The expulsions of two students by the University of Oklahoma for their role in a racist chant will likely not be the last word on the scandal.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members can appeal the decision. More students might be expelled.
And beyond the immediate issues around the now infamous incident, the university could experience a trickle-down impact for months, maybe years to come.
Writing to the two students Tuesday, just two days after a video of frat members singing the racist song surfaced, OU President David Boren said they were being booted for “leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.”
They were given until close of business Friday to contest the decision. No word yet on whether either will.
CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said she believes there will be a constitutional challenge to the expulsions.
“It’s sort of one of the first things you learn in law school … you may disapprove of what someone says but you still defend their right to say it,” she said.
Hostin added: “I think there’ll be the arguments that these students were students, and that in our educational systems we want people to have, maybe, even a heightened level of freedom of speech.”
Also unknown at this point is whether other students who appear in the video will be expelled or otherwise punished.
Already, the Greek letters sigma, alpha and epsilon have been removed from the frat house’s facade, the house will be closed as of midnight Tuesday and the university will board up the windows, following up on separate decisions by the university and the SAE national headquarters to shutter the Oklahoma chapter, Boren said.
But he seemed to say that individual punishments could be a bit trickier.
“Well, legally, our concern is we have to demonstrate exactly how the educational experience of our students was threatened or disrupted by their actions,” Boren said, “and it really has to focus on the students on the bus. Did the other students have their educational experience disrupted?”
While he unwaveringly declared “there is no room for racists and bigots” at his university, the very thing that could keep the SAE fraternity brothers Oklahoma Sooners is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The law “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance,” but it also provides the parameters for determining if someone is violating the federal law, Boren said.
Any punishment must be “carefully directed” if it’s to pass constitutional muster, although he made it clear he hopes some of the students involved won’t wait for legal issues to be sorted out.
“I think some of the students themselves may take themselves off the campus, and I hope they do because this is not a place that wants racists,” he said.
So far, no students have dropped out — voluntarily — but the video has cost the university’s football team a top recruit as offensive lineman Jean Delance said Monday he was de-committing from the Sooners and considering other teams.
It’s an issue that Ber Thaddeus Bailey, director of diversity, OU student government, worries about.
“I am concerned about the trickle-down effect from this incident,” he said. “I do want to encourage those who are considering the University of Oklahoma that this is a great place to study, and we are going to continue to progress.”