Why Expelling the OU Fraternity Brothers Was a Mistake

March 11th 2015

Laura Donovan

Earlier this week, America cheered when the University of Oklahoma publicly shamed fraternity SAE for engaging in a racist sing-along on video. As SAE's national headquarters shut down Oklahoma's chapter, University President David Boren called the participants "disgraceful," ordering them to flee the SAE house by midnight Monday. The following day, Boren said he'd expelled two members of the fraternity for leading the chant, and while many felt this was a sign of justice, it might be letting the frat brothers off too easily.

"I also have to wonder if this is teaching these Neanderthals a harsh enough lesson," political commentator S.E. Cupp writes in a new column. "Isn’t kicking them out letting them off the hook? Instead of allowing them to crawl off campus into the cold comfort of anonymity, I might rather like to see them have to face their peers everyday, which includes the 1,300-plus black students that attend the university, and confront the shame, ridicule and ostracizing that is sure to await them ... [W]hat if the school invited Fortune 500 companies on campus to explain to the fraternity why their bigotry will keep them from getting hired?"

They have until March 13 to appeal the expulsions. As to be expected, the identities of the expelled students were publicized online Tuesday evening. Levi Pettit and Parker Rice came forward about their actions and issued public statements, Rice through his father and Pettit through his parents' joint website.

“I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night. It was wrong and reckless," Rice, a 19-year-old Dallas native, wrote in a statement. "I made a horrible mistake by joining into the singing and encouraging others to do the same. On Monday, I withdrew from the university, and sadly, at this moment our family is not able to be in our home because of threatening calls as well as frightening talk on social media. I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation."

Pettit's parents posted a statement of regret on friendsandfamilyoflevipettit.com, which they started after the video surfaced online, "He made a horrible mistake, and will live with the consequences forever. However, we also know the depth of our son’s character. He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting. While it may be difficult for those who only know Levi from the video to understand, we know his heart, and he is not a racist. We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends."

Both young men seem to understand that the clip, however fleeting, is going to follow them for the rest of their lives. While they apologized (or, in the case of Pettit, had mom and dad apologize), Cupp is right that allowing them to go dark isn't going to teach them how to be better people. If you're disturbed enough to sing racist words as they did, it's hard to believe that a week of Internet-shaming is going to inspire a different way of thinking. They feel awful because they were caught, not simply because they said racist things. If these two were confronted by classmates and faculty members, namely those of different races, they might actually have the opportunity to hear how their words broke the hearts of fellow members of their community. It's not enough to just read about it online. They have to face the people they hurt in order to see the pain they've caused and the damage they've done to the community.