The University of Oklahoma expelled students and Sigma Alpha Epsilon members Parker Rice and Levi Pettit on Tuesday after a video that went viral on the Internet showed them leading a racist chant. Now one of the member's parents claimed their son made a "horrible mistake."
According to Emily Shapiro and Dean Schabner of ABC News, the parents of Pettit, Brody and Susan Pettit, released a statement saying that their son will have to live with the consequences of his actions.
"He made a horrible mistake, and will live with the consequences forever," they said. "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."
His parents insisted that Pettit was not a racist.
"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," they said. "We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends."
Shapiro and Schabner reported that University of Oklahoma president David Boren said that the fraternity students created a hostile learning environment. However, the university refused to confirm the identity of the expelled students, citing privacy laws.
"I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma," Boren said. "I hope that the entire nation will join us in having zero tolerance of such racism when it raises its ugly head in other situations across our country."
Boren added that he hoped the students involved in the video "will learn from this experience" that using words "to hurt, threaten and exclude other people" was wrong.
"We will continue our investigation of all the students engaged in the singing of this chant," Boren said. "Once their identities have been confirmed, they will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action."
However, the viral video of the racist chant may be symptomatic of a larger nationwide trend within the overall SAE fraternity. Hailey Branson-Potts, Nigel Duara and Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times wrote that members from other SAE chapters may have said those same racist chants; one of them may include the chapter located at the University of Texas at Austin.
"Rumors also are circulating that a chant similar to the one at OU has been traditional in the UT chapter of SAE," UT Austin president Bill Powers said, noting that the university is investigating the matter.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Rice and Pettit, who are both from Texas, officially apologized for their actions in public statements on Tuesday. However, Rice claimed that "the song was taught to us," which the national SAE headquarters denied in a statement.
"The national fraternity does not teach such a racist, hateful chant, and this chant is not part of any education or training," the national SAE headquarters said. "Our investigation has found very likely that the men learned the song from fellow chapter members, which reiterates why Sigma Alpha Epsilon did not hesitate to close the chapter completely because of the culture that may have been fostered in the group.
The Los Angeles Times reported that events surrounding SAE have triggered an atmosphere of tension on Oklahoma's campus, where "a large percentage of students" have joined either a fraternity or sorority. The president of the University of Oklahoma's Phi Delta Theta chapter, Tyrone Speller, claimed in a statement that "indiscriminate threats of violence" have been made against those participating in that culture.
"When students feel hurt, they should not turn around and do the same thing in response," Speller said. "You cannot fight hate with hate."
Speller added that even though he was "a person of color in a predominantly white fraternity," he told the Los Angeles Times that he always felt welcome by his fellow fraternity members.
"People need to realize that this is not a 'minorities' vs. the 'Greeks' battle," Speller wrote. "This is not a choice between two competing cultures. We are one student body."