Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November, 2012

Target of hate says he's staying at SDSU
Native American Student Wants to be Role Model for his Family
Read the entire article: http://www.argusleader.com/
Condensed by Native Village

South Dakota: Hepi Flute Player wasn't feeling well when he walked into a bathroom at Brown Hall on the South Dakota State University campus.

What was written on the side of a bathroom stall made him even sicker.

Someone had penned a hate message about his tribal ethnicity. They wrote his dorm room number next to it, making it clear the words were meant for him. They told him to “go back to the rez.”

“I was sick,” the 19-year-old sophomore from Iowa said. “It really did make me feel uncomfortable.”

Flute Player's father immediately reacted.

“He wanted me to leave,” Flute Player said. “I told him I didn’t want to. I’ve got a lot of good friends here, white friends. And I think college is really important.”

That’s reassuring to people such as professor Chuck Woodard. Woodard has spent much of his career promoting cross-cultural understanding and education at SDSU. He wonders if this hate message is a reaction to the good things his school has done to promote cultural inclusion, including forming a American Indian Studies program and recruiting more Native American students.

“Sometimes it’s hard for a racist to see progress in cross-cultural understanding,” he said. “When something like this happens, it’s an expression of frustration by someone who doesn’t want to see anything change.”

On the editorial pages of SDSU’s Collegian newspaper. Non-native students condemned the hate message, and the paper’s lead editorial branded it “unacceptable.”

“Thirty years ago, I think there was a different way of reacting to things,” said J.R. LaPlante. ““Fortunately today, there is a culture of dialogue and a culture of conversation taking place. We’re very proud to be taking part in that.

“If you look at how they have responded to this situation, both the administration and students at SDSU, that’s all the indication you need to see how far we’ve come. You can see that culture has taken root and has gained traction and gained ground in our state.”

Rather than painting SDSU as a horrible place, it's accurate to say that this incident is reason for encouragement, said Richard Meyers. Meyers, an Oglala Sioux tribal member, is developing the American Indian Studies program at the university.

“From what I’ve gathered, the most positive repercussion out of this is this idea of, how does a person deal with friction in a way that engages faculty and students and leads to better understanding?” Meyers said. “When you start crossing over into real engagement with one another, that’s where you create real bridges.”

Flute Player said he had no intention of leaving SDSU, and he wasn’t aware of any other tribal students wanting to depart, either. He intends to stay and become the first college graduate in his family. He also wants to be a role model for his younger siblings.

“I’m really comfortable in this school,” Flute Player said. “This won’t change that. I like it here.”

SDSU administrators said those responsible for the message could be charged with violating state hate laws and suspended or expelled from school. University police continue to investigate the incident.

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