In April, former president of the NC Mu chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and senior Owen Gaffney used a racial slur toward a black student, causing a campus-wide conversation regarding racial issues. Now the organizations are redefining their perspectives and working to increase inclusivity.
Since last spring, students have voiced their concerns on the unfolding situation. To address this, SGA Executive President and senior Morgan Bodenarain began outlining how to address racial tensions in a meeting last semester. And she said it all starts with cooperation.
“Student leaders across campus met last semester to talk about not just how we can end this problem, but also how we can address it as student leaders on this campus,” Bodenarain said. “That is what I would like to see. So often the burden seems to fall on minority parts of this campus. They seem to shoulder most of the weight.”
One of the organizations represented at the meeting included the Interfraternity Council, the overarching body that governs the eight fraternities on campus, including Sigma Phi Epsilon. Since the meeting, the organization expressed interest in working with the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE) to establish further routes of education and inclusivity among their respective cohorts.
Current Executive President of Sigma Phi Epsilon and senior Walker Barnum spoke highly of the fraternity’s relationship with the CREDE. He said they have been in contact all summer and that he is excited to experiment with new ideas. Barnum said “a group of about 10-14 brothers” will work directly with the CREDE, including Gaffney, who has been a major advocate for this.
“We are officially partnering with the CREDE this year,” he said. “They have brought in a model that works. It is a small group dynamic model where a group meets up week after week to establish trust and create dialogue. We believe that this is the first step in solving the issue.”
Director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Dean Tyrone Jean said, “Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity demonstrated a desire and commitment to engage in a sustained dialogue on the topic of race. The CREDE mutually shares this commitment as the experience will yield value to individual students, the chapter and Elon University.”
Jean said the partnership was not created with the intention to punish Sigma Phi Epsilon, but rather for the purpose of education.
And based on that model, Barnum said he has high hopes for this year.
“The relationship is still being established, and we are continuing to meet both our goals and theirs, and that will take time,” Barnum said. “The hope is to continue this for the future so that we can grow together.”
Bodenarain said these opportunities for dialogue may be the answer to dissolving any tensions.
“Sometimes there is a disconnect when some people don’t feel responsible for things that happen on campus, because they think, ‘It could never happen to me,’” she said.
And based on this momentum, Barnum said he is excited to continue this dialogue among these groups on campus.
“Education is first and foremost,” Barnum said. “Educating our members so that they may be genuine good members of society, so that they may fight tensions internally and externally.
“We will continue to work with individuals and groups on campus who share our desire to make the world a better place.”