(U-WIRE) HANOVER, N.H. – A week since Dartmouth Athletic Director Josie Harper apologized in The Dartmouth student newspaper for hosting the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” in a December hockey tournament, dozens of national and regional media outlets have seized upon the growing controversy over the incident.
In the Nov. 21 letter to the editor, Harper apologized for scheduling UND when its presence “will understandably offend and hurt people within our community.” She noted that UND’s decision to file suit against the NCAA to keep its “Fighting Sioux” nickname is “offensive and wrong.”
Reaction to this nationally publicized issue, featured in The Boston Globe, Inside Higher Ed and the front page of ESPN.com, has been mixed. Many students, faculty and alumni at Dartmouth and UND are both appreciative and critical of Harper’s comments.
Donald Anderson, a vocal critic who graduated from UND in 1965, questioned the overall appropriateness of the letter.
“North Dakota is pervasive with Indian culture,” Anderson said. “I think [the letter is] just wrong because [Harper] has commented on something she really doesn’t understand.”
In an interview with The Dartmouth on Monday, Harper said she thought many people had misperceived the letter. She said the intention of the letter was not to make a statement toward UND, but to address timely issues at Dartmouth.
“Hindsight is 20-20, and if I had to do it over again I probably would have wanted to be as strong and clear to [the Dartmouth] population as possible of how I felt.” Harper said.
Countering criticisms of Harper, some Native American students at UND praised the letter.
“We are pleased that we have support nationally, even if we don’t have it locally,” Monique Vondall-Rieke, director of the Native American Media Center at UND, said. “The majority of the Native American population [is] against [UND’s nickname].”
College President James Wright, while clarifying that Harper’s statement was not necessarily indicative of overall College policy, affirmed the letter’s acceptability.
Wright went on to assert, however, that Dartmouth would honor its agreement to host UND this year.
“North Dakota is coming here to play hockey and we’ll welcome them warmly — they’ve always had a good hockey team,” Wright said, noting that “it is time to assess” Dartmouth policy on hosting teams with Native American symbols.
Harper said that Brian Austin, senior associate director of Dartmouth intercollegiate athletics, had given prior notice to UND Athletic Director Tom Buning about the letter.
“[Buning] said that [UND] goes through this all the time, that people have even dropped them off of their schedules,” Harper said. “We assured them that when they came [to Dartmouth] there would be no disrespect and we would run a first-class tournament.”
Harper explained that Darthmouth will soon begin to explore its policy on hosting teams with Native American mascots.
“I think the president is putting together a committee, and we are going to work with the Native American community and Student Assembly to talk about how we can be a little more sensitive and helpful in educating our students, and educating even ourselves,” Harper said. “We will be reviewing our policy as to whether or not we will engage in scheduling contests with schools [that have nicknames or mascots of this nature].”
— By William Schpero, The Dartmouth (Dartmouth)
— compiled by Maxim Lott