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Greek tragedy: Five fraternity suspensions in two weeks

Five national fraternities suspended in two weeks

It’s a bad week to be Greek.

The University of Houston suspended a Sigma Chi fraternity chapter on Wednesday; a day earlier, a Penn State Kappa Delta Rho chapter shut down after police found an illicit Facebook with images of unsuspected, partially nude women and illegal drugs. Last week, Furman University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter and Washington and Lee’s Phi Kappa Psi were both suspended for hazing.

The University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon earned the most notoriety and outrage, however, when a video posted online showed a busload of white students singing a racist song. At least two other SAE chapters are being investigated after reports of similarly racially insensitive behavior.

Together, five national fraternity chapters have been suspended and two others are being investigated in less than two weeks for bad behavior, some of it even criminal, revealing the dark sides of Greek life. 

“It’s a systemic problem around the country,” a Penn State junior who asked to remain anonymous amid his school’s investigation told msnbc. “It’s humiliating to watch, I can just speak for my school, but there’s so many great people who go here and we do many awesome things that it’s really terrible that we get crucified for the actions of a couple people.”

The 21-year-old student – who said he considered rushing Kappa Delta Rho but eventually declined to pledge any fraternity -- said the SAE scandal had been particularly frustrating.

“I’m a minority, so just watching that sort of racism and ignorance just tells you where our country’s at,” he said.

On Wednesday, Sigma Alpha Epsilon hurried repair their national reputation, by rolling out an anti-racism plan that will include an advisory committee and a staff member at the national level focused on diversity and inclusion, training for all its members. SAE is also providing a hotline number for those who see racially-charged behavior to report incidents.

 “We are committed to having the tough conversations in every chapter with every member,” SAE executive director Blaine Ayers said at a press conference where he again apologized for the Oklahoma members’ use of racial epithets. “As the leader of this organization, I was disgusted, I was demoralized, I was embarrassed , it’s been an extremely difficult ten days.”

Both the national fraternity and the school shut down the University of Oklahoma chapter following the video that showed students on a bus chanting, “There will never be a n***** in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me, there will never be a n***** at SAE” to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The school expelled the two students who can be clearly seen singing the chant in the video and are currently investigating other participants. SAE says they’re reviewing the suspension of all members of the Oklahoma chapter.

SAE said the investigation into where students first learned this chant is still ongoing, but one expelled student said the song had been taught to him by other members and online, while others have alleged that the chant was used at other SAE chapters.

RELATED: SAE: We foster ‘role models,’ not racists 

Fraternity spokesman Brandon Weghorst said those allegations have prompted two additional active investigations at the University of Texas and University of Louisiana Tech, but added that he has no evidence of a widespread movement.

SAE – the first fraternity to be established in the deep South – said they only began tracking race 18 months ago; since then, they’ve reported that just 3% of their members have identified as African-American, though Ayers was quick to note that 20% of the fraternity didn’t identify as Caucasian.

Asked if the group would actively work to recruit more members, Ayers said only that “we want to train our members to find the best men possible. We hope that anyone who wants to will find an home within our organization regardless of their race or sexual orientation.” 

In Texas, University of Houston President Renu Khator said she was "shocked, dismayed and deeply disappointed" by the allegations that her school’s Sigma Chi fraternity had engaged in hazing and added that campus police had turned over details of the hazing to local police. 

It’s unclear what the hazing was, but five students have also been suspended; Khator said if the allegations prove to be true, they "will be subject to immediate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion."

“Let me be clear, hazing is a criminal act, and consent is not a defense. Failure to report hazing also is a criminal offense and a violation of university policy. Those who engage in such reckless and immature behavior will be punished to the full extent of the law and in accordance with University policies,” she said.

RELATED: Penn State fraternity suspended over illicit Facebook

At Penn State, police are investigating a Facebook page that they claim Kappa Delta Rho members photographed and distributed images of drug deals, hazing, and unsuspecting, passed out, and mostly nude women.

The private Facebook page — dubbed “Covert Business Transactions” — was discovered by a victim whose photo was posted. The page had 144 members, including current students and alumni at the time the search warrant was issued. It was shut down after a victim discovered it, but later recreated under the name “2.0,” police documents detailed.

Members of the group commented on the photos with remarks like “banged her lol” and “Lol delete these photos or we’ll be on cnn in a week.” The photos in the search warrant depict seemingly passed out women in various states of undress. One photo depicts a girl reaching out to a man asking if “protection was involved” in the hook-up she suspected had happened while she was “blacked out.”

The university is pursuing its own investigation in addition to separate, criminal charges, which would be filed separately through the court system, Penn State President Eric Barron said in a press conference Wednesday. 

"I am very committed to due process," Barron said, warning that similar incidents had turned out differently than they were originally reported. "I'm very committed to knowing exactly who is responsible and then taking action on those who are responsible. I don't think it would do us well to do it any other way."

Barron also stressed that he believes the Kappa Delta Rho scandal is an individual problem, not a larger institutional issue, as some critics of fraternities have claimed.

"I think that if you look, some of the finest young men that I've met are part of the fraternity system," the Penn State president said. "I think that if you punish those that are responsible we all learn, and if you punish everyone, no one learns."