Baylor bans rap song after sorority sanctioned over racially-tinged video

Published: Jan. 18, 2019 at 5:53 PM CST
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A Baylor University sorority is being punished and a song is being banned after a controversial video involving a racial slur was posted on social media.

Pi Beta Phi sorority is facing multiple sanctions, both from the university and self-imposed, over a video clip that played on an Instagram story Jan. 10.

The eight-second video clip now circulating on Twitter shows a large group of girls with their hands in the air, jumping and singing along to the Sheck Wes song "Mo Bamba."

The unedited version of the song says the N-word at least eleven times in addition to other explicit language.

"The lyrics of this song do not align with Pi Beta Phi’s core values nor do they exemplify what our organization stands for," the sorority expressed in a statement. "On behalf of all members of the Texas Zeta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi, we sincerely apologize for any offense resulting from this incident."

The clip has gone viral with nearly 37,000 views on Twitter as of Monday evening.

"You can definitely hear the word being recited, and the impact has really been lack of understanding and lack of awareness of why you cannot say this word," said Shevann Steuben, Baylor's NAACP President.

The song, the clean and/or musical version of which was regularly played at Baylor games, has now been removed from athletics playlists, Steuben and university officials confirmed Monday.

"University-wide, we're going to be very conscious about when it's played, where it's played, who is playing it, and so right now it's just not being played and I think that's a very fair middle ground," said Steuben.

Steuben says she's met with Baylor administrators to talk about making this a teachable moment and not simply a consequence.

"I just wanted to make sure that we have restorative practices, that we jumped on this very quickly, and that it wasn't something that was swept under the rug and just seen as 'oh well, ya know, they didn't mean to so oh well,'" said Steuben. "No one at Baylor, organization or individual, should have to feel like their culture wasn't respected."

Baylor officials, who were made aware of the video the week it was posted, the same week sorority recruitment (formerly "rush") was taking place on campus, said it was filmed in Pi Phi's chapter room at the Stacy Riddle Forum during a chapter function.

"As soon as University officials learned of the report, we began an immediate inquiry to gather additional information and initiated our established student organization conduct review process," VP for Student Life Kevin P. Jackson said in a statement.

Jackson said the inquiry is complete, and the sorority was remorseful and took full responsibility.

"The organization, in coordination with the University, has identified internal accountability practices, cultural awareness education and ways to address the individuals responsible and the organizational culture that resulted in the racially insensitive behavior," Jackson said. "The University has accepted the mutually agreed-upon sanctions and will continue to work with the organization to enhance the educational opportunities afforded by this process."

A university spokesperson provided examples of the sanctions, the largest being the cancellation of the organization's major spring social event: the funds earmarked for the event will instead go toward a mandatory cultural awareness workshop for all members.

Pi Beta Phi (more commonly referred to as Pi Phi) must also partner with Multicultural Affairs and other BU organizations to co-sponsor a cultural awareness education program for the entire student body, the spokesperson says.

Baylor's NAACP Chapter, unit #6895, issued a statement on the sorority video using derogatory language, saying cultural insensitivity is not a new challenge for the university.

"This behavior cannot be overlooked nor is it appreciated and will not be tolerated," the statement reads in part. "The N-word has been coined a principle term for white racism and has been used to perpetuate hierarchy around the world. Baylor University prides itself on being a caring community, but this video, as well as other instances, such as cultural appropriation and awareness, have proven to be a weakness to that value."

In May of 2017, Baylor students protested after Kappa Sigma Fraternity held a "Mexican" themed party.

Steuben says, because of prior racially insensitive incidents at Baylor, she wasn't surprised when she saw the sorority's video, however, it was still painful.

"There was a lot of outrage, a lot of hurt, and I definitely was hurt in saying 'we've seen this,' and hurt in the sense of why do we continually make these mistakes?" said Steuben. "I think in order for it to be the last time, the community has to come together and say 'you know what it's not just Pi Phi, it's not just Greek organizations, it's a bunch of them, we have to work on diversity.'"

She feels Baylor has been working on diversity, but not inclusion.

"Part of inclusion is working on cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity," said Steuben.

The sorority's national organization is aware of the incident and also released a statement in response:

"Pi Beta Phi is a values-based organization where we expect all members to exemplify our core values of Honor and Respect. The decision made by members of the Texas Zeta Chapter at Baylor University to play a song with crude and insensitive lyrics during an official function is inappropriate and unacceptable. Pi Beta Phi Headquarters is partnering with chapter leadership to work through our member accountability process and to enhance our programming around cultural sensitivity and awareness education."

In consultation with their headquarters and Baylor's Office of Student Activities, although chapter leadership "swiftly took action to address this behavior and hold members accountable," the sorority confirms it's developing a plan to address the internal factors that allowed this behavior to exist and promised to better educate membership about cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Student Life officials reiterate, the incident does not reflect Baylor's institutional values.

"We are deeply disappointed because we have high standards of conduct for our students and the organizations to which they belong," said Jackson. "Baylor is strongly committed to our Christian mission, which includes understanding the importance of cultural sensitivity and ensuring we are respectful of the words that we use and their potential effect on others.”

Pi Phi is one of the nine active Panhellenic sororities on campus.

As of Monday night, KWTX's attempts to reach Sheck Wes had been unsuccessful.

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