UND and NDSU incidents are best dealt with as campus issuesGRAND FORKS — The leader of North Dakota’s University System said Friday he was disturbed by recent reports of racially-insensitive parties and performances at UND and North Dakota State University, but said those issues are best dealt with by university administrators, not on a system-wide basis.
By: Joseph Marks, Grand Forks Herald
The Herald reported last Saturday on a UND sorority party held in November at which students dressed up in Indian maiden dresses, loincloths and feather headdresses and painted their faces and bodies red.
Less than a week later, The Forum of Fargo Moorhead reported on an NDSU performance during which a student mimicking U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wore blackface and an afro wig while female performer gave him a lap dance, simulating the “I got a crush on Obama” Web video. Other students reportedly simulated sex acts in the background while holding Obama campaign signs.
“It’s certainly behavior that’s not acceptable,” university system Chancellor William Goetz said Friday. “We need to be matter of fact about that. We have to be sensitive to these issues, and behavior of this sort cannot be tolerated and should not be accepted.
“By and large, I think the student bodies at both of those universities agree with me,” he said. “It’s a few individuals that may not totally recognize what the end result of their behavior might be and how that will be reflected in public perception. Like so many other issues with students, it’s a learning process, a learning incident, and maybe we’ll all be better off for it in the end.”
However, Goetz said, he thinks the best way for both incidents to be investigated and dealt with is at the university campus level.
“I’ve had a discussion with (NDSU) President (Joseph) Chapman on the issue, and I think, based on his briefing, it’s being adequately addresssed at this point,” he said, “and the same is true at UND. The board can take this issue up if it so wishes, but nothing is planned to that effect.”
State board President John Paulsen echoed Goetz’s statements.
“I certainly was concerned when I read the (NDSU blackface) article in the paper this morning, as I was when I read about the UND party,” Paulsen said. “As a general matter, these kinds of incidents are best managed by the individual institutions.”
The timing for both incidents was especially inopportune.
News of the NDSU performance came out just one week before Obama is scheduled to give the keynote address at the state Democratic-NPL convention in Grand Forks on April 4.
The UND sorority party took place the same month the school signed a settlement agree-ment with the NCAA, ending a yearlong and multimillion dollar legal battle over the school’s Fighting Sioux sports nickname, long a major source of white-Indian tension on campus.
The settlement agreement requires UND to retire its nickname in three years if it cannot win the endorsement of both the state’s Sioux tribes, an outcome that looks unlikely based on the strong opposition of many Sioux leaders.
Goetz is in the process of forming a committee that may recommend transitioning away from the nickname, either to a new nickname or to no nickname at all. He said Friday that public reaction to the UND sorority party will not affect that committee’s work.
Goetz said he may be prepared to announce the members of that committee at the next state board meeting Thursday in Bottineau.
“I may or may not be at a point where I can actually list the names (Thursday),” he said. “I’ve been very heavily involved in the budgeting process (the system’s biennial state budget request, which is on the next meeting’s agenda), so it’s just a time issue. I shifted gears in (the committee) direction this afternoon.”
The Grand Forks Herald and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.