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Affirmative Action officer at University of North Dakota says division over Fighting Sioux nickname can create unwelcome environment

The University of North Dakota’s affirmative action officer says campus departments and programs that oppose the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo might create an “unwelcome” environment for nickname-supporting students.

Sally Page says in a Sept. 24 memo that such an environment might expose the university to a lawsuit.

“Should any individual or group file a complaint that he/she was denied an opportunity to participate or fully enjoy the services provided because the individual did not agree with the program’s position opposing the logo or Sioux name, then the university easily could be in a position of trying to defend itself from a discrimination or a hostile environment claim based on race,” the memo says.

UND’s nickname and Indian-head logo have been a divisive issue on campus for years. The university is suing the NCAA over a 2005 policy that bars the school from displaying the logo or nickname in postseason play or hosting playoff games.

Page’s memo references a newspaper advertisement that lists 27 UND programs, departments and governing bodies that have stated their opposition to the nickname and logo. Campus Committee for Human Rights, an anti-nickname group, paid for the ad.

Representatives of some university departments listed in the ad said departmental silence on the nickname issue could be read as a tacit endorsement of the university’s support of the name and logo.

“Both positions have the same chilling effect, just on different people,” said Sebastian Braun, a professor in UND’s Department of Indian Studies. “(Page’s position) allows the university to publicly support its stance but would not allow parts of the university to publicly oppose that stance.”

Page declined comment, according to UND spokesman Peter Johnson, who described the memo as primarily concerned with creating a comfortable campus environment for students.

“She’s saying you’ve got to make sure you’re looking out for all students,” he said. “You don’t want to make some students feel disenfranchised because you’ve taken a position on any issue.”

Charles William Miller, chairman of UND’s Religion and Philosophy Department, said his department’s opposition to the Sioux nickname does not mean pro-nickname views aren’t welcome.

“I, too, would not want contrary views stifled,” he said. “I don’t want students to be in an environment where they feel unwelcome. But I don’t think our department does that sort of thing. Because we’ve taken a stand against the logo doesn’t mean we don’t welcome views contrary to that.”

Information from: Grand Forks Herald,

–Associated Press

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