Blackface skit shocks NDSU campus

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2008 - 9:14 PM

North Dakota State is latest on a growing list of schools to poke fun at people of color using face paint.

North Dakota State has found itself in company it would rather not keep -- on the ever-growing list of schools grappling with what to do when a white student applies black face paint in an attempt to imitate a person of color.

Officials at the school in Fargo, N.D., are investigating a skit in which a white student wearing blackface portrayed Barack Obama receiving a lap dance.

Performed by male members of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, the skit was part of the Mr. NDSU contest sponsored by the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

Members of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, a coed group for students interested in agriculture, have publicly apologized for their actions. The sorority, which put on the event but wasn't part of the skit, also apologized.

The incident is not unique to NDSU. Earlier this school year, Hamline University suspended several football players for wearing blackface after pictures of the event surfaced. Colorado College suspended members of its hockey team for appearing in blackface at an event.

Earlier this month, the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at the University of North Dakota was placed on social suspension after it held a party in which several sorority members and guests dressed in American Indian attire.

Blackface was originally used in theater in the United States. Many blacks consider it racist and believe that it furthers racial stereotypes.

Event judge was shocked

Josh Boschee, NDSU's coordinator of Greek life, said the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators specifically addressed blackface among college students at its last convention.

"It is pretty typical on college campuses," Boschee said. "The hard part is recognizing that the students that were a part of this, I don't believe were intentionally malicious. But the impact of their actions was malicious. It ended up affecting our community in a not-so-positive way.''

Boschee, a judge for the fundraising event, said he was in shock when he saw blackface on the NDSU campus and at a very public event.

"It's definitely something that NDSU doesn't support or condone in any way," Boschee said. "It's unfortunate that it happened here on our campus and that our students were part of an incident such as this.

"The reaction has been mixed. We've had some great support from the administration, and student organizations involved have stepped up and accepted some responsibility. But also there's also a lot of disappointment that this happened on campus."

Mimicking a video

Of NDSU's roughly 9,000 full-time undergraduates, more than 90 percent are white.

NDSU student body president Josh Reimnitz saw the skit, which was meant to mimic the YouTube video called "I Got a Crush on Obama," and said it was out of character for the school.

That said, it is prompting people to ask questions.

"Is this stuff hiding and we just don't see it?" Reimnitz said. "Or was this just accidental?"

A message left for Saddle and Sirloin president Jenna Schmidt was not returned.

NDSU president Joseph A. Chapman issued a statement Friday expressing his disappointment in the actions.

"The students involved have accepted responsibility for their actions and expressed deep remorse," Chapman said. "The students and the department involved are working with the Office of Equity and Diversity to develop an educational process."

Whether the individuals or groups involved will be punished has yet to be decided.

Janna Stoskopf, NDSU's Dean of Student Life, said the school received complaints from students the morning after the skit was performed.

"We as an institution are gathering information about what people were thinking, what actually happened and then looking at how the behavior compares with our conduct code and our policies to see what we need to do in terms of addressing those groups and individuals," Stoskopf said.

"It's not behavior that we personally condone."

Jeff Shelman • 612-673-7478

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