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Raw DS Opinion Article: “Cowboy and Indian” Themed Party Illustrates That it is Time to Change the Name

March 24, 2008

Note: This article is slated to be published in Friday’s edition of the Dakota Student. I posted it here early so as to have a better-timed reaction to this news story in the Grand Forks Herald about an Indian-themed party held by members of UND’s Gamma Phi Beta sorority. The photos in the story have recently been removed due to “terms of service” violations. If they reappear, I’ll post a link to them.

 UPDATE: Apparently the “slideshow” function on the user’s Photobucket account is still working. You can view the photos from the party HERE.

The next time you log into Facebook, take a look at the site’s homepage. In big, bold letters you’ll find this clearly defined description: “Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” It would appear that members of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority have forgotten that “people around you” also included those who might be insulted by a party hosted under their auspices and those who might work for the press. What might have began as an incredibly poor and misguided choice in party themes has since turned into something that has tarnished the reputation of the sorority as well as the students of the entire University.

George Santayana once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Anyone with even a minor connection to the news in the past two years would have seen many news stories about several students from many different universities who were disciplined for hosting Martin Luther King or African American themed parties after pictures from the party were posted on Facebook. A little foresight on the part of Anastasia Ginda, Jillian Krivarchka and her fellow Gamma Phis could have gone a long way in preventing a lot of trouble for themselves and many others.

I’ve long held the belief that we students of the University and those in the greater Grand Forks community are not mature or tolerant enough to use the Fighting Sioux nickname. The outward expressions of intolerance in general conversation and the absolutely astounding ignorance about native students and their homes that I’ve experienced in my four years here has proven to me that these people who maintain they are “honoring” the Sioux name are doing nothing more than supporting a racist idea that originated in a time when it was “okay”. It would be like Nazi Germany having a sports team named the Fighting Kikes and claiming that it “honors” the Jewish people. I am in no way accusing people here of being Nazis. The point is that the situation surrounding this “Cowboy and Indian” themed party is yet another example of the fact the University community and Grand Forks cannot handle the responsibility that comes along with having a nickname that uses the name or moniker of a minority.

The fact that no one has publicly apologized for their actions, the party and the pictures is deplorable. Krivarchka’s interview for the paper gave no indication of remorse and in fact deflected the blame, stating “we have no control over how [people at the party] act.” As hosts of the party, the sorority has ultimate control of how they handle the actions of those at the party. The fact that these pictures were taken and posted by the current president of the sorority further illustrates the so-called “lack of control” the sorority had in who attended its party.

Apologies should be flying left and right from the sorority, the university, and the students who attended the party and were pictured in the photos. There should be consequences for these actions and those responsible should be held accountable for their decisions and actions. Mandatory diversity training should be required for members of the sorority. The University should take this situation and use it as a benchmark by which to gauge the effectiveness of diversity awareness efforts with its students, faculty and staff. I think they’ll find that their efforts aren’t doing well at making people more aware of those around them. This will likely be one of the last logs to fuel the fire toward changing the Fighting Sioux name. It’s incredibly unfortunate that it had to come down to a situation like this but, frankly, the name change is something that needs to be done.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynsey permalink
    March 24, 2008 7:46 pm

    I, too, wondered why there have not been public apologies at this point. University offices were open today, and I would assume most of the Gamma Phi Beta women are back for classes tomorrow. By now, an apology should have been formally released.

    I personally thought that the photos of the male students present at the party were very inappropriate, regardless of the racially-charged attire. That degree of nudity is only appropriate when wearing a Speedo for a swim meet.

  2. Locomotion permalink
    March 24, 2008 11:32 pm

    Excellent editorial. However, you need to dig deeper into your research to learn why public institutions may not punish or sanction chapters for expressions of free speech, as we have here. Check Oklahoma State a few years ago with a men’s fraternity. The “U” president did the right thing–he led a march against racism. The answer to free but objectionable speech is more speech.

  3. M Andersen permalink
    March 25, 2008 6:30 pm

    Here’s a video of some of the photos, with some interesting commentary…

  4. Allison permalink
    March 25, 2008 9:01 pm

    Nothing illegal has happened! Leave these girls alone and cover real news.

  5. Seth Berglund permalink
    March 25, 2008 9:49 pm

    First, I would like to state that I think this article is a feeble attempt, on your behalf to “cash in” on a hot topic, mainly predicated at the “nickname” battle that continues at the University.

    Second, I am not going to defend the actions by any individuals that attended this party, but would rather like to defend their rights as individuals. These are college students doing their part to continue their education and better society. Did they display a lack in judgment? Yes. Have we not all committed this same infraction? Yes.

    Lastly, I am an Alumnus from a local fraternity, and we annually held a “Heaven and Hell” party. There were people running around in Devil costumes. Is this considered an inappropriate costume to you? Personally, I find the Devil a lot more offensive than the Sioux.

    Moving on:

    So, now that you have “crowned” yourself the “attire police”, where do you draw the line? Are you willing to personally “oversee” every costume party to ensure that it does not offend anyone?

    TWJ: “It would be like Nazi Germany having a sports team named the Fighting Kikes and claiming that it ‘honors’ the Jewish people. I am in no way accusing people here of being Nazis. The point is that the situation surrounding this ‘Cowboy and Indian’ themed party is yet another example of the fact the University community and Grand Forks cannot handle the responsibility that comes along with having a nickname that uses the name or moniker of a minority.”

    – I predicted this argument within the first sentence of your article. I especially enjoyed the portion of how you compare the two infractions and then claim to not be accusing them of being “Nazis”. Then why use the comparison to begin with?

    Per dictionary.com
    Kike- n. Offensive Slang
    Used as a disparaging term for a Jew.

    Quite derogatory wouldn’t you agree? Meanwhile, nothing in “Cowboys and Indians” strikes me as offensive.

    TWJ: “The fact that no one has publicly apologized for their actions, the party and the pictures is deplorable. ”

    A: “It wasn’t our intent to make anyone upset about it,” Krivarchka said. “It was brought up to us and we said we understand it was not the best thing.”

    Per dictionary.com
    Apology-1. a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another

    I understand how you want to “spin” this into a Fighting Sioux nickname argument. However, I think you are throwing very innocent professional women under the bus. Like I stated earlier, there were some very large oversights in the planning of the theme party. But, you cannot sit there and act like these actions were intentional. I am not suggesting sweeping anything under the rug, but if you want a “nickname” battle, go against the University, not the women of Gamma Phi Beta.

  6. Random Commenter Hiding Behind Anonymity permalink
    March 26, 2008 3:33 pm

    An entire article with nothing but political correctness BS – what a surprise

  7. Evenrant permalink
    April 3, 2008 2:33 pm

    Are you saying that the school nickname some how acts to oppress a native american minority group? Do they not want to be associated with the state university?

    Seems like the North Dakota native americans don’t have a problem associating their status with promoting gambling.

    How about changing the school nickname to 4 Bears, Prairie knights, Spirit Lake, Sky Dancer, or Dakota Magic? (All being names of the various indian casinos througout the state).

    Look, college students are not known for making the smartest decisions, however, just because they dressed up like cowboys and indians for a theme party doesn’t make them racists — give me a break!

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