Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the national college fraternity group whose University of Oklahoma chapter was shut down after video surfaced showing SAE members enthusiastically participating in a racist chant, hazed an African-American pledge to death in 2011. While it is unclear what role the race of the victim played in that 2011 tragedy, a lengthy history of racist incidents connected to the frat has cast a new light on the case.
Georges Desdunes, a 19-year-old aspiring pre-med student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, was found dead in the early morning hours of February 25, 2011, The New York Times reported. Earlier that night, as part of a fraternity initiation ritual, Desdunes — the only son of a widowed Haitian immigrant mother from Brooklyn — was kidnapped by Sigma Alpha Epsilon members, who bound him hand and foot with zip ties and poured large amounts of alcoholic drinks down his throat.
They then left him unconscious on a couch in the common area of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house, where a member of the cleaning staff later found him dead.
Three frat members were later acquitted of misdemeanor hazing charges in Desdunes’ death. The pledge’s mother also filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against Sigma Alpha Epsilon and 20 of its former members.
While racism per se was not alleged in the death of Georges Desdunes at the time, the history of racist incidents at the fraternity may force a new look at the 4-year-old tragedy.
At the same University of Oklahoma branch whose members were seen in an online video chanting a song that repeatedly includes the racist epithet “n****r,” and includes a reference to lynching blacks by hanging them from trees, another online video surfaced on Monday showing fraternity “house mom” Beauton Gibow, 79, repeatedly shouting the same “n-word.”
About a month before the University of Oklahoma video appeared, a discussion on the online forum Reddit recounted the same racist chant being required of pledges at the University if Texas SAE chapter.
In 2013, the political blog Think Progress reports, Sigma Alpha Epsilon members at Washington University in St. Louis were required to chant lyrics including the “n-word” to an audience of African-American students, who in turn were ordered to “show some respect” for the chant. The president of the chapter later apologized.
Last Christmas, members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Clemson University in South Carolina held a party in which white frat members dressed as African-American street gang members. The chapter was subsequently suspended by the SAE national office.
In 2006, Think Progress found a Sigma Alpha Epsilon member resigned from the fraternity, accusing other members of racially harassing him for becoming romantically involved with an African-American woman, and referring to his girlfriend as “n****r.”
Along with several other incidents from the past 15 years, Think Progress noted that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon online site makes a point of stating that during the United States Civil War, though the frat then had only 400 members nationwide, 369 of them fought in the Confederate Army.
[Image: George Desdunes Facebook via New York Daily News]