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George Mason SAE Accepted Black Pledge Because He Was "White Sounding," Former Member Says

A former Sigma Alpha Epsilon member at George Mason University told BuzzFeed News that in 2011 the brothers denied acceptance to at least nine minority students – taking in one who "sounded like he knew English." And another pledge said a "secret" whites-only sect existed at the California State University, Northridge in the 1980s.

Last updated on March 15, 2015, at 1:06 a.m. ET

Posted on March 14, 2015, at 7:01 p.m. ET

A former Sigma Alpha Epsilon member at George Mason University in Virginia told BuzzFeed News that he witnessed some of the chapter's brothers racially profile potential pledges during the 2011 bidding process for acceptance into the fraternity.

Austin Nicol, who left the mostly-white fraternity in 2011, said that while there wasn't overt racism at the George Mason chapter, the members heavily scrutinized the race of the people they accepted.

Allegations of racism at several nationwide chapters of fraternity, founded in the antebellum South, have recently come to light at Louisiana Tech and University of Texas at Austin. The allegations came after some members at the University of Oklahoma were caught singing a chant filled with racial slurs on video last week, leading to the expulsion of two students and the chapter's forced closure.

Most of the recent allegations have focused on the use of the racist chant – which that some members said was "taught" – that mentions lynchings and how SAE won't accept black pledges. (The fraternity said the chant is not an official part of its tradition.)

Nicol's comments to BuzzFeed News expand the allegations to possible racial discrimination by the active members during the bidding process, in which the brothers decide who becomes pledges in the fraternity.

"That [bidding] process was just a few meet and greets with the brothers and then afterwards everyone would pretty much go into a room and Facebook stalk all the potential brothers and see what they looked like and what they were up to," said Nicol, now a social media manager in California.

He said that some of the members who rejected bids from potential pledges who were minorities would say things like, "is this guy going to steal from us?"

About 10 students of various ethnicities were in the 2011 pledge class, Nicol said, and the members "let one in" – a black student – because "they said he sounded like he actually knew English."

He added that the members were judging most minority potential pledges based on whether they were using "African American vernacular English versus 'white sounding' English."

Stephen Self, the current SAE president at George Mason University, said Saturday that "at no point do we ever deny admission on the basis of race" and that the chapter has "absolutely zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind."

"Nothing about a potential new member's 'vernacular' deters us from accepting members. Speaking "like a white person" (whatever that means) has nothing to do with what it means to be a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon," he said.

There are currently 47 active members, he said, adding, "four are African-American, four are Indian-American, three are Middle Eastern and one is Hispanic."

"In the Spring of 2011, we admitted a class of 8 men, including 2 Asian Americans and one Hispanic," he said, and that by the fall of 2011 "we admitted a class of 10, including one African-American, one Indian-American, and one Hispanic."

(The fraternity's former president, Storm Paglia, was remove from student government for calling undocumented immigrants "illegals" in a tweet, George Mason's student newspaper reported in February.)

"Almost everyday I saw 'The True Gentleman' creed being broken," Nicol said. The creed is below:

Every SAE member had to memorize the creed and say it at the end of every meeting, according to Nicol. Part of the creed is: "The True Gentleman is the man who...does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity."

"We're supposed to live by this creed down to the last word," he said. "Almost everyday I saw that being broken."

A spokesman for the national organization said Saturday that he has no comment on the alleged incidents at George Mason.

In response to increasing concerns about the lack of racial diversity in the fraternity, a statement on the SAE website now reads, "Based on data gathered since 2013, approximately 20 percent of our members self-identify as a minority or non-Caucasian." The national organization has also said "discrimination and racial bias of any kind has no place in our organization and will not be tolerated."

George Mason University didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Phil Hammond, a former SAE pledge at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in the 1980s, told BuzzFeed News that while the chapter was multi-racial there was a secret sub-group of white-only members within the fraternity.

Hammond, now a California-based accountant, said that while there were Asians, blacks, a Mexican and a Filipino, the CSUN chapter was still "90% white."

One of his best friends, who was also a pledge, was invited to join an all-white secret group within the chapter in 1986, Hammond said.

"I can't remember clearly, but the group called themselves either 'The True Gentleman of The South' or 'The True Brothers of The South," he said.

The spokesman for the national SAE said he has no comment on the CSUN allegations.

And at University of Washington, officials are investigating allegations by black students that SAE members called African Americans "apes" while booing and obscenely gesturing at marchers who were passing the fraternity's house during a Black Lives protest in February, The Seattle Times reported on Thursday.

The fraternity's president said its members heard the derogatory comments but denied that the comments were made by them.

Ten students bidding for entry to SAE in 2011 were of various ethnicities. This post earlier said that the ten people were black students.

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