Charles University Students Weigh In on University of Oklahoma Scandal

A survey on two American traditions: Fraternities and Racism

By Valerio Farris and Chloe Hays

After members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon's University of Oklahoma chapter were caught on video singing a racist chant, OU shut their chapter down. Photo courtesy of Mashable.

Protesters demonstrate against the racist video made by members of a fraternity at University of Oklahoma. Students above march with Norman’s first African-American homeowner, Dr. George Henderson. Photo courtesy of Mashable.

A ten-second video posted online earlier this March reveals University of Oklahoma fraternity members chanting racist slurs against African Americans. The video shook universities across the United States and sparked a powerful conversation about the persistence of racism on college campuses, particularly within fraternities and sororities. These organizations, collectively known as the Greek system due to their use of Greek letters for their names, dominate the social life at a larger number of U.S. colleges. Many Greeks, as they are called, speak positively of the lifelong friendships and professional connections made through joining these exclusive clubs. However, fraternities and sororities are often criticized for excessive alcohol consumption as well as an atmosphere that fosters sexual assaults, elitism and discrimination.

The University of Oklahoma video shows students from Sigma Alpha Epsilon chanting loudly and enthusiastically on a bus about their adamant refusal to allow African American students to join their fraternity. Their chant employs intensely racist terminology when referring to black people and a historical reference to lynching, a common practice in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century in which African-Americans were murdered by hanging, typically with the support of an angry white mob.

Within a week of the video’s release, the University of Oklahoma shuttered the fraternity, forcing all members to move out and expelled two of the students who led the chant in the video. The University of Oklahoma launched an investigation into the incident and found that the chant was learned at a national chapter event, not necessarily specific to the fraternity’s branch at the University of Oklahoma. Some legal analysts claim that the two expelled students would likely win a lawsuit that argues their expulsion violates their right to free speech.

While the students’ chant recalls an ongoing struggle in the United States with racism, we wondered how such egregious slurs against a minority are perceived abroad. For instance, in the Czech Republic, where Roma face economic and social disadvantages, are racist declarations considered offensive, taboo, typical? In the context of the University of Oklahoma video, we asked Charles University students to comment on Czech attitudes towards racism and its manifestations on college campuses.

Perhaps surprisingly, in a country many Westerners claim is backward on minority issues, interviewees unanimously agreed that Czech university students would be unlikely to spout racial slurs against any minority. This perhaps suggests the level of sophistication and open mindedness required to attend a public university in Central Europe versus the United States.

There is also no Greek system in continental Europe.

Those interviewed in person on campus refused to provide their last names.

Klara, 22, Balkan Studies

What is your initial reaction to the University of Oklahoma video?

“That is very Czech.”

Could something like this happen here in the Czech Republic? At a Czech university? And towards whom?

“It could happen on night tram, because the passengers are drunk.”

Millie, 20, Balkan Studies

What is your initial reaction to the University of Oklahoma video?

“That’s not okay. It’s kind of racist, I guess. I don’t know how seriously they meant it. I don’t know, I have this really bad sense of humor, so if they meant it like a joke then I guess it’s like not that bad, but if they meant it seriously then it’s not okay.”

Do you agree with Oklahoma University’s response? Do you think a Czech university would react the same way?

I don’t think that’s fair, not at all. It’s kind of absurd, they were just chanting. I wouldn’t do it. I would like talk to them. Maybe some punishment because I guess they were like a school and that’s a kind of representation, but I wouldn’t kick them out of school.”

Tom, 24, General Linguistics and Phonetics

What is your initial reaction to the University of Oklahoma video?

“It’s not normal today, they have to be some deviant people or something like that.”

Could something like this happen here in the Czech Republic? At a Czech university? And towards whom?

“Romany, Gypsies, simply. It’s one group which is a possible target of such a performance. And recently the Muslims are maybe a little bit in danger, I think. And those are the two main groups.”

Do you agree with Oklahoma University’s response? Do you think a Czech university would react the same way?

“In general, I think it’s alright to not respect such behavior among the students. People should be tolerant towards the others.”

Yaroslav, 22, Public Administration

What was your initial reaction?

“I don’t like these guys because racism is not good in any country. It shouldn’t be in a democracy.”

Could something like this happen here in the Czech Republic? At a Czech university? And towards whom?

“I think so but not towards black people but gypsies. There is problem with gypsies and they are living in Czech Republic so it could happen but when people are educated it shouldn’t be possible. But there are some people; they live in a less educated way and think that gypsies are evil and that they do everything wrong.”

Do you see racism on university campuses?

“I don’t think so, but I talk only with Czech people, not gypsies. I study Spanish with Egyptian people but I think it’s not a problem, and I know some Asian people and no problem. I don’t actually know black people but I don’t think it would be a problem for me.”

Do you agree with Oklahoma University’s response? Do you think a Czech university would react the same way?

“I think that this reaction is good, but here I don’t think that students would be shut out from school. If the students would cause another problem in this way they could be fired or shut out from school. I don’t have a problem with people who are different from me so it’s not my issue to worry about, I hope.”

Michal, 22, Pedagogy

Could something like this happen here in the Czech Republic? At a Czech university? And towards whom?

“I think the reaction, the backlash from the media, from society, would be too big, and the people know the reaction will be that way.”

“I guess something like this can exist anywhere, but I wasn’t really confronted with this way of thinking here and at Charles University, so I hope not.”

Do you agree with Oklahoma University’s response? Do you think a Czech university would react the same way?

“Everything seems to take a longer time to really happen here. I think the reaction would be there and the students would get kicked out of the school, but it would take some time.”

Alishka, Theatre Studies

Could something like this happen here in the Czech Republic? At a Czech university? And towards whom?

“I have never met some people like that, but it’s possible and it’s bad. I think in these big organizations like Charles University it’s not that possible.”

Christina, Theatre Studies

What would the reaction be if something like this happened here?

“I think also that they would be kicked out from school and that also it would involve the police. People will think it’s illegal, and that they will be removed.”

 

Valerio Farris is in the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development of 2017. His hometown is Houston, Texas.

Chloe Hays is in the College of Arts and Sciences class of 2016. Her hometown is Eugene, Oregon. 

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Spring 2015 Issue Number 2

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

%d bloggers like this: