Sorority Punished for Showing School Pride

by Andrew Johnson
North Dakota sisters sentenced to sensitivity training for banner mentioning former mascot

A University of North Dakota sorority is on double-secret probation after putting up a banner obliquely referring to the school’s retired mascot.

Although UND got rid of its “Fighting Sioux” nickname less than two years ago, Gamma Phi Beta sorority has come under fire for even alluding to the former mascot, which has been deemed offensive. Members of the campus chapter are being condemned by UND’s president for mentioning the controversy over the Fighting Sioux — though without naming the mascot itself — in a banner cheering on the men’s hockey team.

“You can take away our mascot but you can’t take away our PRIDE!” read the banner, which did not include either the name or the logo. “2014 Men’s Frozen Four.”

But it turns out the school can, in fact, take away their pride. Several Gamma Phi members will undergo sensitivity training over the incident.

The Fighting Sioux stood as the University of North Dakota’s symbol for 80 years, until Flickertail State voters in 2012 voted by a wide margin to allow the state’s Board of Higher Education to drop the nickname and logo. University president Robert Kelly applauded the decision, saying it allowed the Grand Forks school to focus on other matters pertaining to students.

UND teams are currently without a name or mascot as part of a “cooling-off” period before the school can adopt a new name in 2015.

The Fighting Sioux remains a sore spot, however. The 2012 vote repealed a 2011 state law requiring the school to keep the logo, and a substantial number of supporters of the Fighting Sioux remain.

When North Dakota’s top-ranked hockey team made its way to the Frozen Four last week, the women of Gamma Phi Beta showed their support for the now-nameless team by hanging the banner outside their house.

The banner’s timing and location helped stoke the still-simmering political controversy. Gamma Phi Beta’s house neighbors the American Indian Student Services building. The banner went up during the university’s annual week-long celebration of American Indian culture called “Time Out Week.”

This is the second incident regarding insensitivity to American Indians the chapter has faced in recent years. In 2008, under an entirely different class of members, the sorority hosted a “cowboys and Indians”-themed party.

As a result of the banner, President Kelly condemned Gamma Phi Beta’s “lack of sensitivity” in a statement:

UND has a long-standing respect for the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, which we teach in many of our academic programs. Along with that, we have a critical responsibility to promote respect and civility within our campus community. We teach and model respect for others. It is imperative that, through our actions, we demonstrate respect for all.

Meanwhile, a representative of the sorority’s national organization also spoke out against the banner and apologized on behalf of the UND chapter. Gamma Phi Beta spokeswoman Maureen Walker told the Grand Forks Herald that the chapter’s members are “working as fast as they can to take the next steps and we’re reaching out to the American Indian Student Services to take them up on their offer to provide sensitivity training as soon as possible.”

The sensitivity training would mirror the sorority’s 2008 punishment for its themed party, in which it was suspended for a year and members were subjected to diversity training.

Ultimately, the girls’ school spirit couldn’t rally the UND hockey team, as the team fell to the University of Minnesota a few days later.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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