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University of South Dakota to Work on Cultural Sensitivity After Incident

VERMILLION, S.D. — Unversity of South Dakota officials have said they plan to strengthen student conduct policies and do more work on cultural sensitivity after an incident involving an American Indian student during the school’s homecoming parade.

Alexis Oskolkoff, 30, a senior majoring in anthropology and Native studies, told the Argus Leader newspaper that she and her 10-year-old son, who were dressed in tribal regalia for the Oct. 5 parade, were taunted by other students who made an inappropriate comment and gestures regarding their race.

“He was really upset,” Oskolkoff said of her son. “You could tell it hurt his feelings. I shouted at them, so they stopped. I mean, I’m used to having racial things said to me. But when it comes to my son, I put my foot down.”

Dean of Students Kim Grieve called the incident “very, very disappointing, very troubling,” and university spokeswoman Tena Haraldson said the university prides itself on being inclusive of people from all cultures.

“It’s always going to be an ongoing process of education and enlightening people,” Haraldson said. “Sometimes people say and do stupid things.”

Representatives from Strollers, the unversity’s oldest student-run organization and the group responsible for the float from which the taunts came, apologized verbally and in writing to Oskolkoff and her son.

“I was shocked and horrified when I heard about the event,” Strollers President Chris Jahr said. “The situation was very disappointing, and I am glad to have had a chance to rectify it for all parties.”

Strollers adviser Lindsay Sparks said the perpetrators have not been identified.

Jahr said members of Strollers, which performs sketch comedy, would be happy to work with Oskolkoff to bring more cultural awareness to the campus. Grieve plans to work with student organizations and the Student Government Association to institute stronger sanctions against students or groups who violate school policies.

“We want to make sure that it’s a student organization policy that … they could lose their organization membership. They could also lose funding,” Grieve said. “There is going to be a zero tolerance policy, and it will be a much stricter policy.”

Oskolkoff said the apologies from Strollers seemed sincere and meant a lot to her son, but that more needs to be done, or she will not return to the university next semester.

“I want the institution to enforce … guidelines that have consequences for their no tolerance policy,” she said. “I want the institution to implement cultural sensitivity programs, to make organizations be required to attend cultural or diversity events and provide better support for students who are from diverse backgrounds.”

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