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Impeachment Inquiries

November 14, 2019


University of Oklahoma president: Colleges have to be a loud voice against racism

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    And I'm joined now by David Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma.

    Governor Boren, is there any new information about the origin of that song the fraternity members were singing or about who else was involved?

    DAVID BOREN, President, University of Oklahoma: Well, we're really trying to track that down.

    It appears, at least on our campus, it was this one chapter of the SAE fraternity. I think there are questions about whether or not this is embedded in other chapters across the country, and whether or not they have learned it in national meetings and other places.

    So it's symptomatic of what is happening across our country. Clearly, you heard our students — I'm so proud of them — speak out with a single voice, not at our university, because real Sooners are — respect each other and care about each other and they're not racist.

    And they have really come forward in a way that's warmed my heart to speak with one voice for our university. We're just not going to put up with this here, and the fact that we have closed the house, we have sent them packing, and I — I hope, as they go, they will think long and hard about the pain that their words has caused.


    Governor Boren, what about the…


    Have caused.


    Excuse me.

    What about the fraternity's house mother, I guess, is her title? She was seen in a 2013 video singing another racist chant. Will something happen to her?


    Well, she's an employee not of the university but of the SAE fraternity. So with the closing of the fraternity and they're off this campus — as far as I'm concerned, they're not coming back as long as I'm president of this university. So she no longer has a job, and I think that's appropriate.

    You know, Judy, to me — and I have thought so much about this over the last several hours and after the initial shock has worn off — I have thought, well, what is causing this? What can we do about this all across our country? Ever — you know, Ferguson, Missouri, other campuses, other places, these things are happening. And I think we just have to — have to say we have zero tolerance for racism.

    And that means all of us, and we have to act decisively and immediately. And, you know, all of us as Americans, not just on our campus, but everywhere, when we hear racist jokes or offhand comments or even in social situations, we have to start standing up and say, no, we won't put up with that. That's not who we are. And I think we have to do it.


    But even with a zero-tolerance policy, we know instances like this continue to happen. Why is that? Do you think that racism is so ingrained in some corners of our society that it will just never be done away with?


    No. It is deeply ingrained, and there are subtle forms of discrimination all around us, and we're trying to examine all of them wherever they exist on our campus and come forward with positive solutions.

    But I do think is it goes back to what I just said. I think that we have become not vigilant enough about standing up and speaking out when people make comments, maybe little offhand comments, but whatever. We have to have our voices heard and we have to say it. We have to let it be known it's not socially acceptable in this country to not show respect for other Americans, other human beings.

    And I think we really have to be loud about it. This is outrageous. It's disgraceful. And we have to say it's outrageous and disgraceful. And at an educational institution, when bad things happen, you hope that student will learn from them. I have — I have read the public statements of the two young men and a letter of apology I received personally from one of them.

    I think they are regretful, but, on the other hand, they have to pay a price. I'm sorry, but they have to pay a price. They have done something they shouldn't do, and they have to learn from it.


    How far does the responsibility go, though, for something like this? I mean, it's — you have taken some responsibility, as the president of the university. The national fraternity has obviously been talking about it.

    What about — what about parents? What about others in the community who may be aware of this kind of behavior, but haven't acted on it?


    They have — they have a duty to come forward.

    You know, you look back at the — and students — we cannot insulate ourselves from the broader society. Students come here. What have they learned at home when they come? What have they learned in high school when they come? What does society around them find acceptable when they come?

    And we have to deal with that. And we can't avoid it. But where we find that they have come with a set of values that are not thoroughly right, when they come with a wrong outlook, we need to be educators and train students to think in new ways, to understand the feelings of others, to be sensitive to the feelings and the rights of other people, because we're talking about also a chant that talks about excluding them from a fraternity, threatening them, talking about hanging them from a tree.

    Now, I thought we got by that a long time ago. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Selma, and to have something like that said in this day, in this year, it's just — it's reprehensible.


    Some people…


    So — but you're right. We're not separated from the rest of society, and we have to be a loud voice in the whole society, our whole country and try to do something about it.


    Some people — I'm sorry to interrupt.

    Some people are saying that this is — this is embedded in a fraternity, Greek culture on college campuses. How much do you think that is to blame for what happened?


    Well, I think that's probably painted with a — that's painting with a single — with a broad brush.

    For example, here on our campus, I have been looking at the demographic data from one chapter to another, one sorority, one fraternity to another. There are some that are very, very diverse, and they don't just have a few token members of other races and people of other persuasions. They are very broad and diverse.

    Others are not so broad and diverse. So, part of the Greek system — and they really work hard, I think, to develop these community-wide activities, for example, and broaden their base. Others don't. And I think that what we have to do is make sure that those that are lagging behind start joining the others.

    We have made a lot of progress here in the last few years, but so much more needs to be done, and we're going to work together. One of the great things that's happening here now is, I'm being flooded by suggestions from our students, our football team, our Panhellenic sororities recently, other student organizations, here are some ideas we think we could implement to help things.

    That means a lot it me, because you can't just give an order from on high and do away with racism in our society. You have show why it's wrong. You have to teach students lessons. And you hope — have to hope that they will come forward and take ownership of these changes themselves, and that appears to be what's happening here.


    And it may be that something healthy will come out of all this.


    It really — I hope it will. I hope, out of this tragedy, something good will come.


    The president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren, we thank you for talking with us.


    Thank you very much.

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