I want to begin this column with a qualification. My immediate family and I have four degrees from the University of North Dakota. My husband and I both have bachelor’s degrees from UND. Terry has a master’s degree. My husband wrestled on UND’s wrestling team. I played in the band at football games and basketball games and in the Wind Ensemble. I worked at UND following my graduation. My daughter just finished her Master of Fine Arts degree there and is currently working at UND. I want to make it clear that I have a vested interest in the UND logo debate. My husband, my daughter and I have been connected to the university for more than forty years.
I was dismayed when I read that the North Dakota House of Representatives, including the Representatives from District 10, voted 65 to 28 to pass a law that would mandate the use of the Fighting Sioux logo in the state’s Century Code. This bill (HB 1263) also mandates the Attorney General to consider filing a lawsuit against the NCAA.
I’m not sure what the real motives are behind the introduction and passage of this bill. It seems inconsistent with the policies of the majority party that constantly preaches less government and fiscal conservatism. The Board of Higher Education has ruled on this issue. The students at UND have made a decision. The administration of UND has decided to end the debate. The issue has been fought, argued, and studied. The issue has hurt the University both from within and from outside. This law will cost the university and the state of North Dakota an unknown number of dollars in legal costs.
There seems to be a bigger issue underlying the current debate. Is this really about the logo or is this an issue of authority and a power struggle between the Board of Higher Education, the university system and the legislature? Is this more about who is in charge? This seems, like micro-management of higher education by the legislature. Is this a way to get even with the Board of Higher Education for defying the legislature or overstepping their authority on other issues?
The Sioux nickname and logo are symbols. The logo is not the reason UND’s hockey team is nationally known. It isn’t the logo on the jersey that determines if the team has a winning season. It is the people inside the jerseys. These talented and hard working young athletes will continue to skate fast, play hard, and win no matter what logo is on their shirts. Their school spirit will not waver. My guess is that in ten or twenty years we will wonder why this was so important. This law, if passed, will in the future be looked at as silly and antiquated like the state’s laws banning co-habitation and tying your horse on Main Street.
We have to consider why our universities were established. These are institutions of higher learning. Their primary goal is to educate. Yet, it seems that in the last several years we have spent a great deal more energy debating the merits of a symbol used by the athletic department and the Alumni Association than discussing how to better educate students, how to make a university education more affordable and available, or how to make sure students finish a four-year degree in four years instead of five or six.
I am sure that most supporters of the Sioux nickname and logo do so with respect to the
Dakota people. But our intent is not what determines whether or not someone else is hurt by our actions. When my children were little and they carelessly and thoughtlessly broke something that I cherished, their cries of “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t do it on purpose!” really didn’t make me feel much better. It doesn’t make your foot hurt less if it is unintentionally stomped on. Of course, they didn’t do it deliberately, just as the fans shouting “Go, Sioux” are not doing so maliciously. My precious, irreplaceable memento was still broken and I still cried.
When someone is hurt by what we say or do, our intent is not the issue. The hurt and damage still is there. The perpetrator doesn’t get to decide if it hurts. To say, “You’re just being overly sensitive,” only adds to the insult. The fact is, there are those who are hurt and offended by the UND logo. Those of us whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower or in an immigrant ship from Norway don’t get to decide how someone else should or should not feel about their ethnic identity. We cannot really understand the other’s point of view. We can only listen to what they are saying and try to understand. We are not listening if we keep saying, ‘But I didn’t mean to,” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
This issue has been decided by those who have the right and the authority to make that decision. We need to let it go. Let UND move on and get back to the main purpose for the school’s existence…teaching students advanced math, chemistry, physics, engineering, history, philosophy, writing, languages, medicine, teaching, art, music, flying…
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains