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About 100 marchers approach Twamley Hall as they walked from the American Indian Student Service Center on the University of North Dakota campus Friday morning, to protest racially insensitive behavior. UND President Robert Kelley and several Indian students and protesters spoke at the rally that followed. John Stennes / Forum News Service

UND community takes action against racism : After racially insensitive T-shirt incident during Springfest, UND community marches in protest

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GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota administrators were among about 100 people marching through campus Friday to protest a recent racially insensitive event, but that didn’t prevent them from being called out.

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Emmy Scott, former president of the Indian Studies Association, a student group, said administrators were using the march as a publicity stunt and released a list of demands she and other students want the university to meet by December.

“I’m glad that they’re here, but in a lot of ways, it feels like it’s a PR stunt and I want them to know that we are not a photo-op,” she said.

The demands include selecting a new nickname and prohibiting students from wearing clothing or other gear bearing the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Some people, including Indian students and the NCAA, consider them offensive. The university was forced to retire both at the end of 2012, but the nickname and logo remain common throughout the community.

The march follows an incident May 10 in which some students and other young people wore T-shirts depicting an Indian head drinking from a beer bong and the words “Siouxper drunk.” Some have connected it to the nickname and logo, which has a different Indian head.

UND President Robert Kelley responded in front of the gathered crowd saying he is committed to solving the university’s insensitivity problem. “I accept these requests on behalf of the university, and I also pledge that we will continue to work with you evenly together in reaching a resolution.”

However, he said he would not tell students what to wear.

Scott said that, if the university doesn’t meet the demands, Indians throughout the state should persuade their tribal members not to attend UND and report incidents to federal agencies.

Demands

The marchers weaved slowly down the sidewalk Friday morning as some participants held signs calling for a more inclusive campus climate. As they neared their destination at Twamley Hall, where administrators have their offices, the crowd began to hoot and cheer.

They held a rally there under the watchful eyes of UND police officers.

That’s where Scott called for the university to condemn the Fighting Sioux nickname instead of “using the NCAA as a scapegoat.” She said the university should restrict students from wearing clothing and other gear with the nickname and logo, and it should hold accountable students who wore the “Siouxper drunk” T-shirts.

“I’m embarrassed to say I’m graduating from the University of North Dakota,” she said.

The marchers also called for sensitivity training workshops for incoming students and for the university to begin moving forward with selecting a new nickname and mascot, even though state law doesn’t allow one to be adopted until January 2015.

After the protest, Kelley addressed some of the issues directly and said depending on the legality of when the school can begin working with the community to find a new nickname, he isn’t opposed to starting the search as soon as possible.

“We have fought a very, very, hard struggle on every level to retire the name and logo,” he said. “It was the right thing to do for this university. Keeping that name and logo, there was a cost to this university that was just too high. We fought that fight. It’s retired.”

When it comes to Fighting Sioux clothing and other gear, Kelley said he would never censor what students could wear on campus.

“My dad was a librarian and my dad taught me at a very early age about the dangers of censorship,” he said. “I don’t want to tell you what to read, I don’t want to choose books for you, nor will I tell you what to wear.”

UND no longer allows Fighting Sioux merchandise to be made, but many people still have such items and stores that stocked up earlier still sell them.

Fighting racism

As the protesters marched by on University Avenue, UND student Amanda Johnson stopped with her friends to take a few pictures of the crowd.

Johnson said she knew a couple of the people who wore the “Siouxper drunk” T-shirts personally. “What they did was wrong, absolutely, it was immature and it was insensitive, so I agree with why they’re doing the walk, but the extent that it went to I don’t agree with.”

Those who wore the T-shirts had received death threats, she said.

Professor Tami Charmichael said she was there to lend her support and pointed out several deans and faculty members.

“I think the community and the university need to make some changes and make sure this sort of thing never happens again,” she said. “We can’t have this kind of racism.”

UND isn’t the only institution to react to the “Siouxper drunk” T-shirt.

On Friday, Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown and City Council President Hal Gershman condemned the incident. “This is not how we should treat each other in Grand Forks,” they said in a joint statement.

The North Dakota University System said it would hold a summit on “Creating an Atmosphere of Respect” at the state Capitol on Monday.

“The appalling incident last weekend has highlighted that we have a long way to go in creating an atmosphere of respect for all cultures,” Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen said in a news release. “This is not just a UND issue; it reflects on the entire university system. It’s time to start a conversation about developing appropriate responses to such incidents, and we intend to lead that effort.”

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Anna Burleson
Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact Burleson with story ideas or tips by either phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. More examples of her work can be found at grandforksherald.com.
(701) 780-1114
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