In response to an incident during the University of South
Dakota’s (USD) homecoming parade earlier this month, USD President James
Abbott said Tuesday that the school will not tolerate insensitive remarks
and rude treatment of minority groups on campus.
Abbott joined the USD President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusiveness
co-chairs Beth Boyd and Jerry Yutrzenka in issuing a statement after the
council met to hear from American Indian student Alexis Oskolkoff. Oskolkoff
had previously informed the school that students on a float at the Oct. 5
parade taunted her and her 9-year-old son for their tribal dance regalia.
“The University of South Dakota supports an inclusive learning environment
where diversity and individual differences are understood, respected,
appreciated and recognized as a source of strength,” the statement said.
Oskolkoff, 30, a senior majoring in anthropology and Native Studies, told
the Argus Leader newspaper last week that the students made an inappropriate
comment and gestures regarding her and her son’s race.
“(My son) was really upset,” she said. “You could tell it hurt his feelings.
I shouted at them so they stopped. I mean, I’m used to having racial things
said to me. But when it comes to my son, I put my foot down.”
Boyd and Yutrzenka said in a news release that the incident was unfortunate
and hurts the entire campus, but it does not reflect the views of the USD
“We envision a campus committed to inclusive excellence, where students,
staff and faculty know that acts of insensitivity toward any of us are not
OK,” they said in a press release. “When such things do occur, we can all
speak out, take action, support each other and help people understand how it
hurts us all.”
Abbott stressed that such behavior would not be tolerated at USD, and said
he is working with campus leaders to teach respect for others at every
According to the news release, USD Dean of Students Kim Grieve has “worked
with the students involved and continues to provide educational programs and
training for all students.”
Abbott also has asked the President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusiveness
to propose steps that will keep the discussion of cultural sensitivity and
intergroup relations at the forefront of all campus classrooms. The new
proposals will complement the work of Jesus Trevino, hired last year as USD
associate vice president for diversity.
Abbott added that he believes the university also has a responsibility to
teach the value of diversity, which is an asset that will help USD graduates
in a widening global marketplace.
“I truly believe that our differences are our strength,” he said.