Three freshmen were expelled from their fraternity at University of Mississippi (popularly known as Ole Miss) Friday for hanging a noose on a statue of James Meredith, a civil rights hero who was the first African American to attend the university. The chapter has also been suspended indefinitely by the national Sigma Phi Epsilon organization.
Ole Miss and local police concluded that the three white 19-year-olds from Georgia were responsible for hanging the noose and plastering an old Georgia flag bearing the Confederate symbol on the statue’s face. The students could face criminal charges, if Ole Miss police get their way, and the FBI is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
Sigma Phi Epsilon stressed in an email to ThinkProgress that it holds the three freshmen, not the fraternity, responsible for the act. “Three students were expelled for these acts. The Fraternity’s suspension in not punitive. The chapter’s operations have been suspended by SigEp for the purposes of investigating how these students were admitted to the Fraternity,” wrote Beaux Carriere, SigEp’s Marketing and Communications Director.
While the university and fraternity may try to spin this as an isolated offense confined to these three freshmen, the culture at Ole Miss and elsewhere often perpetuates racist displays. Just a day after the noose was discovered, a black Ole Miss student reported that a truck full of students threw alcohol on her and called her racist names while she was walking to her car. Ole Miss was also thrust in the spotlight after the 2012 election, when hundreds of Ole Miss students rioted, screaming racial epithets about President Obama and black people in general.
At other universities, frat culture tends to be at the center of many racial offenses. Most recently, an Arizona State University fraternity was expelled for holding an “MLK black party” on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, using stereotypical props like watermelons and basketball jerseys. Predominantly white frat parties at other schools have included blackface, Asian costumes, and “catch an illegal immigrant” games.
This post has been updated to include the fraternity’s statement.