News spread Friday that the three suspects the university is seeking in the Meredith statue investigation were members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at The University of Mississippi. The fraternity, known as Sig Ep, expelled all three members immediately, and the fraternity’s national headquarters indefinitely suspended the chapter while the investigation is underway.
Some students at Ole Miss are discussing the role that Greek life plays in fostering racial problems on campus.
“It is challenging to directly identify the root of the problems that African-American students experience at Ole Miss, particularly those related to race,” said Quadray Kohlheim, president of the Ole Miss Black Student Union. “However, history itself gives proof that members from (Interfraternity Council) Greek life contribute heavily to this issue.”
The Interfraternity Council, commonly referred to as IFC, is the group of 16 traditionally-white fraternities on campus. There are three traditionally-black fraternities on campus, but they fall under National Pan-Hellenic Council, not the Interfraternity Council.
Before the allegations became public, the presidents of all 16 Interfraternity Council fraternities on campus signed a letter Thursday condemning the desecration of the statue.
Kohlheim said he believes the culture of Greek life in general allows “a homogenous mindset” that leads to acts of racism and discrimination.
“I would not dare isolate the problem solely to the IFC, and I would like to commend the strong statement made by its leaders,” he said. “Their response reflects progress of our institution.”
Sig Ep President Jeremy Smith said that the actions of the three students in no way represent the values of the fraternity itself.
“When we learned that these students were responsible, we were offended and outraged,” Smith said. “The act of desecrating a statue of a civil rights leader like James Meredith represents a culture that should be long gone and one that has absolutely no place in our fraternity.”
For many non-Greek students on campus, the negative perceptions caused by some members of the Greek system is discouraging.
“This (incident) doesn’t change my opinion of Greek life, it reinforces it,” senior journalism major Ryan Rigney said. “It’s not a coincidence that many frat boys fail to act like paragons of tolerance and inclusion. Exclusion and rejection of people who differ from the norm are fundamental to the system they are a part of.”
Other leaders in the Ole Miss Greek community were quick to discredit any negative connotations caused by similar incidents in the past.
“It’s such a shame that these three individuals would do something like this,” said William Burns, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity said. “These actions go against everything we stand for as a Greek community. We are tired of the negative perceptions to Greek life, our university and the state of Mississippi because of a small number of ignorant people.”
Visit theDMonline.com for a full Q&A with Ole Miss Black Student Union President Quadray Kohlheim.
– Adam Ganucheau