by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma state Legislature is sometimes slow-moving. When it comes to the nuances of state public policy, that can be a good thing, indeed. But every now and then, speed can be a sign of virtue.
All over Oklahoma, responses to a racist chant that went “viral” on the worldwide Web were rapid and certain on Monday (March 9). That was also the case at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City.
Members of the state Legislative Black Caucus issued a press release decrying the contents of a video showing members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma “chanting a song laced with racial slurs.”
Earlier in the day, OU President David Boren directed members of the fraternity to leave the chapter house on campus. State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, said in the release sent to CapitolBeatOK, “I am pleased with President Boren’s swift action to call for a complete investigation in response to this incident. His immediate decision to order all members to vacate the fraternity house and call for OU to cut all ties from the national SAE organization is to be commended and sends a strong message that such disgraceful behavior will not be tolerated.
“As an alumnus from the University of Oklahoma and as the state’s only female African American legislator, I am disheartened at the obvious lack of tolerance for diversity within these student fraternities. This is a prime example of how one incident can quickly become systemic and unravel years of hard work by many black and whites who foster diversity and tolerance.”
State Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said he was “disgusted and upset such racist beliefs still exist in 2015. I support President Boren’s decisive action to immediately remove this group from the campus community. Intolerance has no place in a progressive society, and racism like this video depicts certainly has no place at a state-funded university.”
Preparing for a later press conference in Tulsa, Matthews reiterated his views Monday afternoon.
Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, contended, “This video is just a sign of an issue much larger than this particular incident. We do not need to be talking about intolerance and racism in 2015. We should be long past incidents like this hurtful video made by these young men. … It’s imperative that people truly understand the pain and sorrow such hurtful words and actions can carry with them. It’s sad that this video comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma, Alabama.”
A veteran legislator, state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, commented, “It’s my hope this will spark real and meaningful change on campus. There are numerous groups on the OU campus that are constantly working to diversify faculty and staff, and when we don’t have an environment that embraces diversity, that effort can easily be overlooked.”
Legislators representing the Norman campus area quickly joined the chorus. In comments circulated by state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, on Monday evening, Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said, “President Boren’s statement was strongly worded and impressive. There also have been numerous student-led protests condemning this despicable behavior.
“This was absolutely a terrible incident that should not be tolerated. This is a time when it is apparent how lucky we are at OU to have President David Boren leading us.”
Wesselhoft said, “The song by the OU students appears to have been rehearsed and premeditated by a few racist students. This is an aberration and in no way represents the sentiments of the university nor of the people of Oklahoma.”
Pittman’s colleague in the Senate, John Sparks, D-Norman, added, “The actions of those fraternity members are not representative of the student body at OU and certainly not of the citizens of Norman. The University’s actions were swift and appropriately harsh.”