are more than 15,000 undergraduate/collegiate members of SAE afoot today, with 219 total chapters and 20 colonies. SAE was the first national fraternity to be established in the Deep South, having been founded at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, on 9 March 1856. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has initiated more than 325,000 men since its founding 159 years ago.

That’s a lot of yesterdays used to produce many of today’s leaders. Importantly, what corollary questions could likely have been asked?

  • How many OU/SAE Frat members are running this country, its businesses and institutions?
  • What F-1000 companies and other institutions are headed and/or managed by OU/SAE Alumni?
  • How many University of Oklahoma and other teachers around the country are also OU/SAE Alumni?
  • What do the other Chapters and “Colonies” of SAE look like?
  • What political officials were and are alumni of OU/SAE?

Those and more could have been the beginnings of an analytical process that might have been more reflective of a greater level of situational awareness regarding intercultural matters at OU and in these United States. Instead, offense and defense are switching roles as you read this, and these kinds of queries will likely never be made publicly.

All of the young people involved can learn much more than the obvious lessons as they watch this University of Oklahoma event unfold.

The social media blast and knee-jerk political reactions by the OU students and the OU leadership and administrators have effectively slammed the door on what could have been a far more productive investigation and a more compelling, bigger story.

Anger is a powerful motivator, but a poor strategist.

The forced eviction of white male students from campus without due process will likely result in legal challenges ranging from petty landlord-tenant issues all the way up to freedom of speech protections…and the University will likely lose on all or most of them, resulting in net setbacks in civil rights and civility.

The Black students at Oklahoma University will enjoy their day in the sun, basking in the brief glow of the Greek Letters being torn off of OU’s SAE Frat House. Let’s hope those students can put their heads back down into the books, though forced to mentally and emotionally toil even harder to shut out the noise as they work toward graduation.

What, however, if the owner of the video had thought things through a bit. What could a Black Student Union have quietly negotiated with the video protected but in hand, sitting in the conference room of the University of Oklahoma’s President? What might have been won with representatives of SAE National at the table, the NAACP and NACUA and a member of its Higher Education Compliance Alliance present? What rapid “culture change” might have been facilitated more productively if the University leadership had been given the opportunity to release the video themselves, jointly with the students, having negotiated in advance of that as a start of the rebuilding process?

What set of student and administration values in action might have created greater social cohesion, more constructive learning opportunities in this failure, and a better learning environment for all, as opposed to the wrenching media attention and the tarnished reputation of the University of Oklahoma, a name that will be on many of these students’ diplomas and resumes for life?

The media and the organizations involved are in containment mode, under a firestorm of attention, working to keep the the nation and news viewers focused tightly on the children, student rights, and the campus turmoil. As a result of the emotional and sensational nature, strategic mistakes have already been made, and more most likely will be made.

Many a SAE Frat member around the nation may be temporarily taking off their SAE rings to store them in desk drawers for a while, until this blows over.

These aren’t the 1960s. The technologies have changed, but it appears that the strategies haven’t. The damning video is a powerful reminder that the heated controversies and openly violent battles of the 1960s had shifted primarily to the theater of cold war strategies by the late 1970s and beyond. The DOJ “discovery” in Ferguson, the Silicon Valley “discovery” of exclusionary hiring practices, this Oklahoma University “discovery” of SAE racism, and each similar ‘revelationcontinues to inform the discussion on the longstanding and ongoing war between Diversiphiles and Diversiphobes.

Fifty years of the “Diversity Paradigm” seems to have taught many to simply miss the point. Holding the momentary status of victors or vanquished on the Oklahoma University national stage will teach all of them much in the short term. Bringing OU/SAE to justice, momentarily, at least, may feel good to many. They blew up a bunker. Still, one can’t help but wonder how much potential good has been left on the table by the way this was done. Maybe it’s asking too much to expect battlefield strategies from youthful college students in emotionally charged situations.

There may be no clear winners by the time this story runs its course. Will these precious young people learn anything more from all of this about managing their lives in America for the longer term? As the effects ripple outward and the tally of harm and injury grows, one question seems to stand above all others in this OU-SAE situation:

Can we teach our young people to use 21st Century technology in tandem with 21st Century strategies?

What will be the longer term “lessons learned” for the students involved — of both races? Can we coach adults, young and mature, to effectively navigate in a world in which the real challenges and best solutions aren’t immediately and clearly visible? Can we teach the young to use information and intelligence in a way that builds bridges, not walls? Can we mitigate the “differences-based” mentality perpetuated by the “Diversity Paradigm?” Can business and institutional leaders (or fraternity leadership) quickly build organizational cultures that mitigate this kind of wasteful conflict — without Diversity Programs?

There is a way.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

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