In a world where proper outward social conformity is often conflated with the presence of internal, moral character, what’s a young man in a fraternity to do?

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Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members, who are students at the University of Oklahoma have been either suspended or removed from school, for creating a chant with racist lyrics, and then having it filmed and plopped on the Internet and TV.

These students are about to have their future employment fortunes changed, because, the Internet neither forgets—nor forgives.

Should we be surprised that students in this fraternity seemingly happily chanted along with lyrics that might not have been above board?

No.

Social pressure to conform to group norming is still more powerful at the human, physical, person-to-person, individual level, than Internet shaming ever will be at a larger societal level. And ignorance of history and facts is not merely the provenance of the young and impressionable.

But, here’s the thing: These students have now been impacted far beyond the actual impact of their words and enthusiastic chanting in the video. Yes, it went viral. Yes, many people have played it, talked about it, linked to it, and written about it (heck, even we are). But has anyone asked the larger culture what the societal impact of such an outburst actually was?

No.

No, we haven’t.

Opinion polls are gradually being replaced by instant reactions through immediate outlets (like Twitter, YouTube comments, etc.) to stimulus events. This rarely commented upon cultural shift has created a “firebombing” mentality that has scorched the personal, business, emotional and financial earths of many people, both public personalities and private individuals. All the way from former Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich and former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, to the two police officers who were shot in response to the death of Eric Gardner and shooting of Michael Brown.

Forgiveness and grace are gifts to be given out of a sense of compassion and empathy (are the fraternity members at OSU not human? Do they not bleed?). But the larger social desire for lockstep conformity prohibits this. And when proper outward social conformity is linked exclusively to the assumption of character, forgiveness and grace are hard to come by.

We are sure that the OSU students who have been suspended (or removed from school) as a result of this incident, will attain employment in the future and will move on to living as full lives as they possibly can, but what deeper lessons have they learned from this incident, from culture, society and from institutions of higher learning, about race, character, conscience and forgiveness?

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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HSCT’s website: http://www.hsconsultingandtraining.com